Poked is a short game about getting too many notifications on your phone.
This game was made in three days for the game jam Ludum Dare 40, which had the theme “the more you have the worse it is.” You start out having a pleasant text message conversation with a friend about a recent date, picking from a variety of potential responses. Then you get a text from your crush. Then a text from someone pretending to be an anime character. Then your cactus. Then your dog. You’re also bombarded by alarms reminding you to water your plant, call your mom, and water your mom. This keeps happening until your phone dies.
It can really comforting to know that you have a rectangle in your pocket that allows you to contact almost everyone at a moment’s notice. But that also means that everyone can always contact you. Being always available sometimes means you can be overwhelmed by the need to respond to everyone as quickly as possible.
Poked illustrates that impulse succinctly. Messages and alarms overlap, and it’s not really possible to get to everyone without blowing someone else off. You can get your wires crossed pretty easily. More than one person will try to make plans for you on the same day, and even if nothing happens as a result of that, the pang of that social faux pas still stings. When I realized that I had promised my nerd friend that I’d go to an anime movie with him on the same night I had a date, I felt the kind of embarrassment you get when you say “you too” to the guy selling you popcorn at the movie theater who just told you to enjoy the show.
This game isn’t a “what if phones but too much” style condemnation of technology, but rather a description of a very modern problem. You don’t have to respond to everyone, but the little red bubbles next to all your contacts’ avatars won’t go away until you do.
Last night, while watching the Game Awards, I got a text from a number I didn’t recognize that just said, “Bayonetta 3!” After a brief moment of panic I realized it wasn’t some stalker who is also excited for a new Bayonetta. It was just someone whose number I hadn’t saved. I didn’t have to respond to that person, but I did. The next time that happens I think I might just turn my phone off.