Spoiler warning for Starseed Pilgrim. Discusses a piece of ‘what it really means,’ as well as the ending (in somewhat vague terms). Also I swear a bit, because I got emotional while writing.
Dead-authorism appeals to me because I hate looking back and seeing the trail of destruction and confusion I leave in my wake – I make things, meaning one thing… but once they are out there in the world they are interpreted, in the hands of others, they become more. Outside of the period of the work in which it truly was mine, a game has always felt like a played artifact. Something that belongs to its players.
But, part of that is a learned helplessness, perhaps just my response to the overwhelming reception of Starseed Pilgrim. I didn’t decide how that game was perceived… my authorial intent only mattered so much as it helped me to create the work. After that, it was out of my hands.
Nobody wants to hear what it’s really about, I told myself.
Well, I may be about eight years late, but I think it’s time to free myself of those shackles. It’s not for the sake of the reputation of Starseed Pilgrim that I want to talk about what the game was about… it’s more for my own sense of closure, and my own sense of pride as an artist. Even if it’s true that nobody wants to hear what it’s really about, I fucking want to say it anyway.
I’m not writing this because I want you to think about Starseed Pilgrim differently… but, I am writing this because I think it’s a problem that I don’t want to influence how you think about Starseed Pilgrim! I want to get over it. I want to say things and mean them, and part of that is accepting that I’ve been downplaying what I thought I was saying with Starseed Pilgrim.
This isn’t to say anything I said was particularly well-said or meaningful, but I want to know that, whatever it was, my past self’s voice existed… so that I can have faith in my own voice today and continue to say things. To make things.
Starseed Pilgrim is about feeling like a failure, and burying those feelings.
(edit:: “a failure” is wrong. more like “a person who failed in an important way.” “a person who did a bad thing.” “a bad person.”)
That’s a simplistic way to put it, but the setting of Starseed Pilgrim was, to me, a sort of memory prison, the pilgrims each fragments of emotion felt by one person, denied and buried.
The poetry in Starseed Pilgrim is scattered and hidden in a way that marries perfectly with my attitude at the time and my attitude for the next several years: “What I’m saying isn’t important or real enough to communicate directly, so I’ll hide it behind layers of obscurity until nobody notices what I really meant, and I can forget it ever existed in the first place.”
It’s a story of regret and of having done something unforgivable and burying that regret so deep that it tears you apart when you dare to face it. The impossibility of the task laid before you — it’s impossible in the way owning up to something awful is impossible, and it’s impossible because I didn’t want you to see everything in there. Not really.
In some ways I think finishing Starseed Pilgrim is missing the point, but at the same time I’m always thrilled, proud, overwhelmed when I hear that someone has beaten it, finished the game.
The end of Starseed Pilgrim.
The end of the game is when you finally face the buried thing. The reward for fighting tooth and nail to uncover the truth is that the truth is terrible and it destroys everything.
But I don’t know, anymore, whether that’s a good or bad thing. I feel like I’m dealing with my own uncovered truth now, and it feels good. The destruction of the game world, if the game world is a metaphorical prison for the emotions, can only be a good thing, right?
Even if the prison was beautiful.
Cruel World and the future.
I have a lot of miserable nihilism about the state of the world today. Cruel World was a pessimistic game about how everything is fucked and how individual action just doesn’t matter. And when everyone had a good time anyway, I was… god, I was overjoyed but also kinda angry! How could everyone be missing the point and having a good time with my nihilistic, pessimistic videogame about the end of the world.
I wanted to pull the strings and have people blame each other (like it says in the subtitle), in good fun, but I wanted the vicious cycle to show itself so viscerally that everyone would agree, yes, what a cruel fucking world.
There was a bit of a turn when Patrick Klepek asked me directly if the experience — of Cruel World’s players actually having a good time and striving to co-operate and connect — made me more hopeful and less cynical. And I struggled, I tried to find the good, but I fell back on how terrible it all was.
People can get used to—and even find joy, beauty, and solace—in just about anything. [..] But maybe it means as the end of the world draws nearer, instead of fighting to stop it, maybe everyone will just endure it.me, in that article, giving an awfully depressing response
I’d like to take a step back and be able to focus on the beauty in the world around us, in our lives, but it’s really hard. It’s hard.
I’d like to make more games about birds and nature and humans and the plain & simple joy of interaction. I want to make a game that says “the world is beautiful” and mean it. I don’t want to shy away from the sharp edges of reality, but I don’t want them to be the only thing I see, either.
In a way, I suppose the positive events of Cruel World are making me hopeful and less cynical, but it took a while.
It’s taking a while.
… It’ll take a while.
Thank you for reading.