Sacrilege by Cara Ellison

Sacrilege

A month or two back, I was alternating between several games – the shipping version of Gone Home, a nascent version of the Novelist, and Far Cry 2, which I wanted to replay for the third time on the Infamous setting with Dylan’s Mod and SweetFX installed. Around the same time, I played the brilliant and moving Papers, Please – a game that is hard to include in lists because of the way commas fuck with my head. Papers, Please is a really good example taking a situation and exploring it deeply.

Compared to the amount of free time I have, I can barely keep up with the good games, books and movies being created.

Somewhere in that mix, I played through the IF game Sacrilege, and found that it had a fairly profound impact on me, continuing to resonate even now. It’s constructed of energetic, well-written prose, but since you’re driving it along, reacting to the ideas at your own pace, the impact goes deeper than that. More importantly, the protagonist-perspective and the mediation of the player’s options evoked a constant stream of realizations, popping off in my head as I played through four or five times.

Sacrilege filled my mind with realizations about the interplay of personality archetypes, feelings of abandonment that I still harbor, and the absolute cafe-bombing power of social failure. There were times when it turned me on, filling me with the drive to pursue. The entire thing was fascinating, seeing desire from within one particular woman’s perspective. It’s all about what people need from each other balanced against risks and the terror of social rejection; the delicate auto-manipulation required to maintain confidence and resist screaming from the anxiety inherent in seeking connection, which at times feels like trying to keep a kitten alive while its heart is out on the operating table.

The notion of youth and soul (and time) as precious, not to be squandered on sex with someone unworthy, is not a concept native to my thinking. Another way the game is a fascinating look at the world through the eyes of someone else, even if this praise risks categorizing the author-designer as too “other” from my own life.

Mild spoilers, but the notion of the friendly NPC slipping the hero a book was rad; reading it in a club made me laugh in a great way because it was something I’d do if I met such an NPC. The text makes a point about the way men are constrained, developmentally – leadership is a requirement, with all the failure and high stakes anxiety that brings about. The simple honesty of the term fuckplan is so great. Another non-native concept, but it instantly opened my eyes to another murky part of the world, of life. The evoking of the YEAH YEAH YEAHS through the game name and MAAAAPS created a kind of synergy. As someone with a lifelong kind of mild body/facial dysmorphia, I found the protagonist’s confident desirability very powerful. Sacrilege is rich, and was crafted in such a way that it produces an endless series of reactions in the player. I’m not sure if this means it’s packed with ideas, or if – even more clever – it unrolls in such a way that leverages the player’s own experience and prompts self-reflection that manifests as ideas.

Even as an atheist, I felt an embedded Biblical reaction to the names of the men. Insecurity ran through me when John was described as tall, and upon hearing a “twenty-something body” described as hot. Awe-struck, I stopped playing and sat back to absorb this moment that made me feel like I’d been in the perimeter of some kind of minefield; deadly territory that seconds ago I’d been skipping through, but now had to stand frozen, considering how to inch out and away. Playing, you’re caught in a social trap that you cannot even see, which is fucking terrifying. It’s all made worse because we’ve all lived through those social situations that make up the game’s narrative world, where you cannot stop and consider because the clock is running and to pause would be weird, so you push ahead. And as you do, you’re screaming internally at the mistakes you’re making. Sacrilege, more than anything I’ve experienced, touched upon the power we give other people over us, to define us – to define our status as winners or losers – which is completely illusory in most cases, but can be mind-destroying anyway.

There were bits I found brutally cynical, touching upon heart-breaking aspects of some romantic tangles. At one point the game drives home the protagonist’s dilemma, the choice between two of the men, in such a painful way that I wanted to stop playing, but couldn’t:
The guy you are going to hurt
The guy who is going to hurt you
The are only two options

So brutal. So much hunger, need, desperation and risk.

because you might not be offered
something like it again
they never actually
give you anything
Instead only take
When they want
place you out on the chessboard
egos think they will always have pawns

Sacrilege is worth your time, but I’d recommend playing it when you’re alone and in the right frame of mind. It’s short enough to play a number of times, which will let you see all the angles.

About the game, Ellison says, “…I really wanted to make a ‘dating sim’ for the Pulse Pounding Heart Stopping Dating Sim Jam and instead of making it about weird and wonderful sexual experiences I wanted to make it about the heart stopping drudgery of being heterosexual in a world where heterosexuals are conditioned not to talk to each other, or listen to each other, or really have any idea what they are doing. So I made this Twine game. However, I famously have somewhat manic-depressive tendencies, and therefore it takes place in a red-hot club atmosphere where your eyes are being singed and music is forcing its way into your skin and you love every second of your descent into hell. Oh, yes, and turn your volume up, there is music at a certain point.

Play Sacrilege.

 

Fake Album Covers

While studying up on art theory (semiotics and simulacra), I stumbled across this Fake Album Cover meme. Seems like my kind of thing, so how did I miss it?

Fake Album Cover from Know Your Meme:

How to Make Your Own Album Cover

1 – Go to “wikipedia.” Hit “random”
or click http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Special:Random
The first random wikipedia article you get is the name of your band.

2 – Go to “Random quotations”
or click http://www.quotationspage.com/random.php3
The last four or five words of the very last quote of the page is the title of your first album.

3 – Go to flickr and click on “explore the last seven days”
or click http://www.flickr.com/explore/interesting/7days
Third picture, no matter what it is, will be your album cover.

4 – Use photoshop or similar to put it all together.

Ivana XL

I’ve been listening to Ivana XL’s EP and album (both of which seem to be called Ivana XL, but whatever). If you like creaky, quirky, semi-folksy stuff like Mazzy Star (from the 90′s), you’ll probably like this.

xlimages

Glasvegas

After hearing about them for a while, I finally started listening to Glasvegas this week. One part melodrama, one part grit, I love their music entirely.

I’m playtesting my iPhone game a lot right now, near the end of the project. (This is, more or less, a regenerative side project I’m doing with a handful of other people, while working on longer-term first-person RPG-style stuff with Arkane Studios.) Out of many, many great qualities, one of the best things about the iPhone/iPod is that you can general pop on headphones, turn off the game’s music, and play to your own soundtrack. Not completely novel, but better supported than on any prior platform.

My favorite music while playing my iPhone game: Dan Deacon, Cut Copy and–more specifically–the Teenagers’ remake of a song by Vampire Weekend. Glasvegas works well too, it turns out.