Rust Bucket is a Game About Presence

My thoughts on games and making them. Mostly.

Rust Bucket is a Game About Presence

I’ve been hooked on Rust Bucket for the past week or so. It’s a clever little rogue-like where you move through an infinite number of procedurally generated rooms that get more deadly as you advance.

Rust Bucket faces a few easy enemies in a dungeon

Level 0 on infinity mode

What’s interesting to me about Rust Bucket though is that it doesn’t feel that difficult. But I keep dying. And after I die, I keep playing again. So what’s going on here?

Ultimately, I think Rust Bucket is a game about being present with your attention. Each enemy or enemy cluster in infinity mode is simple enough to figure out if you take a second and figure it out. The true challenge comes not from the figuring out but from the slowing down enough in order to do so.

I’m sure I can figure out each individual challenge if I just go slow and pay attention to what’s really going on. But it’s so tempting not to! I want to just run through the level swinging my sword with abandon! “I can get past this slime or this pig no problem! Get outta my way!” When I take that attitude, I’m dead in no time.

Whereas grinding is more about patience (just do this easy thing until you’re tired of it), Rust Bucket is more about presence. You must pay attention to the stream of easy challenges or else you lose! If I let my attention waver for a couple of moves, it’s over. There’s a real penalty to not paying attention.

I like this. A lot of people, myself included, would love to be more present in life. It’s interesting to explore this as a concept in games rather than strategic thinking. Can Rust Bucket help with this? Can I figure out a way to carry over this presence with the monsters on my phone into the rest of my life? I don’t know, and I don’t believe that’s the point of Rust Bucket (or “purposeful” games in general).

But I do think that Rust Bucket is a good reminder of the power of presence. A good reminder to move slowly, look around, and not take your expectations for granted.