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Compared to older forms of media such as books and movies, the video game industry is still somewhat wet behind the ears. But as technology advances and developers become increasingly able to realise their creative visions without having to rein in their imaginations due to hardware limitations, we are finally reaching the point where games are able to not just entertain but challenge us both intellectually and viscerally, creating emotive experiences and acting as vehicles for genuinely engaging tales.

9.03m does precisely that. Developed by independent Scottish game studio Space Budgie, the game, whose proceeds go towards those affected by the disaster, stands as a memorial to the victims of the 2011 Tohoku tsunami, questing players with gathering the possessions of those lost in the tsunami, which have been carried across the ocean from Japan to America, with each object telling the story of a lost soul.

At once heartrending and beautiful, this is a title that deserves the attention of not just every gamer but every person with access to a PC.

Described as an “art/empathy” interactive story by director and developer Karl Inglott, 9.03m aims to help players better comprehend the gravity of the events that took place on March 11, 2011 in Northeastern Japan.

The disaster claimed almost 19,000 lives–a figure that has been reported repeatedly by the media–but to developer Inglott these numbers felt abnormally sterile and far removed from the reality of the situation. Wanting to create an interactive experience that resonates with players and helps them appreciate that every one of the units that makes up this statistical data in fact represents an entire human life, Inglott and his team set to work on 9.03m, which was released through the Steam Greenlight program in September this year.

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With a price tag of just £1.59/$2, the game is short enough to play through in just one sitting, but its brevity in many ways makes it all the more powerful and memorable an experience. Taking place during a moonlit night on San Francisco’s Baker Beach, the game tasks players with exploring the shoreline and discovering items that have been washed up there. Each of these items must then be examined in order to locate a tiny butterfly mark, which when found reveals the name of that item’s owner, in both Japanese and English, before springing to life and leading the player via a trail of light in the direction of another personal possession.

“I decided to use objects on the beach to mimic the news stories,” Inglott tells The Scotsman, “making the game quite calm, as it probably was when they first found debris washing up. I wanted the player to look at the object and think of the person, think of who they were and the memories they left behind. The objects, I felt, had to be quite personal. I also wanted to put some memory to each of them, something that would link the objects to the people who passed away.”

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Soft, unobtrusive piano music plays throughout, while the game’s art style is in many ways reminiscent of 2012’s critically acclaimed Journey; it is at once minimalist and enchanting in its serenity. And although the game makes no secret of the fact that it exists to provoke feelings of melancholy and empathy, 9.03m is nevertheless a rich, undeniably haunting and emotive experience that allows the player time to reflect and realise just how many lives were affected, and that when we talk of the disaster there is much more to it than mere statistical data.

This is not, however, simply an exercise in tear-jerking just for the sake of it. As well as commemorating those who passed away on March 11, 2011, half of the proceeds for the game are being donated to the Aid for Japan foundation, which supports victims of the earthquake and tsunami. Once the studio recoups expenses, 100 percent of revenue will go direct to the group for as long as it continues to sell. Proof, if it were needed, that video games are no longer the somewhat juvenile pursuit they were once considered.

9.03m is available to buy now for PC via Steam

Reference: Edge Online, The Scotsman Space Budgie
Images via Steam