ALZ’s glitch art pulses with tragedy

The late film critic Roger Ebert once wrote that the art that resonated with him most engaged his empathy and taught him about the lives of others:

“I could use such lessons to apply to myself and my relationships with others. They could instruct me about life, love, disease and death, principles and morality, humor and tragedy. They might make my life more deep, full and rewarding.”

I can’t help but delight in using his words in reference to ALZ.

the tragedy in the memory loss of the slow-moving character you control 

Yes, it’s a videogame, at least in terms of it needing player interaction to proceed with its sad narrative. Although, even the creator of ALZ seems to misconstrue exactly what it is:

“A short game. Well more like a short film. Well more like an experimental short film in ever-so-slightly interactive of a format.”

Why the retreat? It’s one of those “art games” that causes uproar in comments sections because it lacks interactive bandwidth. You walk to the right and trigger a monologue in each screen; that’s it.

But ALZ isn’t a game about pressing buttons. The clues are in its visual disarray: The pulsing pink trees, the distorted scratches against the shop window, the blurring and tearing faces of the people on the bus. Bigger signs are revealed in the confused, scared monologues that you activate on the way to the bus stop.

If none of it makes sense, if you can’t see the tragedy in the memory loss of the slow-moving character you control, or why they see a lover as a muted black box, then you need to read about Alzheimer’s Disease. According to, Alzheimer’s Disease affects 1 in 3 seniors, and it’s the sixth leading cause of death in the US. There is no cure.

I wouldn’t go so far as to say that ALZ exemplifies the experience of those suffering with Alzheimer’s, and it may require complementary reading. But its glitch art and fragmented narrative offers a window of understanding for us to peer through. 

If nothing else, ALZ will give you sympathy not so much for the diagnosed, but for those who have to look after them, the caregivers. I think we can all imagine what it’s like to have to watch a loved one’s mind fade away, how deeply upsetting it would be. Maybe, after playing ALZ, you’ll appreciate the people you hold close just a little bit more. This is what Ebert was talking about.

You can play ALZ for free in your browser.