Shell Song

GIF-Screencapture of Shell Song, as provided by the dev. All rights reserved by Everest Pipkin.

Shell Song is an interactive fiction or a digital essay about the voice as a medium, its relation to the body, the attempts to recreate it by technical means, and the ethical questions that are opened up by the advances in this field through digital means.

At the beginning, the story mainly introduces the narrator: A person, who regards voices as most important to identify others, but can never identify with their own voice; the description is vibrant, and – as unlikely as it might sound – quite believeable; over the course of the game, the person and their (often precarious) entanglement in the modern digital economy is more and more fleshed out.

The narration slowly shifts over to the more and more elaborate attempts to recreate and catalogue the human voice and language; we learn about various historic attempts to create sound-alphabets and talking machines, until we end up at the current state of the art – and while we learn more and about the narrator, the interjacent technical layer, that is more and more brought to our awareness – until the game delivers its final synthesis.

Telling much more details about the plot would mean to say too much; so let me just say: It rocks. The pacing, the use of speech generated (and recorded?) by various means, the content that is at the same time entertaining, educating and affecting, and the in a way subtle dramatic pointed emphasis will take you away in no time – in the end, the game didn’t feel like 40 minutes at all – even though I played it two times, and probably needed longer than that for each play-through.

Shell Song is less a game than an exceedingly smart and well crafted interactive piece (and indeed calls itself an „essay“) that touches an whole cluster of topics, including platform capitalism, sovereignty over biometric data, self-perception and the borders of the own self, and the state of the concept of identity in a world where the cataloguing of humans was used again and again to subject them. Both the writing and the research and reasoning behind it are outstanding, and one can hardly believe that this piece is already over three years old again – it feels so contemporary, so close to the current pulse of the time, and might even be able to flabbergast hard boiled science fiction fans with its description of our current reality.

The game’s author, Everest Pipkin, did, or participated in, various other games – one of them (featured before on the arcane cache). It is done with Twine, and possibly various other tools; should be fully playable with a screenreader. Run well on OpenSuse Thumbleweed with Firefox.

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