I was talking with a friend of mine about phenomenological perspective a while ago. It was the first time I considered the possibility that we all view the world in our own wildly different ways.
He had told me that when he recalls a memory, he visualises the things it made him feel through words and description. This to him is something entirely intuitive. As I’ve submersed myself further into game development, I’ve found myself increasingly more of a witness than a participant in my own reality. When I look at a tree it’s harder to see the tree itself rather than a dissection of its parts. I’m noticing the strange relationship between light and shadow, the texture and mood. But what I can’t always see any more, at least not in the same way I did when I was a kid, is the pure essence of what that tree is. As I grow up, this way of looking at the world is overwriting my pure and childlike one. When I think of memories, I recall the memory of the memories themselves. I remember the construction of it, the one I use to tell stories or the one I use to translate into art. Neither me or my friend are seeing the truth in the purest sense, we are seeing our own manufactured realities. That is what If We Were Allowed to Visit represents to me, a celebration of the worlds we construct in our minds.
At the time of writing this piece, I’m sitting in a Japanese restaurant, eating sushi and looking out at Flinders Lane. It’s raining. The pitter patter is soothing. If only I could connect my fucking airpods; jazz and sushi are the only two things that would satiate my rain induced longing. Through the fog and rain sliding down the window pane, I make out a black brick pathway, occasionally trampled on by passing passengers. To someone, those bricks may be the liminal space between where they came from and where they’re going, to a bird it may be one big plate and to someone else, it’s where they threw up. It’s Friday night after all. In If We Were Allowed To Visit, the environment is nothing but the raw observations of the player’s character, their projection of an inner world. Every wall, every plant is rooted in this person’s mind. Some objects contain memories, some are nothing more than a recognition of its existence. What I find fascinating about this is each story and each word is separated from the thing itself. The player character isn’t physically capable of looking at a roof without seeing anything more than the word ‘roof’. To someone else in McLarty’s world, that roof may appear differently. The image could be conjured up in the mind’s eye as a collection of shapes arbitrarily strung together, it could be a chaotic arrangement of atoms, or it could be yet another memory of something that kept them safe and dry. The strange truth is that nobody really can physically relate to one another’s perspective — no matter how hard you try to empathise, the barriers of our consciousness keep us all tragically separated.
There is no better example of this than McLarty’s other works. Each to me became a different understanding of space, so fundamentally incompatible that they feel incredibly isolating. In Catacombs Of Solaris we explore an abstraction of colour, time and space. Much like If We Were Allowed to Visit, space isn’t as we see it, it’s rooted in someone else’s mind. This world is far less literal however, the roads of this world are deceiving, the walls aren’t as forgiving as our own. Turning around may lead you astray into some unfamiliar place, returning will lead you to somewhere far more inconceivable. This protagonist similarly carries a barrier between things and themselves. Nonetheless, their world is determined by colour and a fundamental lacking understanding of time and space. Strangely enough, these two characters both possess what the other doesn’t. This contextualises the dilemma between my friend and I in a way media has never quite done for me.
It led me to realise interactive media allows us more empathy than we’ve ever been granted in the digital space. The ability to connect with others through puppeting an avatar and truly viewing the world through another perspective is a truly strange and amazing feat. In If We Were Allowed to Visit we are a witness in someone else’s reality. Their perspective is not only projected onto screen but made interactive in a way that truly allows us to empathise with a certain way of looking at the world. This to me, calls into question something deeply existential. Who are we when we play games? We suspend our disbelief in engaging with art to truly immerse ourselves in an interactive world. We are caught between places, never being fully integrated into the digital space but also with one eye present in our reality with the knowledge that we are playing a game. In Franz Kafka’s Metamorphosis: “Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into a gigantic insect.” The transformation into a cockroach was something he was painfully aware of but something he could not control. He was thrust into another creature’s perspective, a perspective we don’t consider as humans due to an intuitive repulse. As time passes, however, his mind begins to shape around his external form and he begins to act more like a cockroach. If We Were Allowed to Visit painfully calls attention to our perspective as it forces us to empathise. It transforms us into another and asks us to not only puppet an avatar but be in that avatar’s world, experiencing things as they would. A comment on the game’s itch.io page had claimed the experience was like ‘seeing a new colour.’ Of course, we can’t truly be in two places, we are after all still ourselves when interacting with art. But, those who challenge our perspective ask us, if only for a brief moment, to pretend to exist as something or someone else.
When I was in high school, I wanted to do nothing more than make films. My friend and I made a film called BP NOIRE and from there I decided I would be Scorsese and nothing less. That ego carried into my next few films which came to a culmination in Writer’s Block, my troubled darling. After months of revisions and rewrites, it became about a failed writer that dealt with delusion. Then, half way through pre-production, I discovered the work of David Lynch. Coincidentally, Writer’s Block became a surreal exploration of a lost soul in his own mind. To this day, the grade I got for that assignment still plagues me. It was a B+. How dare the teacher criticize my genius, I was David Lynch after all. In the film, however, there was a scene where the writer’s girlfriend breaks up with him but he is only able to hear about how great he is at writing. He completely misses the fact that she has no desire to see him anymore, or maybe he doesn’t care. In the same way, I see the game is rooted in delusion. The world is almost repulsive to me, its lack of physical definition and space implies that our player character has—for whatever reason—discarded everything else. To them it may not have been important, or they simply don’t care enough about the things that define my reality. Colour, shape and consistency is not something that this person may even notice. We are rooted in the mind of a poet whose makeup of his own world discards the details that are irrelevant to them.
Looking at my writing now, this all feels so strange. The process of sitting down and expelling ideas onto a page led down such a wonderful rabbit hole of ideas, memory and experience. I’ve come to understand far more that my world seeps into everything I see, it’s inescapable. To deny this would be absurd. Reading this piece in particular, it makes me wonder how it will all be received. How will others connect with my perspective? Will my feelings and memories pulse through my writing in the same way McLarty and Mahadeo have done? The writing process has never always been an entirely calm one for me, it’s sometimes one of a foggy, undefined anxiety. Pulling a world or idea from my brain can sometimes be uncomfortable and strenuous. However, looking at it all laid out, it’s like looking at a literary jigsaw puzzle. All these words and spaces are combined in just the right way to convey something far bigger, like it was always meant to be this way.