Today is yet another day in which I’m lost in thought. I’ve been in quarantine for who knows how long – I’ve been avoiding to keep count on purpose. I just know that it started at the end of Summer, and we’re currently at the start of a new Summer here in Argentina. The looming reality that an entire year will come to pass is sadly a reality at this point, and I try not to think about the impossibility of getting out of my house on a safe manner for the foreseeable future. I also try, and fail, to not get lost in thought so often, swimming in memories of better times.
Throughout 2019 and up until February, I had the opportunity to travel four times outside of my country. It was a first for me, and I enjoyed all of these dearly, seeing cities like San Francisco and Los Angeles in the US, all the way to London and Dublin across the sea. I met folks in person that I had considered friends for a long time already. I tried new food, drank a bit too much, and fell in love with the scenery.
While each of them were different, there was a recurring element that made itself present every time I returned back home. They all felt like dreams. Parting ways and saying your goodbyes is always sad, and I often relived the trip time and time again during the 10+ hours of the returning flights. But as soon as I exited the airport, and even more so when I started hearing Argentinian accent again, it always felt like a snap. I was back in my old reality. Did the trip really happen? Was I actually thousands of miles away from home?
During the past months, there’s been a another question in mind.
When will I able to fly again?
Promesa begins with a subtle presentation. It tells you that there’s no save points, and that it will take you around 45 minutes to see it through. This might sound like a short time, but it’s not – you actually get to visit dozens of different places in passing moments, separated by soft transitions from a dialogue between a grandfather and his grandchild.
All the places you see emerge from these conversations, but they thrive in being uniform, independent, ethereal. Sometimes it’s just a house in the distance that draws closer as you slowly move towards it. Others it’s just a window to a dark room, leading you inside across a curtain trapped in the wind. You only have to move for everything to be in motion, but most times you’re free to stop and look around freely.
There’s something really clever in the way the whole game is presented. Before I got to play it, I remember seeing screenshots from afar and thinking the places were photorealistic in nature, or at least close enough to the real thing. To my surprise, it’s all pixel art in 3D, crafted in such delicate manner that I wouldn’t have doubted you if you’ve told me they were from a photo gallery.
Once you’re inside them, the feeling remains similar, but it feels part of an illusion. You don’t really meet other people, the only resemblance of them present only in an old TV mid way through the story, and a few instances where I found pictures hanging on the walls or sitting on top of a table. I can only remember a flock of pigeons outside a cathedral, but they weren’t really present. I was only able to see their shapes, shaking their wings on the floor. Despite this, each place feels like it was inhabited at some point – some fairly recently, while others seem to have been abandoned for decades. It’s in the sounds, the snippets of time and place, and how the game invites you to interact with them that these environments take a delicate form.
It’s also the first time I’ve felt transiting my own city inside a game. The developer, Julián Palacios Gechtman, isn’t exactly Argentinian, but he comes from South American parents. There isn’t slang that gives it away, but the dialogue (presented both in Spanish and English) reads exactly like a conversation I could hear in this side of the world. Moreover, some the streets that I came to pass felt incredibly close to home, almost as if I had walked through them before. One particular hallway was so familiar that I actually stood in place for a couple seconds, observing every detail with a smile on my face.
All these places share the sentiment I have with my own memories as well. They aren’t exactly truthful to the real moments, as much as I believe them to be, but rather fragments that form similar pictures. It’s hard to describe the feeling of returning home after meeting new cultures and landscapes, because you’re only left with these fragments, always available inside your head to replay themselves and retell stories over and over, but ever distant. Even when looking at pictures I took, there’s a dissonance I cannot shake.
I’m constantly trapped inside them. At times they also manifest themselves in my dreams, allowing me to wander through both new and old places with the people I hold dear. I can tell they aren’t real when I finally wake up in my bed, but I try to hold onto them as much as possible, either writing them down or telling a friend about them, making an illusion tangible. The walks and visits of Promesa also have a time limit. You know it from the start, after all. But you still try to make the most of them either way, remembering the sounds and landscapes in fleeting moments.
After I hit the credits, a message told me about the ability to select levels individually now, showcasing moments that I had missed, indicating that every playthrough in Promesa is different. It reminded me of the quiet moments where I let myself get lost in thought, picking memories apart and revisiting them. There’s nothing else I can do right now but to wait patiently for the time when I’m able to fill in the blanks.