By: Roberto Nieves
Deep in the Pine Barrens of Atlantic County, New Jersey, in a place called Galloway Township, there is an institution called Stockton University. A young man, who was ambitious but recently recovering from a break-up, was studying graphic design. In 2013, that young man went all-in on the arts and volunteering.
Recovering from the heartbreak, that young man went places, participating in various volunteer events across the campus and the area. Clean-ups, volunteer safety walks, the radio station, autism awareness, writing for the school newspaper, all of it. Soon, he gained a reputation for being that “guy who is always moving and has a pulse on all things going on.” It wasn’t easy, but it helped him gain experience and cope with the grief of heartbreak. That person was me, and a recently released game, The Pedestrian, brought back some feelings that I want to share.
The Pedestrian is a remarkable platforming game that puts players in the role of a spirit, navigating a complex world filled with signs and imagery. The goal is to get through each sign, platforming and solving puzzles along the way. Each sign is presented very differently, both in complexity and aesthetics.
One puzzle may occur within the yellow box of an electric crosswalk sign, while another puzzle resembles a construction poster and requires putting the signs together to complete the course. It’s a charming platformer about finding your way through an extremely complex world, made fun, pleasing, and enjoyable, thanks to an easy-to-understand orientation into the gameplay, never making the player feel discouraged but instead encouraging them to pursue the path, solve the puzzle, and enjoy themselves on the journey. Throughout The Pedstrian’s changing levels and orientation, one cannot help but feel the resonating theme of The Pedestrian, like the electric currents that power Times Square. Life is always in transit, and it may not be readily in front of you, but there are signs that can point you where to go, even if they may be unclear.
The Pedestrian is a tale of a journey and a journey that says that the signs presented to us can be rather confusing, different. Furthermore, it states how humans think with signs. One glance at a busy street sees throngs of people moving in a singular direction. A car ride sees cars going to a specific exit. A sign labels where we need to go for what we need to do. To an extent, signs are absolutely necessary for life, survival, and the function of society. Without signs, where do we go, and what do we do, but sit aimlessly as life passes by? Speaking of real life, there are signs in our paths. What they are is entirely up to you and is different, depending on your own path, but sometimes, when there doesn’t look to be a path, there is one, just waiting to be solved.
As mentioned before, The Pedestrian features puzzle, but each puzzle unlocks a path forward onto a different part of the game. A building, a city, a street, and other places often not considered. A puzzle is an obstacle, but once arranged a certain way, it becomes that path forward. There are many signs someone faces, leading them to a place where they want to go, and places they have never been before, and perhaps, a person can become unsure as to if that place is where they want to be. The main character in The Pedestrian can be representative of anyone at any given moment, and even if they feel stuck, there is bound to be another path.
Looking back on it all, I had no idea where my own life would take me. I wanted to join the military, but it never happened. I completed an internship at Disney World and wanted to work for the company, but I couldn’t, no matter how hard I tried. I never found a job in graphic design in New Jersey and worked long hours for peanuts in various jobs. Even last year, as the pandemic broke, a job I had taken with a malevolent boss ended after close to three years, with all my hard work, sacrifice, and efforts not mattering in the slightest. In it all, my enthusiasm and drive for games grew to the point where it was the one thing I wanted to do and still is. That got me to write for and be a part of Stack Up, Marooner's Rock, ButWhyTho PC, and so on.
While strong, alas, my experience and talent weren’t enough, and every application I’ve made had ended with either a no or a decline to answer. Part of this is the fact that I live in New Jersey, what one person called “ The armpit of America.” and depending on who you are and your experiences here, that might be a fitting description. We are known for MTV’s Jersey Shore, which pumped a ton of money into the economy but completely intoxicated the local culture into puking, drinking, and twerking, so it all makes sense. Ultimately, it becomes demoralizing and frustrating. But once again, perhaps this is a path with obstacles but many side roads and detours, some new directions. That when one path feels blocked, life, the flow of transit continues.
Every experience on this path has to lead me to good things. New friends, writing for Stack Up and Marooner’s Rock, even going to conventions like PAX and E3. That's not to say my path has been smooth sailing, but it is a reminder that when life felt stuck, things kept going, like The Pedestrian.
There were signs to follow with puzzles and some turns I had to make, but every moment was a means to solve a puzzle and see where the path goes. Despite losing my job, I found a new one, working at the local hospital, and if I may add a zinger, receiving far better pay and actual medical benefits for the first time in my life. Sure, I get scared I may get lost on that path or find myself unfulfilled. I’m 32 going on 33, single, and I live in NJ, perhaps the driest place on Earth regarding video games. But, there is a path forward. There are puzzles to unlock. There are more signs up ahead. What happens next for me is anyone’s guess, especially in the current times, but if the path I am on, and the puzzles I have solved, have gotten me this far, then it's a path that needs to be walked.
I encourage you to do the same. Just remember to look both ways before crossing the
The Pedestrian is available on Xbox One, PS4, and Steam.