The Longing: Books

Another day, another week. The pool I mentioned before finally filled up enough to grant me passage to what turned out to be the palace library, something I had been anticipating ever since finding the blocked and impassible front entrance during my initial explorations. It’s mostly ransacked, of course: entire bookshelves have maybe one or two volumes remaining. The contents of the entire place, once the Shade gathers them up, fill up just a couple of shelves of his own personal book hoard back home.

A word about how books work in this game: They’re real works of literature in the public domain. You sit the Shade down in his armchair, and select a book from his collection, and the game displays it a page at a time, with the Shade automatically flipping to the next page every so often. If you like, you can read along with him. I’ve heard of people doing this, treating the game as an excuse to read classic books in simulated companionship, the Shade taking the role of lo-fi-hip-hop-beats girl. But the Shade will also happily plow through the pages without you, even offline. It’s presumably with this in mind that the designers chose to include some very long books — the Iliad is in there, as well as The Count of Monte Cristo, Thus Spake Zarathustra, and Moby Dick.

This last reminded me of one of the first CD-ROMs I bought, back in the 90s. It was a copy of the Simtel archive, a large FTP site full of public-domain MS-DOS applications, but the archive didn’t take up the full disc, so they threw on some selections from the Gutenberg Project as well, including Moby Dick. I remember finding this impressive at the time, that we had a storage medium so capacious that you could just throw a 900-page novel into the space left over.

The books in The Longing are stored as plain text files in the Unity StreamingAssets folder. Because the longer works are split up into multiple volumes, Moby Dick is in fact the largest single file in the library, at 1.21 MB. That’s a significant chunk of the entire collection, which less than nine Moby Dicks in size. The entire game is more than 4000 Moby Dicks, which isn’t even notably large for a game these days.

It’s easy to see some of the chosen works as commenting on the Shade’s situation: things with themes about kings, or darkness, or waiting, or escape. In fact, sometimes the Shade himself comments on this, in little annotations at the ends. After reading to the end of Zarathustra, I see a note from the shade about how it’s inspired him to try to get out of the cave. Was that note there originally? All I can say for sure is that it’s present in the text file in StreamingAssets, but I’m pretty sure that can be written to. At any rate, I guess I know now what ending the game is pushing me towards. And after all I’ve done to make the cave comfortable for him, too.

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