Games industry should be ‘less cautious,’ says maker of experimental game about exploring a swimming pool dimension

Upcoming game Pools looks similar to other games based on “The Backrooms,” the creepypasta notion that you can noclip out of normal reality and into mazes of “liminal spaces” that resemble ’90s office buildings or unused meeting rooms at a Marriott. In this case, though, we’re trapped in a pocket dimension of pools: all square tiles, plastic chairs, and chlorinated water.

“Poolrooms” aren’t an original addition to internet paranormal lore, although Pools perhaps sets itself apart from other creepypasta games by leaving out hostile entities in favor of an experience that’s solely about feeling a bit weird and isolated. Pools, which started as a “hobby/free time project,” will feature six 10-30 minute long chapters, and Finnish developer Tensori describes it as an “experimental” game that’s “like an art gallery where you walk around and feel the atmosphere.”

“The main thing about the game is to look around and listen to the sounds,” says the studio.

Experimental art that promotes what it isn’t always risks having its claim of avant-gardeness judged as an excuse to take credit for abstract concepts—see John Cage’s infamous 4’33”, a musical composition performed by not playing musical instruments for its duration, for instance. Pools isn’t that sparse, but the developer says “there are very few things to solve,” and it contains no music, just the echoing sounds of the environment. 

If Pools does attract some side-eye for its minimalism, it won’t be nearly as much as it would’ve a decade ago. It’s funny to think back to all the “but they’re not real videogames!” hysteria that accompanied trendsetters like Dear Esther and Gone Home in the early 2010s. The walking simulators clearly won, and Tensori founder Antti Järvinen says he wants to see more risk-taking from today’s game developers and publishers. 

“I hope for a gaming industry that’s less cautious and embraces boldness,” said Järvinen in a statement provided by the studio. “As an enthusiast, it seems to me that a number of modern games are ‘lost potential’—they lack distinctiveness and genuine passion. I also don’t like sneaky ways of making money or broken, unfinished games.”

Whether or not Pools itself turns out to be bold and distinct, it’s easy to sympathize with Järvinen’s point of view. It’s easy for us to demand that big companies take more risks when we’re not the ones who have to answer for the millions of dollars they spend on any given game, but with so much to play, I don’t really have time for anything that doesn’t take a big swing. The motto of the studio behind the current game of the moment, unforgiving co-op shooter Helldivers 2, sums up the sentiment well: “A game for everyone is a game for no one.” 

Pools will be out in April, and there’s a demo on Steam if you want to find out whether or not it’s a game for you. Personally, I’m not convinced disembodied wandering through poolrooms will captivate me, but they’ll definitely look pleasant in the background of a random TikTok video I wind up watching later this year. 

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