Text-based Descriptions – English is for Squares: Thomas Was Alone as a Classroom Text (5.2)

Description of Visuals by Anne Meuser

Edited by Rachel Mazique


Sound: Video games. Online games. Digital games.

Image: The video begins with three quick excerpts from video games. The first is of Sid Meier’s Civilization V, which shows a bird’s-eye-view of landmass, covered in different types of terrain as well as colorful icons. The second game image, League of Legends, displays from above two small characters fighting each other while they and smaller cloaked characters surround a turret that shoots blue energy beams. The third game image is of Spirits which features a two-dimensional orange alcove in the center of an otherwise black background. Small mushroom-headed white figures move toward a bright swirl at the right of the screen.

Sound: As a teacher, you may have heard of gaming. Especially because, as of 2011

Image: Another video game clip plays from a first person perspective from Minecraft looking out on a green landscape with grass and trees all made of cubes. The word “Gaming” flashes on the screen.

Sound: 91 percent of kids, ages 2-17, are gaming in the U.S.

Image: The screen goes black and “91%” appears on the screen in white text. This is followed by an image of people playing and watching video games on screens mounted to walls. A young man in the foreground stares at the closest screen on the left directly with his mouth slightly open while an older man stands behind him also watching the screen and smiling. The “91%” fades shortly after this image appears.

Sound: And in 2014, the American Psychological Association reported that video game play may provide great benefit in mood, motivation, creativity, and problem solving.

Image: The screen fades to black again and displays “2014” in white. That fades after a couple of seconds to a picture of the side of a grey building with tall reflective mirrors which has “American Psychological Association” in lettering on it at the top. After that is a picture of two boys facing away toward a structure between them made of a wood block, cardboard, and blue plastic cups shaped like a weathervane. Next the video cuts to a photo of five girls huddled around two small robots, pointing at them and discussing. The third photo is one girl looking away from the viewer toward many pieces of colorful artwork on a wall. There is one piece of artwork on an easel in front of her and her hands have paint on them.

Sound: You may have heard of gaming, but have you heard it in the classroom? Why not? What would that sound like?

Image: The screen goes black and then fades into the same kind of footage shown before from Minecraft. The word “Gaming” fades onto the screen. This all then cuts to the image of a large, empty classroom full of chair-desks with a long green blackboard at the front.


Sound: The game Thomas was Alone, created by Mike Bithell

Image: A white screen with a red circle logo appears with the name “Mike Bithell” inside. Red, somewhat transparent squares float around the logo like debris.

Sound: poses puzzles in which players must move various rectangles across a stage and over

Image: Scenes from Thomas Was Alone play. The background is a dark blue and a small red two-dimensional rectangle moves from left to right within a black frame.

Sound: to a portal that corresponds to their shapes. Players start with

Image: The background is now brown, and the black frame changes to a complex one full of moving floors and houses more colorful shapes.

Sound: one personified rectangle, Thomas

Image: The red rectangle, Thomas, appears on a black platform with a simple blue background behind him.

Sound: and gain control over many others, all of which posses unique characteristics—not only in ability to jump higher or cross water, but also in personality.

Image: The screen displays the white outlines of many quadrilateral shapes, then pans left and up along a cave-like path outlined in black squares and rectangles to show seven colored quadrilaterals.

The video then jumps to another level of the game with a green background in which there are two black tunnels, one atop the other. An orange square travels through the top tunnel; a pink rectangle goes through the bottom one, jumping on a white button to open a pathway for the orange square.

Sound: Throughout the course of this game, you become attached to your group of polygons.

Image: Another level appears where a small purple rectangle jumps on Thomas to reach a high platform and push a purple button at the top of the stage.

Sound: Thomas Was Alone conveys strong tones of friendship, struggle, and sacrifice, not merely through an omniscient narrator, but through the gameplay itself.

Image: Two more levels are shown here: In one, the background is brown and the camera pans over to focus on the red, purple, and blue shapes.

The second stage shows Thomas moving toward the left quickly while the black ground beneath him falls off, in chunks, into the deadly water behind him.


Sound: Thomas and his companions are programming errors who are trapped, moving through an uncontrollable, digital space.

Image: The video fades to showcase Thomas and a green rectangle, James, who are confined to a small rectangular space. Thomas is at the bottom of the screen while James sticks to the top of it. They push buttons corresponding with their own colors to create sets of stairs that will allow the other rectangle to reach his corresponding button.

Sound: Thomas realizes that he cannot control his surroundings

Image: A level appears where the white outlines, the portals that each shape must reach at the same time to complete the level, move back and forth across the stage as the shapes try to reach them.

Sound: as he and the player reach new portals after each puzzle.

Image: The video then cuts to a clip of Thomas alone on a small stage. In this level of the game Thomas jumps across a small gorge in order to reach the portal.


Sound: Thomas wondered if the portals were actually taking him anywhere

Image: This level shows the portal on a stage, then pans over to reveal Thomas far to the left of it.


Sound: We must ask of the game, “Why keep going,” yet Thomas and his companions strive forward to reach an impossible, invisible fate.

Thomas believes in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before him. It eludes him, but that’s no matter—to-morrow he will run faster, stretch out his arms farther.

Image: Thomas jumps onto small black squares hovering in this level to reach the portal at the top of the stage.


The video jumps to show a glowing light which showers white glowing squares and rectangles like dust, snow or fragments of light.

Sound: In the classroom, Thomas Was Alone might act as a companion to a work like The Great Gatsby. Is Gatsby’s pursuit of the past like Thomas’ pursuit of progress?

Image: The camera moves down and to the right to show Thomas below the light. Thomas then moves directly underneath the shower of light.

Sound: Comparing the running and stretching of both Gatsby and Thomas offers students a chance to reflect on determination and desire.

Image: Thomas is on a stage with moving spiked platforms that swing in and out of Thomas’ path. He jumps to avoid them, gets hit by one, regenerates farther back in the level, and moves to maneuver through the moving spikes again.

Sound: Thomas and his companions sacrifice themselves to pass on their abilities to others like them trying to escape the digital world. Gatsby forfeits his life as he takes the fall for Daisy’s car accident.

Image: Thomas is in a stage where blue and white squares in the background float up through the area where the seven main quadrilateral characters are. All but Thomas are white, meaning they are in their portal. As Thomas jumps into his portal, the video pauses for a few seconds until the white shapes of each quadrilateral shrinks into nothing.

Sound: For desire of a far-off future, Thomas and Gatsby run and stretch and

Image: The video then fades back to a stage where the portals move across the stage. All the characters are in place when the portals swing back, so the stage ends and the screen fades to white.

Sound: lose themselves for a dream they never experience.

Image: A column appears in the middle of the screen that is mostly taken up by the dark background. The column is bordered by two thin white pillars and filled with upward-moving white pixels. The top of the column is open and the pixels leave the structure as they move up. A green rectangle floats up and out of the column with the pixels.

Sound: Drawing this parallel encourages deeper reading. It asks of both the game and the novel if our determination and desire bring any good. Can efforts in one life, for Gatsby, Thomas, and ourselves,

Image: The green rectangle jumps across the top of a stage and then a tall, thin yellow rectangle tries to jump over to the blue square to avoid the water. The yellow rectangle falls into the water and dissolves several times before the blue square moves closer to the edge of the water and the yellow rectangle moves safely onto the square.

Sound: affect those who come after we’re gone?

Or how does this sound?

Image: The video cuts to a scene of new rectangles, one purple and one green, moving around a stage which is outlined by boundaries that are half black and half white—as opposed to the entirely black outlines present in previous stages.


Sound: Thomas and his friends understand that they are programming errors. Artificial intelligences. Monsters born of technology gone too far. In this way, is Thomas like Frankenstein’s monster? Is either character truly alone?

Image: This stage has many of the quadrilateral characters visible. Eventually, the small orange square presses a white button and rides a newly upward moving platform up the stage like an elevator.

Sound: Students explore such themes of loneliness

Image: The quadrilaterals are all in their end portals and the pixel cloud, a group of squares with a tapering square-like tail, swoops down over Thomas’ spot. When it leaves, Thomas is missing from his portal.

Sound: hands-on during play as an evil pixel cloud “eats” the quadrilateral

Image: The pixel cloud swoops in on another stage to make the horizontally long rectangle disappear.

Sound: characters one by one.

Image: The orange square falls from the top of the stage into his portal and is consumed by the pixel cloud upon landing.

Sound: When down to the last two, John and Claire,

Image: A new stage begins and the yellow rectangle, John, sits on top of the blue square, Claire.

Sound: players hear John, the yellow rectangle: John hoped that he would be the next to get eaten. He didn’t want to be alone.

Image: John and Claire move across a stage where the two must cross water separated by black pillars.


Sound: Players then watch as the pixel cloud eats Claire, and must play as only John, experiencing the lack of collaboration present and familiar from previous levels.

Image: The pixel cloud makes Claire disappear from her portal in the water at the end of a level. The video then fades to white; we then move to the next stage where John alone jumps on platforms.


Sound: The game play in Thomas Was Alone constantly exemplifies literary concepts and compels students to ask questions

Image: Rain moves upward, splattering on the level’s ceiling, as James the green rectangle jumps to avoid ceiling spikes.

Sound: about life and purpose and humanity. Thomas Was Alone

Image: A green square falls upward as if gravity is reversed and a purple rectangle jumps through a stage full of white squares and pieces of the stage bent in 90-degree angles.

Sound: stands as an excellent text for teachers not simply because it illustrates literary concepts and themes, but because it does so in a way not wholly accessible through traditional classroom media.

Image: A purple rectangle jumps around square platforms to follow a light that leads to white buttons to jump on.


Sound: It is the aspect of play that sets this game apart as an exemplary classroom text. As students engage with the controls and narrative of the game, they experience the motions and motivations and struggles of game characters.

Image: The colorful quadrilaterals move around a stage jumping on buttons that correspond with their colors to open pathways in the level.

Sound: Thomas Was Alone immerses students in a world of vibrant quadrilaterals

Image: A green rectangle floats upward in a ray of white pixels and lands in a portal surrounded by rotating white square frames. The screen fades to white.


Sound: When the orange square, Chris, first meets Thomas, he complains

Image: A level appears where Thomas and Chris are the feature characters.


Sound: Who the hell did this Thomas think he was? Chris had been doing fine. He wasn’t the highest jumper, but he’d held his own.

Image: The orange rectangle, Chris, jumps across water and jumps onto platforms by himself.


Sound: During this time, players can feel Chris’ frustration, both as they hear Chris’ words and as they must tediously switch between Thomas and Chris to reach the end of levels. This close relation between narration, characterization, and experience is essential to the game and illustrates very clearly, concepts and ideas

Image: Thomas and Chris climb a staircase to reach their portals. Chris must use Thomas as a stepping block to reach each new step even though Thomas can jump up each step on his own.

Sound: of struggle, collaboration, and eventual friendship.

Image: Clips move from an image of Chris falling through a stage to one where Thomas and Chris must balance on the yellow rectangle, John, in order to reach their portals.


Sound: In this game, you are the characters. All these simple, quadrilateral character forms allow players to see themselves as this diverse cast: Thomas the reflector, Chris the foil, Claire the hero, John the athlete, Laura the romantic, James the outcast, Sarah the adventurer. Students play in each of these roles and experience their findings of hope, sacrifice, responsibility, collaboration, and self-discovery.

Image: John jumps across a stage (over water) while Claire travels through water under a black platform.

The video then jumps between footage of each character: red Thomas, orange Chris, blue Claire, yellow John, pink Laura, green James, and purple Sarah.

The video then cuts to a level where the stage’s platforms move up and down erratically like the volume bars on a stereo.


Sound: And because students are interacting with the game’s literary aspects through hands-on play

Image: Thomas and James balance on top of each other to reach their portals.

Sound: they learn about them while tapping into the benefits of gaming. Video games have unique power to motivate students and spark their creative, problem solving drive. Directing that level of engagement toward classroom learning goals through playing a game like Thomas Was Alone

Image: A grey rectangle moves through the stage by passing through colored areas. When passing through a blue area, the grey rectangle turns partially blue and can pass through water. The rectangle passes through a pink area, and then through a purple area, which allows it to jump higher.

The video cuts to numerous, short clips of such grey rectangles moving through stages using the color-given benefits.

Sound: has the potential to push students further in making connections to texts and ideas.

Image: Chris pushes a white diamond up a small staircase.


Sound: Thomas Was Alone holds literary merit. But Thomas

Image: Thomas, Sarah, and James are in a stage with moving black square pieces that form a larger platform high up in the stage.

Sound: is not alone.

Image: Thomas stands alone on a stage.

Sound: He, and countless other games, have a place in the classroom as tools for collaboration, problem solving, critical thinking, creation,

Image: Clips of many games flash quickly on the screen, showcasing a variety of types of video games.

Sound: and, ultimately, learning.

Image: Thomas appears alone in a simple level again; he then moves straight toward his portal. The screen fades to white.