In season one of “House of Cards,” Kevin Spacey’s Machiavellian character Frank Underwood plays an online first-person shooter, most likely “Call of Duty.” It’s a striking scene. Alone, on the couch, this southern congressman anonymously plays with who we would assume are teenagers. Who would have thought the Democratic majority whip from South Carolina would spend his downtime blind-firing assault rifles around splintering drywall?
It's impossible not to reference M.C. Escher when describing the game's logic-defying labyrinths. And that's a good thing. You'll feel like a child again when you finish the first few levels. Turning a crank makes the sound of a harp. Minimal text drives the silent story as you fill in the blanks to the narrative. You wonder what this princess is doing here. Is she lost? What is she trying to find? There are few answers. It's rare to experience a game that is not only sensually lovely, but quietly conceptual.
There's something subtle going on here. It wasn't only the review of the game that made the president of the United States reach out to this novelist. And it wasn't just the writer's body of work. It's the fact that Underwood is a gamer who understands the craft of unconventional storytelling. Underwood chose this novelist because his review proves that he admires nontraditional narratives.
The tagline for "Monument Valley" reveals a lot: "An illusory adventure of impossible architecture and forgiveness." But it's the last word that adds the most intricate piece to the puzzle. Our princess is searching for forgiveness, and that might be the hardest labyrinth of all. As Underwood slithers further down into his morally dark hole, it might be forgiveness that he's trying hardest to find. In the partisan valley of monuments and marble tombs, the tortured boy simply wants people to understand him. Maybe the novelist-turned-biographer can provide that insight. I'm hoping—to Underwood's eventual demise—that he can't.
Justin Sirois is the author of "So Say the Waiters," "Falcons on the Floor," and "The Last Book of Baghdad" (forthcoming). He lives in Baltimore and loves games.