As an amateur writer myself, I can tell you guys that Samuel Beckett is the bar for me: the one I am always working towards and may never reach. The key to his work is simple: conversation. Whether it is a character conversing with themselves or with someone else, the story and characters progressed with conversation rather than a stated narrative. Another thing Samuel Beckett is known for is the bleakness of his work. The dark and absurd side of life was interesting to Beckett and, honestly, that may be where I got some of my own morose nature from. For example, consider this line from Malone Dies;
“Or I might be able to catch one, a little girl for example, and half strangle her, three quarters, until she promises to give me my stick, give me soup, empty my pots, kiss me, fondle me, smile to me, give me my hat, stay with me, follow the hearse weeping into her handkerchief, that would be nice. I am such a good man, at bottom, such a good man, how is it that nobody ever noticed it?”
Look at all we get from this character from just this line. We not only get a better grip of how insane he is, but also how the very notion of a relationship is absurd. We also see his misery and how ineffective ‘average’ people’s remedies for misery can be. It is brilliant. Beckett is brilliant. And anyone who tries to follow in these footsteps not only has my interest, but a long road ahead of them.
This brings me to Gods of Nowhere. It obviously follows the mold of Beckett: telling a very human tale in a very bleak atmosphere, but can it also capture the spark of brilliance that turned Minimalism into an art form? Let’s find out! Oh and, be warned, there are mild spoilers ahead!
Gods of Nowhere is the story of four individuals who meet on Christmas Eve. They all have different reasons to be out and away from family for the birth of our Lord and Savior, but one is around for a more definite purpose. One of the four is about to die and Death himself is there to ensure that souls final passage. So, what can happen in the final moments of someone’s life?
As the game gets rolling, you quickly see the influences of a Minimalist style. Much of the narrative fluff has been removed and focuses in on just the moments when a certain character is on screen. It is an adjustment, to be sure, but not one that’s too large to overcome. In the end, once you adjust your brain to the style of the story, it does grow on you. It also allows for the characters to develop mostly by bouncing off of one another. I am personally a sucker for really good inter-character conversation and properly done banter can make all the difference in the world. Here it is one of the best parts of the game and easily something other writers should take a look at: especially writers who struggle to make conversation sound interesting.
It is mostly small talk, but when you consider that the bulk of the game’s development happens in these conversations; they take on a new weight. In the hands of a complete amateur this would’ve came across as empty calories, but here what is said and especially what isn’t said makes you feel a bit closer to certain cast members: especially Triste and Boston. So, from a strict stylistic point of view, I like the direction it took and got a lot of story out of it.
So I should love this game as a whole right? Well, wrong.
About halfway through the game you realize that the main plot point has to deal with a suicide: hence the presence of the Grim Reaper. Now, as prudish and Puritanical as I can be, let me be clear that fiction is the place where a theme as heavy as suicide can be discussed; same as every other taboo subject Western society rightfully doesn’t discuss in proper company. However, IF you’re going to bring it up, it has to be used in a way that doesn’t make the act trivial. Just like introducing a rape victim in Chapter One, only to sweep her under the rug in Chapter Seven, proper care and forethought has to be used in order for it to be something more than a cheap tactic to seem dark and edgy.
And with that said, most of you can see where this is going, can’t you?
Here’s a mini-spoiler for you: no matter what you choose to do in the game, the suicide in question will happen. After it does, we as an audience are treated to a full scene of gallows comedy that treated the event with all of the seriousness of clipping a toenail. We as an audience aren’t asked to sympathize with the deceased, regret their passing, or even find the absurdity in what was done. Hell, we’re not even presented with the idea that killing yourself just because you feel a little lonely is stupid. The entire scene is just rambling, shrill nonsense that doesn’t connect to the rest of the game and it feels cheap.
I’m not asking for a rosy ending where it never happens and everyone lives happily ever after. I am asking for a return on investment. Up to that point, the only way you can get invested in the game is to be invested in the characters and their interactions. As the aftermath scene between the victim and Death wraps up, I not only didn’t care about what happened to them, but also to the two other characters in the story. It all became meaningless as it was crystal clear that the writer saw their task in a very superficial way. They wanted to write pretty dialogue and create funny characters just to write them. It would be like if LeBron James dunked on every drive not to help the Heat win, but because he wanted to show off how well he could dunk.
It is shallow when an athlete does it and it is just as shallow when a writer does it.
This takes us right to the ending and, honestly, I’m not surprised by now. This entire year has been one giant burning cluster of bad endings and Gods of Nowhere is no exception. Everyone is left to continue their lives/afterlives; really no better or worse off because of their experience. Life just moves on, so then what exactly was the point of those four particular people being in that particular spot for this particular story?
This goes back to writing something a certain way just because you can; it isn’t impressive, it’s just freakin’ tedious. Even a shred of finality would’ve helped the audience find closure with the story. However, even as I sit here writing this, I remember everything it missed rather than any singular moment that clicked and made the read worthwhile. It’s frustrating to say the least, because obviously the talent is there. But what could have been a bleak, yet interesting, experience devolves quickly into a mess.
PRESENTATION & GAMEPLAY
The Presentation here is a mixed bag. It is definitely emo-inspired with the color scheme, but I don’t mind that quite as much as I do the sprites that have one expression and stance throughout the game. It is different for me and it wouldn’t be so much of a problem if the story didn’t deal with things like, I don’t know, SUICIDE. If a character holds the same blank expression, even after they walk into a pool of blood and brain matter, we have an issue.
There is only one Event CG and it is pretty rough: just black and pink. The soundtrack, however, is appropriate through most of the game and I enjoyed it.
Gameplay is, well, useless. While there are no bugs or glitches to report, considering the issues with the plot, the choices offered are useless. The same goes with the ‘Companionship’ meter it offers to track your choices. Since the last third of the game is written in stone, there really isn’t a need for any sort of choice option. I think it was supposed to go to a deeper message, but again, considering the issues I laid out in the Story section, it its ends up being unnecessary.
Gods of Nowhere joins the popular ‘Pay What You Want’ craze: demanding a minimum of 99 Cents to play. I would suggest at least one play through, not only to support a new developer but also to learn from the conversations and how they’re used. I would say if you have a personal issue with suicide in fiction, go back and read the Story section and really consider if you want to play something that may just make you mad. Other than that, have at it.
Gods of Nowhere is a technically sound game. It has a great grasp of dialogue and the ability to create decent characters by having them interact with one another rather than through events in the story. However, it asks for our investment with the characters then snubs that investment for a very nihilistic end. Not only did it bomb the early parts of the story, the ending leaves a wretched taste in your mouth.
Let me share with you one final Beckett quote from one of the greatest pieces of fiction ever written, Waiting for Godot, to fully understand the spirit of his work;
Estragon: I can’t go on like this.
Vladimir: That’s what you think.
Humanity is an often dark creation; but we’re also a resilient one. Trying to capture the darkness without capturing the resilience leaves you with Gods of Nowhere: a writing exercise. I don’t dislike the game but a few different, and I’d argue better, choices would make it much more than just slightly above average. Hopefully those choices will be considered moving forward. In the meantime, if you REALLY want a story of the bleakness and resilience of life, look into Samuel Beckett.