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Nobody is sure what The Witness is about


Last week I reached the ending of Jonathan Blow’s latest opus, The Witness, without the aid of any outside help. For a split second, I felt like the smartest man on the planet. Then, upon watching the ending, I quickly felt like the dumbest as I had no earthly idea what the game I’d just spent a couple dozen of hours on was about.

I’m in good company, however, as it turns out that nobody knows what The Witness is about. No matter how many puzzles they solve, secrets they scour, and information they gather online, the true meaning of The Witness is forever outside of our grasp in a way that makes it as easy to hate as it is to love.

Here’s the part where I get into major spoilers, so if you haven’t reached the secret ending of The Witness you may want to turn back now.

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Still with me? Okay. So on a surface level, the hidden ending of The Witness suggests that the island setting is really a virtual space that one inhabits. The game’s secret denouement concludes with a live-action film portrayed from a first-person perspective in which a man (possibly Jonathan Blow himself) awakens from a couch in a game development studio wherein The Witness is being made. He unplugs wires connecting his veins to a laptop, while a bottle of urine lies connected to a catheter near the foot of the sofa. The man exhibits an array of strange behaviour. He takes a bite of a cracker, tosses it aside, then starts eating a new one. He smacks a spoon against various surfaces for no apparent reason before discarding the utensil. He locks and unlocks a door several times before crawling outside and taking a nap.

What’s going on here? Redditer plainclothesman suggests that the man has obsessive compulsive disorder and that the island is a manifestation of his thought process. Here’s an excerpt of their interpretation:

“I was watching someone with obsessive compulsive disorder. This is when I realised why The Witness wouldn’t let me go. Touching, checking, repeating, symmetry, tracing lines, separation, pairs, evenness. This was a game that seemed manufactured to appeal to my haywire sense of action and relief. Repetition and reward.

“Obsessive compulsive disorder is a condition of specific rules and repetition. Sometimes it feels like a game. An anxiety riddled, circular, frustrating game. A game that is hard to get ‘right’. The Witness is a game that feels like obsessive compulsive disorder.”

This analogy holds true as the player begins solving line puzzles, only to later discover hidden lines in the environments. These perspective-hunting secrets are so pervasive that you’ll probably start seeing their imagery everywhere outside of the game. They’ve even inspired a comical Tumblr entitled The Witness Puzzles in Real Life. Indeed, the hidden FMV ending contains similar imagery in the “real world”, further blending the line between one’s focus on panel puzzles and their reality around them. Getting stuck on a puzzle, then seeing fragmented manifestations from that puzzle in everything, isn’t dissimilar to having OCD where it’s like trying to shake one’s troubles with a brain that refuses to do so.