Language. This one word riddled every single article about The Witness when it was first released and undergoing the two week spurt of reviews and thought pieces that is the natural life span of games writing. Once again Jonathan Blow’s authorial intent seems to have been misunderstood. Not that intention necessarily matters in artistic endeavors once it’s in the hands of the audience. But Blow had this to say about the game in his Guardian interview:
We can do some very interesting things if we put down language as a crutch for communication,” Blow says. “That’s the experiment of this game: just don’t use language at all. I wanted to see what kinds of knowledge and experience we could build up without it.
While it can be easily argued that there is language in the game, the various puzzle symbology, we can assume Blow means communicative tongues like English or Mandarin. The true language in The Witness seems to be what nature gave humans: logic and critical thinking. So what kind of “knowledge and experience is built up”? Let’s consider Blow’s intended effect for solving a puzzle:
an appreciation for the phenomenon, of that leap that happens in the mind when you come to understand.
That “leap” is something The Witness is incredibly good at consistently generating. This sort of mental movement is hard to describe in words, but it comes down to metacognition. Thinking about the puzzles flexes intuition, logic, and knowledge in a meta-reflective way. In other words, you think about your thinking (metacognition) when playing The Witness.
You question and hypothesize and experiment with the systems of logic you think work or amend that thinking to include a nuance you may have missed. The fractal and involutionary aesthetic of the games, meta-mazes and puzzles within puzzles, reinforces on the idea.