1sland moves slowly out of the fog and surf, a dreamy sort of game that has had me in a dreamy sort of spell these last few days. It sells itself as a “paddle royale”, but any sense of violence or even urgency is swept away by playing it. Water laps at the hull of your little boat, ice dissolves quietly on impact. “Good morning,” the game tells me when I first check in each day, soothing, like the greeting on arrival at a spa.
This is a competition, though it’s one I don’t take in an enormously competitive spirit. Your mission in 1sland – everyone’s mission – is to find the island that lurks somewhere in a vast ocean. You see this ocean from above, as much of it – not much – as will fit on the phone screen that’s centered high over your little boat. The first to find the island gets big points. Everyone else gets…smaller points, I guess. But it’s not the points anyway – it’s the simple lure of being told there’s an island out there.
You use flares to track it down. One kind tells you how far away you are from the island. Another tells you which rough direction it lies in. A third allows you to place a buoy that will help you in getting a sense of how far you’ve travelled. Using these three bits of information, and spending in-game currency to buy new flares when you need ’em, you’re off on a leisurely quest. Along the way the sun rises and sets and the sea changes colour. Visibility draws in at night, icebergs cluster in certain parts of the sea, and there’s always someone else’s boat to drift past.
Add on little challenges and collectibles and ship upgrades and, of course, a season pass, and that’s 1sland. The hunt for the island refreshes every few hours and all day I seem to get messages about a new island, then about someone having been the first to find it. It’s competition but it’s actually extremely pleasant, a tidal rhythm of other people’s distant achievement. I dip in when I want to and, if I make it as far as the island, I picture myself wading up the sand, dragging my boat and then lying down on my back. What’s next? A quick snooze, I think.