Kind Words is lovely. In a time when a sect of the gaming community is arguably partially responsible for our current, vitriolic political climate, we have developer Popcannibal reminding us that we can be nice to one another after all. It’s a throwback to the era of penpals, with the anonymity it grants encouraging vulnerability and honesty, rather than 4chan-esque toxicity. It’s what social networks should be; a place for strangers to connect and help one another, rather than tearing each other down.
Kind Words is set in one room. Your avatar does nothing more than get out of bed, sit at their desk, write, and listen to lo-fi hip-hop. A deer (because letters begin with “dear,” get it?) occasionally pops its head through the solitary window to make a delivery. Your room is the same as everyone else’s, though obtaining stickers allows you to add decorations such as a coffee cup, or a ship in a bottle.
You obtain these stickers by writing letters. You can either send a letter out to be received by Kind Words‘ other players, or you can receive a letter and then respond. What you write in these letters is up to you; are you struggling with a problem at work? Do you want to know how others have tackled debilitating social anxiety? Do you need a tasty recipe for apple pie? You’re free to write what you please, and those receiving your letters can respond in kind.
Kind Words Review | Sharing with strangers
Most of the letters I’ve received have been from players experiencing great difficulty. There are those struggling with grief, others who are struggling to find the motivation to leave their house, and more who are just plain lonely. As such, the individual receiving the letter has an inherent responsibility to respond sensitively.
Online anonymity is a dangerous thing, but I’ve yet to see any of the internet’s usual toxicity seep into Kind Words. Players can report letters they deem inappropriate, and while I’m unsure if Popcannibal is carrying out any heavy moderation itself, whatever it’s doing appears to be working. I’ve yet to see one unsavory response to the letters I’ve sent, though there’s no telling if every other player has been as fortunate.
Moderation is going to be crucial if Kind Words wants to remain a helpful tool for those seeking positive online interactions. With it essentially transforming players into armchair therapists, there’s the inherent risk that some will look to weaponize their anonymity. It’s simple to report that negativity, sure, but what about handling bad advice? That’s a difficult grey area for Popcannibal to tackle, and it seems like Kind Words is reliant on its players using it sensibly.
To help achieve this, Kind Words limits the extent of the interactions you can have with others by only allowing you to send one response to a player. If you offer advice to someone, they can only respond with a sticker to say “thank you.” There’s no ongoing dialogue between you and others, so no online relationships can be forged. All letters sent by players are signed with a lone initial, and Kind Words tells players to not reveal any identifying information about themselves.
Kind Words Review | Sticking to your advice
For those of us who spend a lot of their time listening to lo-fi hip-hop playlists on YouTube, it’s clear that Popcannibal knows its audience well. A passing glance at these playlists’ comments sections will reveal a bunch of strangers opening up to one another, so Kind Words‘ original lo-fi hip-hop soundtrack from Clark Aboud (Slay the Spire, Factory Town) is the ideal counterpart to its letter-writing.
Since downloading it, I’ve left it running in the background while I work, occasionally opening up the window to read a few more letters and acquire another sticker or two. I imagine this is how Popcannibal expects it to be played; it’s not a game you’ll spend hours on a time, but rather a game you’ll return to frequently for 10 minutes at a time.
There are only a select number of stickers to unlock, so the lone “game-y” aspect of Kind Words is basic. As someone who is far more interested in offering advice than receiving it, the recipient only being able to respond with a sticker did feel underwhelming. Perhaps that says more about me than it does the game, but I would have appreciated knowing if my responses were helpful or not.
What you get out of Kind Words is going to be inextricably tied to what you need to get out of it. As I’m currently in A Good Place™, I don’t have as much to gain from anonymous advice. However, for those who are enduring an unfortunate time in their lives, Kind Words is going to provide them with a valuable outlet.
Kind Words Review | Final Verdict
Kind Words is a unique and, more importantly, kind idea that deserves an audience. It encourages empathy between strangers online, and this shouldn’t be overlooked, especially in 2019 when it often feels like everyone wants to cause as much harm to one another as possible. Your appreciation of it will vary depending on how much you need it, but even its existence should be commended.