What do you reach for when you’re waiting in line at the supermarket, or waiting in a shop doorway for the rain to stop, or even while you’re waiting for a game to finish downloading? I don’t mean to assume, but let’s face it, it’s probably your phone, where some idle doomscrolling likely awaits you, or some other, time-wasting distraction that will help fill the dead air between one task and the next. Well, While Waiting is a game that delves into precisely this fundamental human question: what is the best thing to do while waiting for something else to happen? It’s from the makers of the very good puzzle game Moncage, and its newly released Steam demo is a pure, fidgety brilliance.

There are ten scenarios available in the demo, taken from the game’s eventual 100+ on release, and each one sees you take control of a young, double-chinned lad who must find ways to kill time before a variety of different events take place. Sticker rewards that correspond to cryptic notebook scribbles hint at possible things you could spend your time doing while you wait, say, for the bus to arrive, or the rain to stop, or for a toilet to become free, but as the Steam page notes, “doing nothing is the ultimate strategy”, and there’s an accompanying sticker for simply ‘doing nothing’ and, well, waiting it out.

While Waiting | Gameplay Reveal Trailer

There is nothing you can do to speed up the process of each level. Over the course of the 30-odd minutes it will take you to run through the demo from start to finish, you’ll have to quite literally wait for each level to auto-complete itself before you can move on to the next – and that’s partly the point developers Optillusion are trying to convey here. Merely waiting is a 100% legitimate way to play While Waiting. The clue’s in the name, after all.

But I do also think that, secretly, the real message of While Waiting is about making the most of the time available to you. I mean, if I see a clue that says “Arcade in the window” while I’m huddled under a café awning waiting for the rain to stop, you betcha I’m going to be the world’s worst nuisance and try everything in my power to work out what that heckin’ means. The same goes for the phrase “Percussive Maintenance” while waiting in baggage claim at an airport, or “Eye To Eye” as I wait for the loo in a public bathroom. Poking and prodding the limits of just what you can achieve ‘while waiting’ is all part of the fun here, and there were several moments during the demo that really took me by surprise, both in terms of what I was able to do during these short periods of time, and by just how surreal some of the outcomes ended up becoming.

A notebook of hints sits on top of an in-game phone screen in While Waiting
Image credit: Optillusion

You get a good indication of exactly what you can interact with by paying attention to the big, bold splashes of colour onscreen. While most levels lock you into very limited, almost comic book-style panels that are focused on the scenario at hand, some levels do let you branch out to other, adjoining locations, making you even more curious to test the boundaries of each new setting. It’s really very well done, and the light, classical piano score tootling along the background only enhances the situational comedy of it all.

So yes, the next time you find yourself idling around doing not very much, why not spend the time playing the Steam demo for While Waiting? There’s no firm release date yet, but you know what? I don’t mind waiting to find out.

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