It’s the most banal sentence I can possibly imagine writing, but without a shadow of a doubt the most interesting thing about Fez is its beguiling sense of wonder.
When I was young, my nose pressed against the car window, I’d watch the moon follow my family car. I remember this vividly because I was so confused — how was this possible? How could this be?
I’d squint, watch stars in the distance, and imagine planets I couldn’t see spinning in orbit. I’d imagine the bus driving alongside us was a Brachiosaurus. Stupid stuff. But it made my eyes dilate; it made me mouth the word ‘wow’ soundlessly. And that’s what being a child is all about.
Somehow, Fez manages to inspire that same sense of wonder.
In Fez you play as Gomez, a character who initially has no concept of a third dimension, in a world that has no understanding of depth. The opening of Fez sets that scene perfectly in playful self-reference: the child who doesn’t believe in Devil Cubes, the character who’s favourite shape is a square… not a cube because, obviously, they don’t exist.
But roughly 10 minutes into the game Gomez is granted the ability to traverse in the third dimension — and it’s mindblowing. Despite being a regular human being, with an understanding of how to exist in a three dimensional space (I think!), I was able to completely empathise with Gomez — who bizarrely never verbalises his shock at being plunged head first into a dimension that shouldn’t exist.
He doesn’t need to. In most media we are given visual or audible cues, cues that ritually inform us that now is the moment to bask in spectacle. In cinema we have the ‘Spielberg Face‘: the slow zoom shot towards our protagonist, jaw agape, a sweeping orchestral soundtrack in accompaniment. This is the event, we are being explicitly told, where it’s appropriate to be amazed.
But Fez doesn’t need such cues. All it has is context, and a canny ability to subvert that context.
Experienced gamers, and even those with very little experience, understand the world in which Gomez exists — a two dimensional universe where he walks, runs and jumps in a two dimensional space. We’ve invested hours of time placed in that space — as Mario, Sonic, Zool, Rayman, Wonderboy. Being projected into that space once more with Fez, before having it subverted via an inspiring new mechanic gives us the chance to project and completely rediscover a ‘new’ dimension. There’s an ironic distance, but somehow, after years spent playing platform games without depth, we really do sense the wonder of discovery — we share in it. We’re more than a passive observer, it means something to us. It’s significant.
Despite the fact that we are, obviously, objects that exist in three dimensional space, we feel that shift, and it inspires a very real sense of wonder.
Fez doesn’t play out in ‘proper’ 3D, and that plays a massive part. The sense of wonder I felt playing Mario 64 for the first time was completely different. Mario 64 was a new type of game, with new expectations, it existed in a different universe, with different expectations. As incredible as it was to finally control Mario in full three dimensional space, the distance from Super Mario World was so great that they felt like two separate things. Fez feels like a transformation that occurs before your eyes, because in many ways that’s precisely what it is.
According to String Theory there are more than four dimensions. Much more. Some string theorists, in their attempts to create an all defining theory of everything, believe there are 10 dimensions in total, six of which are simply far too small for us to comprehend perceptually. M theorists believe there are 11. I’m not going to pretend that I comprehend the inner workings of String Theory, or have any base understanding of it, but I’ll always enjoy the idea of the unknown — the wonder that comes from discovery, and the sense that something exists beyond our perception…
Fez allows us to indulge in that feeling. It takes a nostalgic 2D world made static by the media of our collective childhood and reinvents it. Fez makes it feel as though we ourselves are pushing forward into the unknown — and not only does it indulge in that sense of exploration, it gives us mastery over it, providing a learning curve with which to understand it.
And that’s the magic trick. That’s how Fez succeeds in making me feel like a child again, taking me back 20+ years, with my nose pressed firmly against the window, wondering why the moon is following our car. How is this possible?
But that’s Fez, and it’s an incredible thing. It sparks your imagination. It takes you back. Transporting us to a world where buses are Brachiosaurs, where your moon is following the car. And somewhere in the sky, light years from where you are, there are planets you can’t see, endlessly spinning in orbit.