Relations is the kind of game that you get out of it what you put in. Specifically, what you need to put into it is thought. I’ve tinkered around with it, because its mechanics are not obvious, and due to that, it feels like a toy that you need to turn around in your hands a little to find all of its functions. I’m not sure how deep the game is itself, but my suspicions are that it isn’t on the same level as something like Starseed Pilgrim, for example, but the symbolic design is emergent in very much the same way.
In the case of Relations, however, it’s quite clear to me that what you discover isn’t a further purpose in the game, but as Holger says, a depth in meaning. It’s one to play a few times, and then to ponder over to think what it means and what it says about us, about you.
If I was to hazard an assessment of the game, I’d say the following. And before you do read it, I want to state that this is completely my own interpretation of the game and would argue that what Holger has tried to achieve is not a correct reading of the game, but an interaction that allows you to make a personal reading of it. So please do play the game and see what you make of it, and don’t necessarily be swayed by what I, or anyone else, think it could all mean.
In Relations, you have to get as high a score as possible. You do this by getting into close proximity of the people who appear at random places over the screen at a steady rate. You move slow, so travelling across the screen takes a while. If you don’t get to one of the people waiting around for a while, they have a countdown, and if it reaches zero, so to speak, they turn hostile and will come after you, travelling at a faster speed than you, and will eventually take one of your three hearts away on collision.
“Relations is my most experimental game. My goal was to create symbolism through simple game mechanics and through the discovery of these.”
This to me is a gameplay recreation of what it can be like for us to try to keep our circle of friends and family in touch. There are so many of them, and we often have so much going on that it becomes impossible for us to see them all. I know I’ve done this, not seen people for years just because I haven’t had time or the means to go and see them. As such, our friendship has more or less faded away. The difference in Relations is that they don’t just disappear, but they turn hostile and want to hurt you. You can see what the implication of your inaction is.
The other mechanic in Relations is being able to place individual blocks down anywhere on the screen. You can use this to group people together and try to make them walk a path so they’re closer together, which makes it easier for you to see them before they turn hostile. But doing that is hard, much like trying to bring two people you are friendly with together so they become friends also.
When the people start to turn hostile, placing blocks has another purpose, and that’s to keep them away from you. The game refuses to let you trap them inside a square by disallowing you to create an enclosed area. In other words, you cannot hide from them. You can only run, so eventually, they will catch up with you and damage you. The message of this writes itself, really. You can’t run from the people in your life, especially if you hurt them or abandon them, and the longer you run away, the more damage it could cause (there being more and more hostiles in the game over time).