Last week, I took a look at Thomas Was Alone, a puzzling puzzler with an intriguing storyline. Today, it’s time to dive deeper into that story and explore what makes this game so well loved by the internet. Be warned, there are spoilers ahead.
The game starts with Thomas, a small square A.I. gaining self-awareness, and deciding that he needs to escape this apparent imprisoning world. With that, he sets off on an adventure that sees him travel through a variety of levels, gaining friends and seeing off threats. At the start of each ’Scenario’ (similar to Mario’s worlds, but without the theme change), small excerpts of script from computer researchers is shown. Combined with the thoughts of the Thomas (and co.) A.I., it brings a deeper plot to the fore.
It appears as if the group of A.I. have mastered control of their own thoughts, and are now racing through the scenarios built to test them in their bid to escape. As the ability to control thought reaches other characters, the programme gets out of hand, and the creators are forced to abandon the project. Thomas and his band of ‘Architects’ eventually escape the original programme onto the internet, where Thomas realises that there may have been other A.I. before him, and so the Architects build a way out for future A.I., to prevent the senseless killing of their kind. However, Scenario 9 suggests that maybe Thomas and his friends are not really the protagonists of this story, but instead the antagonists.
‘Y+1, X+1’, or Scenario 9, begins with a quote from the character Joey Numli, former Head of Security, Artificial Life Solutions: “We evacuated the facility, cut the network lines and locked the doors. We knew by that point what was coming, but we had no idea what to expect.” What was so bad about these escaped A.I. that the company had to be shut down, connections cut, and preparations made? It almost sounds like the beginning of some kind of Matrix-esque dystopia, where the artificial intelligence becomes too powerful for humans to control, and takes over from their former masters.
Moving through the game, the subtle changes in level design indicate the desperate attempts at containing the A.I. that the humans were going to. At the beginning, Thomas is simply asked to overcome platforming, jumping from one safe area to another, with the only challenging being timing. As it becomes clear that he masters that, poisonous water and deadly spikes are added in to keep Thomas and his team from reaching the internet and escaping. Despite their best efforts, the humans cannot stop them due to their individual skills and teamwork that allows them to overcome these obstacles.
As the story progresses further, the Pixel Cloud makes it first appearance. Tasked with destroying the A.I, it may actually have been installed to protect the human civilisation from the escape of the A.I. into their world, in fear of a repeat of a catastrophic previous event. Even after the Architects escape, the Pixel Cloud continuous to destroy evil A.I., including the “devious and power-hungry” second generation construct Grey. While thankfully this evil A.I. does not escape into the world, it is not apparent how many made it past the defences of the system.
Thomas Was Alone may appear to be a simple game about friendship and teamwork on the surface, but digging into the story around the game, it’s easy to discover that it’s almost the opposite. The humans have accidentally created A.I. that can think for themselves, and now they’re out to escape and wreak havoc on their creators.