Carcosa

Carcosa is a poem that was turned into a short video game.

You read the poem of the same name while walking through images, probably the one the quoted verses evoked in the developers mind. The poet, Robert W. Chambers, was popular among the early weird fantasy authors including H.P. Lovecraft (and shared their virulent racism). The game stays mostly strict with the prototype, and usually you can only control the „scroll speed“, by walking faster or slower through the level – there is no way of evading the points that trigger the poem to go on; at the forelast one this is broken up, and you can rearrange the poem by doing the room in another then the obvious sequence – does the dev trust that you won’t break the poem and will you do so?

The illustrations are well done; they are a bit reminiscent of Lotte Reinigers „The Adventures of Prince Achmed“ and raw, but coherent in their style. The music is very much what you would expect to accompany such a game – I’d have preferred it a bit less streamlined and more harsh for such a setting, but it fits the atmosphere of the game, and is technically well executed.

This game holds an elegant, hypnotic beauty and goes down the path of minimalism in a bolt and consequent way that makes it rather unique – the playtime is probably around one minute. It is an adaption of a poem that doesn’t really attempt to refresh anything, and isn’t interested in re-contextualization; this is an approach that bears the risk of gliding into a uncritical relation to the source material, and of getting a bit dusty – the game plays very much like a game that was released when the poem came out could have looked like, like a forged relict from an era that predates the medium; and looking at the developer and their affiliation with goth this might have been exactly what they wanted to do.

One might see this critical, and I personally do; but still, the game is interesting – not only for it’s splendid work in the graphical art design, but also since it greatly illustrates the impact of transitioning a written medium into a video game – even though the freedom of interactivity is reduced to a point where some might question the „game“-aspect, and the interpretation is absolutely faithful, the games effect is vastly different from the effect reading the poem, and the realization is in every aspect done on a level of craftiness that doesn’t hinder the whole thing from working.

Carcosa can be played in browser and worked fine with Firefox on OpenSuse Leap


4 comments

  • Excellent review as always, indeed “forced interactivity” (or maybe “linear” interactivity”) is something peculiar and with some games it does not detract, but enhances the experience.

    • Hi Francesco!
      Thanks a lot :).
      Indeed, it is an effect that I didn’t fully realize before playing so many small narrative games: Gamification, even on the most rudimentary level, changes how we perceive the content. Playing a game were you only press a button to scroll a text on and can’t go back afterwards is something completely different than reading the same text in a book (or scrolling through it with an E-Reader) – it changes your role as a percipient, and forces you to recognize that you are a key player in the unfolding of the story. Imho it takes away some of the distance to the material, at least it usually has this effect on me.

  • Thank you for your wonderful review of my project. It makes the heart leap to see so many words and thoughts dancing around one of my creations, particularly in so many positive ways. I would like it to be known, however that this is not a game, by definition a game has rules and an end goal, with the potential for failure. I don’t see that in what I have created. Perhaps an experiment, an experience, a dream or a digital poem? All of the above or none? Unless the player refuses to play, unless they player closes the window there is no potential for failure. Even then they can suffer my music if they so wish.
    Which, I assure you, gets harsher the more you listen to it.

    I initially created this as an artistic experiment, to see what I could make in Bitsy, and released it to see how it would be perceived.
    An artwork without an audience is a song without a voice.

    I am grateful for the positive feedback on this project.
    Perhaps one day I will make a follow up.

    I attempted, as I do in the majority of my work, to make concrete the mystery that lies within every poem, that hitherto untouched part which crystallises it as ‚poem‘ instead of as ‚rhyme‘. In this case, using a digital medium.
    For what else can closest resemble the poet scratching towards infinity?
    knowing full well that what they capture is light in a bottle in a dream?

    Digital art is ephemeral beyond ephemera. We expend physical effort for something that does not exist in the physical world, something that has to endure transmutation in order to breathe. To be concrete in the literal sense.

    These days I do not often work in the digital medium; I have turned to painting as it is similar but so very different.

    I thank you for your kind comparison to Lotte Reiniger, she is a major influence on my (very minor) work as an animator. Her visual style and manner of story telling is something that will truly stand the test of time.
    I can only hope that my attempt at visualising and creating Carcosa will do the same.
    Equally I wish It would disappear into the nether.

    Thank you, once again for your wonderful, thought provoking review on one of my experiment’s.

    • Hello!
      Thanks for your beautiful response; my definition of a game is rather far reaching – I’d argue that even a artwork that potentially could give you a possibility of impact but never does this in the end, is still a game. But this is me and my spleen, and I acknowledge that you see your creation as something else.

      It is my utmost believe that art (as all things), once created, exists forever in an ideal sphere and can never never cease to exist (or disappear into a nether).

      Thanks for the game, and greetings!

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