MINOR SPOILERS FOR THE WITNESS FOLLOW. UP TO AT LEAST THE THIRD SET OF PUZZLES ARE SPOILED. ROUGHLY THE FIRST 10-30 MINUTES OF THE GAME. ONE HIGHER LEVEL, BUT STILL EARLY, PUZZLE IS SPOILED AS WELL.
The Witness is a game about learning.
Well, every game is. Mastering a game and surmounting its challenges requires consistent skill growth over time.
More accurately, The Witness is a game about the process of learning.
Every game is unique. Pokémon games play differently than The Legend of Zelda. Antichamber couldn’t be further from Rocket League. Even games in the same franchise or genre change their own rules, like how Super Mario Galaxy handles gravity in comparison to Super Mario 64’s focus on traditional acrobatics. In order for players to have a pleasant experience, a game has to teach the player its rules.
Today’s games are massive, with sprawling, interconnected systems. It makes sense why contemporary games have lengthy tutorial sequences or pop-up textbox guides. It’s not the most intuitive or method but it’s easy. Teaching players is hard. Even the Pokémon series has a scene in every game where an NPC demonstrates how to catch a Pokémon.
Portal is famous for its spectacular tutorial. Extra Credits covers it here, but to summarize, Portal teaches its players slowly, only introducing one layer of complexity at a time. The player can only move forward after demonstrating mastery over a particular mechanic after time for experimentation. The Witness contains a less complex game space but it accomplishes the same goals by creating an environment for the player to learn by themselves.