It is a cycle – the game begins with our failure to stop a plague that has been ravishing the town, and we are now given the option to try again. We are referred to as an actor and the tragedy that we have been a part of ends and then begins anew. From day twelve back to day one, we now make our way through each agonizing hour on the streets of the town to that final moment. Every day is quicker than the last, mimicking how the years of one’s life seem to quicken with age. But it is not apparent at first. It is the hunger and exhaustion that increase day after day. You realize that events fly by quicker, that darkness is eager to arrive. That with every passing moment your responsibilities and goals multiply in number yet, with less and less time to complete them, the map of your thoughts becomes vacant.
You know the exact chances of a friend’s death and still fail to save them – your hunger and thirst forced you to scrounge in the streets as they sickened. Maybe you even had the time. Maybe you were satiated. But the city got in your way. It was built to prevent you from reaching them just as it was built to force its residents to remain in their districts or, at best, to only go where the higher powers – the creators of the city – want them to go:
She looked down a slope, needing to squint for the sunlight, onto a vast sprawl of houses which had grown up all together, like a well-tended crop, from the dull brown earth; and she thought of the time she’d opened a transistor radio to replace a battery and seen her first printed circuit. The ordered swirl of houses and streets, from this high angle, sprang at her now with the same unexpected, astonishing clarity as the circuit card had.
Thomas Pynchon, The Crying of Lot 49
In this passage, the city was built like a circuit board where one part corresponds with another, never to cross paths where it was not meant to. Yet this diseased city is even more terrifying than that. It takes this concept of psychogeography and tears the reigns away from the builders. It was built to give them control and now the city has grown a mind of its own. There is no one left at the wheel – not the citizens, not the builders, not those working behind the curtains – the city grows its own heart and brain, it releases a miasma into the streets that not only kills the citizens through agonizing means, but adds a new layer of prevention when traversing the burroughs. Your goals are so close yet separated by a thin stretch of land that has been polluted with the disease. Your immunity is low and so to reach it you must go around the long way, but now the day is moving quicker than before, and midnight comes. The goal is gone; you would have been better off seeking that friend up north because now they sicken and worsen with every passing moment. The medicine you used for yourself a few days ago could have saved them.
There are stores of medicine built up around the city. Stores of food and protective clothing as well. And with every citizen’s greater need to eat and protect themselves, prices remain the same – money becomes harder to access. We resort to theft or murder because the system has forced this economic means upon us. There is no union between citizens to help one another, no empathy for a neighbor. And as outside forces come to intervene, dolling out a new form of currency, a handout, to make things better, it just becomes more challenging to survive.
Why does the city fight back? What caused this disease? Was the earth, or those mystic forces lying beneath, punishing them for what this city was built on? Entering the Termitary shows us how this city goes about producing its goods. It is slavery forced onto of the indigenous peoples of this land, The Kin. They are corralled like bulls into enclosed spaces and treated as if they should be lucky they are kept alive, kept together, allowed to work and produce. Irrelevant to their captors’ thoughts, they are the ones who first settled here and they possess a bond with the earth itself. Only their mystic blood can heal the city, but with that blood comes the price of every Kin – it will bleed the life out of the earth only to provide a few more moments in the unraveling of the city’s history. Childrens’ dreams tower above the city, the only means holding back the Earth’s life blood from spilling out and destroying every hint of mysticism and beauty in the world.
Should a city like this, built on the death and suffering of many thousands, built to control even the oppressors, be allowed to remain as it is. That is the final question of the game. When you have worked agonizing hours – trekking back and forth, fighting hunger, thirst, and fatigue – striving to save your birthplace, how can you decide to abandon it? Will you accept this new information and make the right choice, or will those days of suffering refuse to allow you to change your mind?
In the end, correct choice or not, it does not matter. It is a cycle. Things begin anew. Your fail or succeed; the city lives or dies just as the Kin live or die. You are simply an actor. You wear the face of Burakh in these moments of despair. The suffering of the city is eternal. We try to overcome death, putting on new masks to take on this journey, refusing to acknowledge that despite the outcome of our journey, each outcome will be the same – a new actor will play the part. Yet, if we save the lifeblood of the Earth – allow it to flow and create – it is possible that something may come from our journey, hopefully not to again be built over, tilled, and fractured. A final breaking of the cycle.
See my shorter Grouvee Review here: Grouvee
See other game reviews or what I plan to play next here: Game Reviews