Not a Gamer: Tiny Echo

In Tiny Echo, you play as a one-eyed entity wandering the bowels of a blighted land, delivering mail to spirits.
This entry is part 8 of 9 in the series Snapshots at 27

In Tiny Echo, you play as a one-eyed entity wandering the bowels of a blighted land, delivering mail to spirits.

The only exposition you get is the slow scroll through the world above, before the game follows the letters down through a crater and to your character Emi’s desk. From there, you have to figure things out, mostly by pointing and clicking on various details of your environment.

The game doesn’t give you any stories, dialogue, or instructions. It doesn’t give you anything, really, beyond the surreal visuals and immersive music, and perhaps the occasional counter above your head to indicate how many letters you still have to give out.

I’m not trying to make excuses, by the way. I’m just giving a bit more context so it’s easier to understand why it took me more than an hour to finish delivering 13 letters in all.

You need to explore places, and you need to test your environment. There are puzzles—mostly straightforward ones, less about tricky logic and more about a willingness to try fitting available pieces together.

That need for willingness did me in, really. There was one spirit whom I met early in the game: every time I tried to approach, it would screech and Emi would stop dead in their tracks.

Maybe I need to do more to unlock this area, I thought, and proceeded to putter around the rest of the world. I opened paths by clearing massive skeletons; I nudged fireflies into the right crevices; I filled massive stone bowls with tears that a bystander taught me to shed. And still, always, the spirit would screech, and I couldn’t give them their letter.

In the end, completely by accident, I figured it out. My mouse slipped, and Emi moved further into the area where the spirit was. It turned out I just had to urge Emi forward through the screeching, and the spirit would accept their letter at last.

I got the message, too, but that didn’t mean it stuck.

The Monday after finishing the game, I had to go to the immigration authority to convert passes.

I queued up, passed the mandatory temperature screening and contact tracing stations, waited for my number to be called. Waited, waited, and waited. I watched people who arrived much later than me get their cases processed. Most seats were filled, as much as they could be with social distancing measures in effect; and then most seats weren’t. My phone ran out of battery. So did my Kindle.

At 5:30 PM, as the immigration officers were packing up, one of them noticed me and beckoned me over.

“What are you here for?” And then, checking my queue number and the procedure I’d come there for, not unkindly: “This takes less than five minutes to process. Why didn’t you ask at the counter when you didn’t see your number?”

I’d been waiting since 11 AM. We laughed a little about it — me, sheepishly; them, with utter bemusement. What else can you do, when you realise you’ve just witnessed a feat both impressive and totally unnecessary?

Well, why didn’t I ask? The simple answer is that I didn’t think I could, and maybe I didn’t even really want to.

Up until that day, I barely had it in me to exist, let alone to interact with the rest of the world. I’d come to the appointment in a daze, and for all my irate updates in various groupchats, the waiting time barely even registered.

I could have sat there forever, because it was no different from what I would have been doing at home, or in the office, or anywhere else: I would just be there, and the only thing I could recognise about that fact was its complete opposition to what I wanted, which was to be nowhere at all.

In Tiny Echo, when you deliver a letter, the recipient changes.

Emi seems to meld briefly with the spirit, at least enough to be transported into their inner world, where they sit in wait, inert. A short clip plays: the spirit opens the letter, and something in them awakens, emerges. You see a flash of the power that they hold. It feels like an affirmation.

Yes, they seem to say, I’m ready to be in the world again.

I don’t know what shifted, or why. Maybe the absurdity of the situation broke through. Laughing at myself as the immigration officer processed my papers, I felt the fog lifting. It didn’t disappear completely — it never has — but there was a little more space then to let the world in.