The internet, and its ability to connect people across the world, is one of the most impressive marvels of human achievement. But if the equally impressive list of slurs I’ve been called by teens over Apex Legends voice chat is any indication, it’s also kind of a toxic waste dump. The online gaming community is one of the most potentially radioactive niches on the web, as anyone who spent any time anywhere in the vicinity of the internet during the height of the Gamergate controversy could attest. So as a counterpoint to that potential for rampant toxicity, the popularity of the recently released game Kind Words (Lo Fi Chill Beats To Write To) by Popcannibal is a wonderful surprise.
Unlike other popular recent games, Kind Words isn’t focused on deathmatches, running raids, or playing the role of a goose that is an asshole. It’s a massive multiplayer online game entirely focused on writing nice letters to real world strangers. That’s it. And it’s amazing.
I’ve been playing games for the vast majority of my life; I’ve put tens of thousands of hours, literally years of my life, into gaming. But as cool as beating the most grueling games feels, nothing will match my recent feeling of accomplishment in Kind Words, when I was able to use the experience of several friends who had recently come out as trans to give advice and encouragement to an anonymous trans teen who didn’t know how, or if, they should come out to their parents.
Here’s how Kind Words works: Upon booting up the game, you’re given the option to either make a request for nice letters from other players, or to respond to other players’ requests for same. When you make a request, you write a short letter describing what you’re going through in life, which is then sent anonymously—you’re only ever identified by your first initial, and are encouraged to not share personal details—to everyone else playing the game. When you choose to respond to people’s requests, you’re given a stack of messages from other players that you can choose to respond to with advice or affirmations. There’s also an option to send a message on a paper airplane to everyone playing the game, which they can choose to read or ignore. These often contain positive messages or encouraging quotes.
Unlike other online games, there isn’t really any sort of level of progression or reward system in Kind Words, besides a small sticker book you can fill out by sending messages back and forth. (I filled mine within about two hours of play; it’s all very casual.) You’re also given a new low-fi song to write to for every day that you boot up the game.
Open spaces on the internet are usually the target of trolls (see the message board 4Chan’s prank on Mountain Dew’s Dub The Dew campaign as a particularly noteworthy example). But somehow, Kind Words manages to be basically troll proof. The game’s community is dedicated, and you’re encouraged to report any letters or responses that aren’t kind. Beyond that, since the letters are anonymous, and your only option after receiving a response from a player is to send them a sticker as a thank you, there isn’t any real reward for spreading negativity. Your only path in the game is to encourage positivity, and the only score you’re awarded is the feeling that you did a good thing for a stranger in need, or receiving genuine encouragement from strangers when you’re in need of a pick-me-up. I posted in the game a few days ago about a comedy show I was particularly nervous about doing; within minutes, I received dozens of nice affirmations from strangers that honestly helped ease my worries a ton.
Kind Words is also a hit: After the game’s release in September 2019, it had hundreds of thousands of letters sent by players in less than a month. It has a Discord, subreddit, and a growing community of fan artists drawing sketches inspired by the game’s few characters. It even made several 2019 “Game Of the Year” lists. In an entertainment genre filled with so much negativity, it’s heartwarming that a game this wholesome can be a success.
As a man in his 30s with a time-consuming career, I’ll probably never have the opportunity to beat Red Dead Redemption 2 with 100% completion. I’ll never be a competition-level Smash Bros. player. But I can afford to spend 30 minutes every so often to give nice advice to strangers while listening to chill music, and that’s a pretty good trade-off.