Blue Lacuna

I first became aware of Blue Lacuna from its amusing promo, which consists of a several paragraphs of text introducing its premise and protagonist. The amusing part is that the text is spread over a series of public-content websites such as Myspace and Flickr and Youtube, each fragment ending with the URL of the next fragment. It tells the story of a “wayfarer”, someone with the rare ability to move between worlds, and the presentation was clearly chosen to reflect this. The game content doesn’t really rely on this introductory text, but I’ve seen games before that rely on external websites, and it always makes me uneasy, because it renders content which could otherwise be archived and preserved subject to the web’s transience and volatility. But then, I suppose that even this works with Blue Lacuna‘s themes, which have a lot to do with abandonment and loss. Our wayfarer can travel to new worlds, but doesn’t have the ability to go back. To fare way is to farewell, forever.

The author has gone to some lengths to make the game accessible to beginners. Travel by means of compass directions, that old bugaboo, is abandoned in favor of destination nouns. Important nouns in the output are highlighted (blue for objects, green for exits), and nouns are accepted as complete commands on their own, like in Ferrous Ring. In fact, we’re told in an early bit of interstitial tutorial that you can complete the game without ever typing a verb. Playing entirely by choosing highlighted words in the text you’re reading can make it feel more like a website than a game, even if the act of selection consists of typing rather than clicking. Still, you can use freeform IF commands if you want, and there are things you’ll only see if you do. There is in fact more adventure-game stuff under the hood than is at first apparent. I wasn’t even sure that there was an inventory until I tried typing “i”. The tutorial text never mentions it. Likewise, compass-direction movement really is still there, but if you want to use it, you’ll have to find exits by trial and error.

The game further accommodates both the old-school hardcore adventurer and the newcomer by offering a choice of “story mode” or “puzzle mode” at the beginning of chapter 2. I’ve chosen puzzle mode, but it’s not yet obvious to me what the effects of this choice are. Anyway, this isn’t the first momentous choice in the game. At the very beginning, you’re asked to select a gender for both the wayfarer and Rume, the soon-to-be-left-behind love interest (heteronormativity off!), but I’m guessing that this mostly just affects pronouns — I chose male for the PC and female for Rume (and will use pronouns that reflect this in these notes), but, having made that choice, Rume seems to me like the more traditionally masculine one in the relationship. But of course this is a matter of opinion. People managed to make cases in both directions for the obvious genders of the two leads in Jigsaw. No, the more interesting initial decision, when you don’t yet have any information about its significance, is that you have to choose “love” or “art”.

Love or art! Usually they’re portrayed as allies, but this is not the first work to suggest that they’re opposites, or at least rivals, both demanding the individual’s exclusive attention. What’s more, within this story, love is what makes you stay and art is what makes you leave: painting scenes of other worlds is the means by which you travel to them. As such, it’s clear from the start that art is going to win out in the short term, just to get the story going. There comes a point where you’re given a clear choice: heed the Call or refuse it? And if you refuse it, it’s just a matter of time before you heed it anyway.

But this matter of time is a matter of unexpectedly long time — within the game, long enough to bring a daughter into the world and raise her to young adulthood, and for the player, encompassing several screenfuls of text. I certainly wasn’t expecting this when I experimentally made what I considered to be the wrong choice. (After all, I want the story to advance.) The years with Rume pass by in a slightly-interactive stream of consciousness, which prompts the player periodically to type in a word to finish a sentence. Once I realized that it would accept any input at all, not just things that make sense, I started typing in increasingly inappropriate things, flippant and dark. This suited the story of a relationship’s inevitable decay so well that I can almost believe it was what the author intended. At any rate, even if the choice to stay ultimately had no mechanical effect (which I’m still not certain of), it produced enough variation in the text that it really makes it feel like a different story. Choices can actually be significant in this game. It reminds you of this whenever you type “score” (another standard adventure-game command not mentioned in the tutorial) — there’s no point system, but it gives you a report along the lines of “You’ve made it to chapter one (out of ten), exploring one region (out of twenty-two). And never forget that at first you chose art.”

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