Games of the Decade: Fez and the doors of perception

November 30, 2019
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To mark the end of the 2010s, we’re celebrating 30 games that defined the last 10 years. This is the last entry – you can now find all the articles in the Games of the Decade archive, and read about our thinking about it in an editor’s blog. Stay tuned for a couple more special articles tomorrow.

Fez is one of those magic-trick games. You could call it a gimmick without being disrespectful – a good gimmick can enliven any game – but I’d define a gimmick as a novel, repeatable concept that gives you a little jolt of satisfaction when you encounter it. What Fez does is different. Its trick is very simple, but has deep implications. It defines everything about the game. It constantly changes the way you think. Playing the game, you perform this trick all the time, and yet every time you do it you still do a little internal gasp as it reorders your perceptions. It’s impossible, but it’s real. It’s magic.

The trick is this: Fez is a two-dimensional platform game set in a world where three dimensions exist, but only two of them can be perceived at once. This fact is so brain-scrambling that the inhabitants of this world have forgotten it, or repressed it. It is revealed to our hero Gomez when he puts a magical red hat on his head. From then on, he – you – can rotate his world through four viewpoints, snapping it back into a flat plane where everything is reordered and much is revealed. The game world’s three-dimensionality, its solidity, is real – it looks like pixel art, but is actually built out of cubes – but it can only be seen fleetingly as you flick from one plane to another, the way an illustration in a pop-up book leaps from the page and then collapses back in again. You have to hold it in your head.

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