"When people think you're dying, they really, really listen to you instead of just -- "
"Instead of just waiting for their turn to speak."
This scene from Fight Club encapsulates one of the driving ideas behind Pillar, a video game starring a series of characters with disparate personalities and quirks, each given mysterious puzzles to solve. Indie developer Michael Hicks is interested in how people communicate and the unique way every human perceives the world. Pillar distills these broad observations into just a few characters running around a wintry town, searching for a secret artifact. Each character is different, but their goal is the same -- it's a lot like real life. Hicks wants his game to inspire conversations; he isn't looking to start arguments or incite rants. He'd love for people to truly connect with each other and Pillar might make that happen.
"I hope it encourages players to consider other people in real-life conversations, which we rarely do," Hicks says. "If someone says something we don't agree with, the knee-jerk reaction is to argue or superimpose our views. I think the world would be a better place if we tried to understand where other people are coming from and accept them for who they are."
Pillar has roots in the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator assessment, a personality test that rates people based on four dichotomies: deductive, inductive, subjective and objective. Hicks ran into the Myers-Briggs test during a psychology class and was struck by the mechanical way it approached personality traits -- almost like a game would.
"Originally, I made Pillar to express how it felt to be around a girlfriend I had," Hicks says. "It's hard to verbalize, but she was strong at things I was weak at, and I was strong at things she was weak at." Hicks interviewed her and discovered they had two traits in common and two opposite, just as he intuited. "Pillar isn't a perfect reconstruction of the test, but all of the main traits are there somehow," he says.
It started with the test, but Pillar doesn't stop there. Hicks doesn't see Myers-Briggs as the silver bullet of personality analysis -- "It's clearly not a science, but that doesn't mean it has no value," he says. Overall, Hicks has grander thoughts about relativity, morality and the rejection of subtlety in everyday communication. As he discovered with his girlfriend, opposite traits between two people can equalize both parties, but this often requires people to step outside of themselves, recognize their own shortcomings and accept the faults in others.
It's hard to have constructive conversations when we just preach and don't listen to the other person.
"The whole concepts of right and wrong, good and evil -- I think those are horrible things to subscribe to because they separate people and cause conflict," Hicks says. "What I think is 'right' is a reflection of my environment and upbringing; everyone thinks they're right. The game explores the idea that maybe there's a purpose for both extremes we find in life, even things that are detrimental to us. I'm not saying we should be quiet and not speak our mind, but so many do it in a toxic way. It's hard to have constructive conversations when we just preach and don't listen to the other person."
Pillar launched on PlayStation 4 back in February, but Hicks wouldn't be surprised if you haven't heard of it. He "flubbed" the marketing, he says. For one, he didn't receive review codes until a few days after launch. "I should've announced the release date a month or so ahead of time to avoid things like this," he says.
"But I've been happy with the number of people playing so far," Hicks continues. "I have a ways until I'm where I'd like to be but I can't complain. What's cool is there's a steady stream of new people playing even after three months; it's had a very grassroots way of growing so I'm thankful for that."
And Pillar is still growing. It's due to launch on Steam on Friday, May 29, and it's available to play right now on PS4 for $8.