You'll want to poke this doomsday device

You're left alone at a battered, mysterious console, a flickering urban display on the greenscale monitor before you. There is just one big, red button within your reach. After briefly wrestling with yourself, you press it. Pressing it causes a switch to emerge from the console. Flip the switch and a tiny light comes on. Now what?

I've been really charmed by Please Don't Touch Anything, a sort of puzzle box game that tasks you with figuring out the workings of some bleak old doomsday device based on trial and error, some clues scrawled in the environment, and general willingness to prod. There are multiple ways it can all end, and the art is wonderful. So is the soundtrack, which morphs elegantly as your relationship to the device, and therefore your tension, mounts.

It's a pleasure to play with, and the dystopic, pixelly aesthetic has drawn comparisons to Papers, Please. To me, something about Please Don't Touch Anything's stoic refusal to invite me in reminds me lots of the old room escape games I used to play in web browsers last decade -- they were numerous and varied wildly in quality, which almost made the experience of poking around with them feel more mysterious, demanding of me some quality that was part persistence and skill, but part simply a willingness to believe luck.


I remember in particular the works of Toshimitsu Takagi, whose Crimson Room, Viridian Room and my personal favorite, White Room, were indelible on my memory. Takagi's site shows its age, and no longer seems to host the games. Hunting elsewhere on the internet just unearths lots of poor imitations; "see you someday somewhere in the real world," the creator's site gently promises.

If you like fiddling with machines to unlock their secrets and bring about surprise results, though, there are lots of modern equivalents -- most notably Fireproof Studios' two wonderful The Room games, which turn your iPad into vivid magical chambers full of glittery gears, wooden sliders and delicate dials that hum and click and feel real under your hands.

And even though I'm a VR skeptic, I've had a couple exciting Oculus Rift demonstrations of Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes, where the player wearing the gear tries to figure out how to defuse a three-dimensional bomb pack based on advice from a second player, who has a manual full of emblems and associated instructions (see it in action below):