Trawl is a game about trying to make sense of things. It's about trying to make sense of the controls of your small boat, which chugs around a midnight ocean as you gather strange objects from the seabed. It's a game about trying to make sense of these objects, too, working out what story they might ultimately be able to tell you. And, at the end of it all, you are asked to do something that no game I have ever played has asked me to do before: you are asked to write a note about what you have experienced, stick it in a bottle, and then toss it into the ocean.
I find Trawl completely fascinating: a strange blend of the tangible and the entirely ephemeral that puts the player - and their ability to interpret events - right at the centre of the game. For the first five minutes, I was lost in the tangible stuff, learning how to move around my small boat, how to crank up the engine, how to lower and raise the trawling net, and how to keep one ear out, regardless of what else I was doing, for the little bell that signals that the net has actually caught something. Even this aspect is filled with mystery, however, as your guide to the seafloor comes not in the form of some kind of radar display, but an old radio in the wheel room that emits strange sounds when you're close to something good.
Once I'd started to pull objects up from the sea things got even murkier. A boot (of course), a battered chunk of briefcase, a hairbrush. An old clock? Or did I make that one up? All of these items have the same heavy physicality of the boat with its levers and motors. All of them can be rotated in your hands and placed down in the cabin after inspection.Emulation could kill the games industry Don't let nostalgia do real damage.
And then there's the typewriter. Once I'd found a good few items, and once I'd burnt out a fuse in my radio, by the looks of things, meaning that I was unlikely to find anything more, I sat down at the typewriter and tried to see the order in it all. The typewriter is beautifully done: you type away and the text comes out as clumsily as it does in real life for anyone who is switching from a computer to a manual machine after all these years. Instead of deleting, you X over old letters. There is no going back, only forwards.
I wonder if that gets to the heart of things. Is Trawl a game about what you do with mistakes? How you cover them up? How you try to erase them, but find it impossible. More than anything else, I found myself wondering about my character's own relationship to the objects I had found - or rather with the person, and I felt strongly that it was just one person, who had cast them into the sea in the first place. It felt like a desperate act. Maybe a mean and destructive act. An act with a little bit of curdled love to it.
Or maybe not. Maybe I went a bit funny on that imaginary boat, in the middle of those imaginary waters, with the mist rolling in and the night sky looming starless overhead. What did I type eventually? I'm still trying to decide what to type, actually. The paper is still largely blank - except for the odd mistake that I have carefully rendered illegible.