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Well, what follows are some of the main reflections that this series of vignettes has prompted me to ponder over the past few days. I played them all in sequence for the first time at the beginning of this year, but only now have I managed to put (almost) everything that these experiences set in motion within me into place.

I've made the notes in chronological order, from the first to the last game. To avoid any interference with the experience of other players, they all go here on the page of the final game.

As I originally wrote in my native language, and then retranslated into English, some original quotes may sound somewhat altered, anyway.

Let's go.

I. A purgatory of abandoned memories: no destination (2017)

Imagine yourself back in the 19th century when railroads were still a novelty. In the distance, you hear the whistle of a train, rapidly approaching, carrying with it all the dreams of Progress. Interrupting the natural silence of the fields, the whistle sounds like a shout, that typically bourgeois and liberal intonation—it says, "I've arrived, damn it, I've arrived!"

Such was the utopian force of the modernizing spirit of Progress. As highlighted by the historian and literary critic Leo Marx in his book "The Machine in the Garden" (1964), in the 19th century, "no one needed to spell out the idea of Progress to Americans. They could see it, hear it, and in a sense, feel it as the idea of history closest to the growing rhythm of life."

In 1846, the American poet Ralph Waldo Emerson would express a similar sentiment in his journal: "I hear the whistle of the locomotive in the woods. Whenever that music comes, the sequence comes next. It is the voice of the civilization of the 19th century saying, 'Here I am.' It is interrogative; it is prophetic, and this Cassandra is believed: 'Phew! Phew! Phew! How is the real estate market here in the swamp and the jungle? Let's go to Boston! Phew! Phew! Phew!... I will plant a dozen houses in this pasture next month, and a village soon...'." In a much more emphatic and grandiloquent manner, the sensationalist engineer of Fernando Pessoa, Álvaro de Campos, would assert in the final verses of his "Triumphal Ode," written in the same month as the outbreak of World War I, in July 1914: "Hup-la, hup-la, hup-la-ho, hup-la! He-la! He-ho Ho-o-o-o-o! Z-z-z-z-z-z-z-z-z-z-z-z!"

Then, in an instant, the train departs—and you with it.


The train seems to move through complete emptiness.

Thus, Modernity shapes a new temporality, expressed in our accelerated relationship with space-time.

In this sense, the railway serves perfectly as a metaphor for Progress, encompassing the key vectors of an expansive capitalism: the speed and force of the machine, the triumph of human ingenuity over relentless nature, the 'civilized' versus the 'wild,' exploration, colonization, and the shrinking of space, and so on.

In a certain sense, the disturbing sound and constant rumble of the wheels on the tracks have already been naturalized. Unlike the overcrowded train you usually take to reach downtown, this train is navigable—meaning, habitable. So, you decide to interrogate each passenger, peep through each window.

Seeing the mountains looming on a still-distant horizon, you hear a hooded guy say, 'For centuries, we gazed at the stars, dreaming that one day we could look down again; but the mountains are not the place to thrive.'"

Nevertheless, the mountains are tall: they surpass the clouds and almost touch the stars.

However, upon getting a bit closer, you realize that the clouds might not be clouds but rather the smoke from the chimneys of a bustling city, nestled between the sea and the mountains. An elderly man in a hat explains, "We couldn't make peace with the ebb and flow, and we sank further at the edges; will we rise again?"

Suddenly, once again, the train departs — but now you are alone above the clouds, heading towards the stars. Only one question still echoes in your mind: "who will remember?"

II. On the precipice of a reckoning: the last days of our castle (2017)

Now, I recall another one by Pessoa, the portuguese poet: 

"Oh salty sea, how much of your salt
Are tears of Portugal!"

Comparing the turbulent sea to the tears of Portuguese widows, no one can deny that Pessoa enriched the possible senses for both the sea and tears. Because metaphors exist, it's easy to understand that language is a "living" thing, as they like to say: through an infinite reformulation of familiar words, new meanings can always be (and will be) constituted.

We can associate this "revival" of language with the existential function of art itself, according to the classic definition made by the Russian formalist Viktor Chklovski in the early 20th century: art is there to give us back the concreteness of ordinary things, to make the "stone stony" again—"to feel objects, to prove that a stone is a stone [...]. The purpose of art is to give the sensation of the object as a vision and not as recognition; the procedure of art is the procedure of singularizing objects and the procedure that consists of obscuring the form, increasing the difficulty and duration of perception" ("Art as Device," 1917).

Just as that train was not really a train but a metaphor for Progress, this castle where you find yourself now is not really a castle but a metaphor for the inevitable fact that time brings everything down.

The only inhabitants still lingering in the castle are a few cats who, being here to retell a tale of past glories and present ruins, progressively contextualize your presence in this place of abandoned dreams.

Somewhat tragically, one of the cats observes, "We built with insatiable lust, enchanted by the fury of our own impulse; but these stones were not ours to build, and now that fury turns against us multiplied tenfold." Further along, another cat says to you: "This castle must be revered; it falls like a martyr."

By this point, you've likely realized that the castle relates in a non-trivial way to the message the cats are trying to convey, as if a hidden truth about the nature of historical time itself is at stake.

Often, this is precisely what metaphor accomplishes: it transforms a subjective referent into something more concrete using other, more objective referents.

While the two-dimensional exploration of the castle doesn't pose a cognitive challenge to the player, encounters with the cats eventually prove the impossibility of a meaningful interpretation of the game without a conscious juxtaposition of text reading with fictional world exploration. As new information is added to the player's repertoire, the abstract representation that the castle seemingly conveyed becomes progressively more concrete— even if its concretization, at the end of the process, signifies the realization that the castle is not literally a castle but an intangible metaphor about something that, only abstractly, can represent the solidity of civilization's legacy.

As the saying goes, one thing leads to another— and when you're close to reaching the top of the tallest tower, finally, the metaphor embodied by the castle gains an even more palpable relief when another metaphor comes into play: rain as a representation of time.

Thus, the poetic intervention that the game performs is very similar to that carried out by Pessoa in "Portuguese Sea," when the poet equated the sea to the tears of Portuguese widows: just as the sea is not literally made of tears but constitutes one (or perhaps the greatest) of the reasons to cry, rain is also not literally time but an expression of its entropic action on all matter.

The castle and the rain are the most evident metaphors in the game, which does not imply that they are the only ones:

a) On the audiovisual presentation level, the juxtaposition of the minimalist pixel art style with the aristocratic imagery of medieval European nobility highlights the mutual interference between multiple temporalities (in the sense of being-in-time) that are part of our diffuse relationship with historical past;

b) On the gameplay level — and this can be said about any game — all the most basic logical operations, such as moving the avatar's sprite across the screen, raise to a greater or lesser extent some foundational philosophical questions about the player's agency within the game's universe. In the case of avatar movement, the physical action of pressing the button corresponds to the illusion of locomotion, as if "you" yourself were moving across the screen, based on a metaphor that equates the transformation of pixels on the screen to the subjective projection that the player invests in the avatar figure.

Note that this relationship favors a specific expectation in terms of gameplay, which means that poetic intervention can emerge from its defamiliarization (Alex Mitchell has been associating Viktor Chklovski's "estrangement" with the analysis of video games for over 10 years. However, for Mitchell, estrangement is not a universal quality of the medium but rather a specific technique that certain games employ).

Undoubtedly, the most "strange" moment occurs in the last screen of the castle when the world is almost completely flooded. At this point in the game, the sea level starts to rise according to the avatar's steps on the screen until the waters finally take over the entire space. The situation is defamiliarizing, especially because it forces the player, for the first time in the journey, to reflect on the impact of their actions. By subordinating the rhythm of time - its flow - to the player's agency, the interpretative process that was aroused at the beginning of the gameplay can finally be concluded with the realization that, although the player is free (including not to act), an irresistible force compels them to keep moving - ultimately prompting reflection on their own relationship with historical time outside the game world.

III. Relics of the old world haunt the shores: flotsam (2017)

Friedrich Nietzsche wrote in 1874: "European super-proud man of the nineteenth century, you are beside yourself! [...] Compare, at least once, your height, as a man of knowledge, with your baseness as a man of action" (Unfashionable Observations, Second Consideration; forgive any translation errors). For the Prussian philosopher, the primary target of this denunciation was the "poison" of historicism, as he called it, whose ultimate synthesis took the form of Hegelian Absolute Spirit, the "God created by history". The discipline of history, as we know it, was undergoing a process of scientification, with significant figures like the also Prussian Leopold von Ranke laying the foundations of historiographical method and criticism. Thus, confronted with a Weltanschauung ("worldview") deeply numbed by the "power of history" and immobilized by the "idolatry of the fact," Nietzsche suggested, in a practical and ethical sense, that it might be a good idea to set aside the "fact" and try to forget things a bit: after all, why should we be aware that there was a "past" in the first place? Why not try to live "a-historically," at least from time to time, like a sheep frolicking around, irrationally happy, without future or past? To forget, therefore, is the remedy Nietzsche offers to the history-saturated consciousness that ails the modern subject.

I speak of Nietzsche only to introduce the question of historical consciousness, but what I really want to talk about is the sublime of History, about this experience that gives meaning to the very questions like "should I really care about the past?", which underlie that even deeper question: "what is the place of the past in the present, that is, how does it remain alive in my consciousness?"

For Immanuel Kant, as established in his Critique of Judgment (1790), the sublime is felt whenever the normal exercise of the categories of understanding fails to provide an adequate representation of experience, giving rise to a spontaneous association between reason and imagination. In the 21st century, philosopher and historian F. R. Ankersmit will assert that this conception of "sublime historical experience," understood as an anthropological condition, is at the basis of all possible historical consciousness, preceding even "all questions of historical truth and falsehood" (Sublime Historical Experience, 2005).

Basically, Ankersmit is saying: first, we feel history, then we write about it, question its truth, its plausibility, etc.

Here, another question unexpectedly arises before us: how does language determine our relationship with the past? Or, as Ankersmit asked – "Can we rescue the past itself from the way we talk about it?" Far from attempting to offer any unequivocal answer to Ankersmit's question, I feel safe to say at least that these games here are not committed to a faithful representation of historical past but precisely to a reflection on the nature and purpose of historical experience itself, as nuanced by historical consciousness and experienced through historical sublime – the greatest proof of this being the highly metaphorical nature of all the games, where a train is not a train, a castle is not a castle, and, as we will see, maritime wreckage ('flotsam') is not really wreckage.


One day, or night, in an undetermined future time (or even past, as time is not measured here in the same way), humanity thrives upon a completely flooded world.

On a stone altar rests an ornate hammer. A lady hands you a locket. With the ornate hammer, upon the stone altar, you destroy the object — the woman does not react. "My burden has been lifted," she says, "but there is still more for you to do"

Nearby, there is a navigator who tells you, "If only I could gaze at the stars!". Further on, a custodian exclaims while polishing a stone wall, "A monument to our glory!".

Next to the custodian, you pick up a lens and a broom. Back at the stone altar, you strike the objects with the ornate hammer — the navigator appears relieved; the custodian exclaims in dismay. "The stars show us the way: our path through time, our path through space," says the navigator, "But they are gone, and our path leads elsewhere; thank you."

There are still other objects to be destroyed, other spirits to be exorcised: a violin bow, a sign of abstract arts and immaterial culture; a plumb bob, a sign of mathematical arts and material culture; an old ring, a sign of forgotten nobility; a metal bead, a sign of artifice and human ingenuity.

On the bridge, literally suspended over time — that is, over the sea —, a person sips their cup of coffee. They tell you, "Time and tide may bring down our works, but we will continue to build; isn't it beautiful?"

Thus, through successive interactions between the ornate hammer, the stone altar, and the objects representing the multiple dimensions of human culture, you gain access to the main tower, where you must finally bring down the very ontology of this world — and here, by chance, I can't help but think of Nietzsche and his other book, Twilight of the Idols (1888), whose subtitle is "How to Philosophize with a Hammer": his definitive attack against the major metaphysical illusions of the Western world.

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IV. Moving on is not enough: forgotten depths (2018)

One of the worst movies I've ever seen is called The Descent (2005, Neil Marshall). The story follows a group of friends who decide to explore a remote cave, unaware that the place is inhabited by bloodthirsty creatures. Eventually, the friends get stuck down there — and the rest you can imagine.

Spoilers ahead in the next paragraph (that is, if anyone cares):

To complicate the situation a bit more, we soon discover that there's a cheating scandal involving one of the friends and the (already deceased) husband of the protagonist. I'll argue, by the way, that perhaps this cheating subplot is the highlight of the film: that is, the issue of how the dead continue to interfere in the lives of the living. At a crucial moment in the narrative, when the protagonist has the opportunity to save the cheating friend's life (after discovering the affair), she decides to abandon her — which makes little difference, as all the characters end up dead by the end of the film, one way or another.

I talk about The Descent, but what I really want to discuss is these "hauntings" from the past that, displaced in time, effectively torment the present: as absent presences, they push historical consciousness off the rails — like the protagonist of The Descent, who continually glimpses the ghost of her dead daughter wandering through the dark tunnels of the cave, but also like Hamlet, the Danish prince, who, upon the visit of his father's ghost, exclaimed: "Damn, time is crazy!"

The ghost is a "novelty" (Ernst Bloch) "cognitively strange" (Darko Suvin) precisely because it represents a time outside its time. And, as Marx explained in that famous passage from The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Napoleon (1852), in all times, "the tradition" (I could say: our ghosts) exerts a force that "presses on the brains of the living."

As for Marx himself, whom everyone thought had been dead for about 140 years, it seems that only about thirty years ago his true whereabouts were discovered: he didn't become just one, not two, not three, but several "ghosts" — or "specters," to speak fancily — that remain "haunting" contemporary thought, as explained by Jacques Derrida in the most boring book I've read in 2024 so far (Specters of Marx, 1993).


Back to the game: similar to the group of friends in the movie The Descent, here you control an explorer (your helmet protects and conceals your true nature) who must enter the ruins of an abandoned past.

In our case, however, the past is unable to cause harm, at least not physically. And as we encounter these remnants, we are almost able to (re)experience a presence that is now absent—after all, it is the ruins of the castle itself that we are revisiting, returning from a post-diluvian world where civilization presumably managed to rise from the wreckage of its glorious past.

In a Derridean manner, and as the cultural debris we shattered on the stone altar (or would it be more appropriate to say that we "deconstructed" them?) also attests, everything becomes haunting—there's even this frequently pointed out phonetic correspondence between "hantologie" and "ontologie" in the original French. Hence, the reason why, for the historian, the ghost represents a moment of hesitation, a threat against the oath he promised to uphold: "down with counterfactuals," "away with this 'what if,'" he insists— "give me only the 'facts' and nothing else."

Meanwhile, the ghosts remain estranged: they are neither here nor there. Regardless, they no longer simply represent a memory of the past—often, in fact, they return to the present precisely to demand our stance toward the future.

And what can we, whether professional historians or not, do about our dead?

Well, we write—to begin with.

The French Jesuit Michel de Certeau, undoubtedly one of the most interesting polymaths of the 20th century, once framed the situation as follows: historical narrative not only imparts to the past its teleological sense, which practically makes it knowable, but also confers its own character of accomplished totality, that is, its "made-up" appearance of a plot; because of this, we could even add that the writing of history, this superficial construction that serves to conceal the always incomplete nature of our perception of reality, always retains something "strange" (Chklovski), if not "sublime" (Kant).

That's why Certeau identifies an extraordinary social, almost religious function in the writing of history: that of "burying the dead." The task of history, therefore, is to delimit the past, formalize its "reality," give it its own place—a unique tomb, so cozy that it discourages it from leaving to haunt us: in other words, History exists so that the present can be freely inhabited (The Writing of History, 1975).

Basically, Certeau is trying to say: by writing history, the historian is able to reconcile the opposites (present and past), as if "internalizing" (in discourse) the presence (of the past) that can no longer be present (material)—thus, this discourse produced by the historian, his science, performs (falsely) the past, as if it, the past, could speak for itself: as if it were an "event" (historical), a happening, a "ghost"—that is, a metaphor.

In the end, therefore, the cognitive value of the historiographical text lies in the historical experience, never solely in the cold "fact" expressed by the text—hence, knowing history is not enough; one must give meaning to this knowledge in the context of an experience at the phenomenological level of a specific historical consciousness (which Ankersmit situates within a kind of "intellectual empiricism," etc. blah blah).


And here we go back to the game. Once again.

Descending the castle towers—now you must descend them instead of ascending—you encounter another apparition. She says, "The danger is still present in our time, just as it was in theirs." But, after all, which time are we talking about?

Next, another ghost explains, "The foundations of this castle go very deep, much more than the memory of those who last lived here. Countless came before, each building upon the previous. The ocean draws a new horizon, but isn't it true that it still rests upon these stones?"

As cultural critic Fredric Jameson has written somewhere, the recurrence of narratives about mass extinctions is a cheeky reminder for us to ask, reflectively: "what if...?"

Every now and then, as Nietzsche suggested, all we need is a bit of forgetfulness. As another decaying body affirms, now in the deepest parts of the castle: "A new face for a new era."

But what is the limit of this forgetfulness?

If anything so far makes sense, I hope it's at least one thing: that within every sign, there are always traces of "others" absent, continuously haunting the present. Hence, my point follows in the following way: perhaps the "others" are us, here on the other side of history, cognitively engaged with a essentialy digital semiotic practice, doing no more than playing with our (historical) consciousness, shifting our perception from one point to another of the metaphor and vice versa, from the "figure" to the "ground," from the syntagm to the paradigm, etc. The insight is that the video game is, among other things, a discourse regulated by "syntagms" that immediately seem accessible to the player's consciousness, in a literal or metaphorical sense, but are effectively regulated by "absent paradigms" (Marc Angenot, 1979), in the most literal sense of the word: there is "absolutely nothing" outside the screen.

Outside the screen, then, the question remains: is there also nothing outside of (historical) consciousness? In this sense, we need to surpass Nietzsche and forgetfulness.

V. A future is possible: shoal (2018)

At this point, you must have understood that almost nothing is what it seems to be: that the train is not a train, that the castle is not a castle, that the wreckage is not wreckage, but only metaphorical ghosts.

Now, at the last point of our journey, all previous experiences return as if superimposed—you can hear the sway of the wagons, the rain splashing, the musical instruments resonating—all at once. We are once again where the castle once existed, and the harmony of these multiple historical layers seems to express, loudly and clearly: we have made peace with our dead, now we can celebrate. Our avatar no longer needs to wear a helmet, symbolizing that the present is inhabitable again.

A cat is waiting for us. He says: "Here we are once again; it's been a long time."

People are gathering to celebrate, but before we do that, we need to explore this new society, become aware of the extent of its transformation. Again, it's a navigator who tells us: "Long ago, a dense fog enveloped this land, the stars were taken away, the sky forgotten, the sun diluted... [and] people lost sight of everything around them, knowing only the stones at their feet. But now, the stars have been returned, lost futures have been rediscovered, and we are watchful of the fog so that we do not lose the stars again, and each other with them."

Just like the navigator, all the other characters also return from a new perspective. This time, the man with the coffee cup expresses the opposite of what he had expressed before when we first encountered him on the bridge; now he says: "The castle built in our image crumbled before the designs of nature. We must rebuild ourselves in these designs, in this image, or else: simply sink."

Much less proud of itself, humanity now maintains a harmonious relationship with nature, channeling the flow of waters (its ghosts) in a transformative way towards the future. Taking care of the gears, the guardian reflects: "Well maintained, these wheels can turn for centuries. But if the trees have different ideas, who are we to disagree?"

At the end of the journey, the avatar is once again in front of the cat, who asks the player: "In the end, it seems they succeeded, right? But does it all end here? Or does it begin once again?"

Regardless, the cat concludes: "It is not up to us to know the answer, so let's enjoy the festival." The last message of the game says: "The future awaits, as long as we remember" -- after all, we are humans, and our dead depend on us.

VI. Etc.

The commitment that video games historically maintained to the task of mimesis, that is, to the representation of reality, in many ways favored an incomplete understanding of its own expressive potential. For a large part of people who grew up playing in the context of the "console wars," especially between the 1990s and 2000s, the situation was always very clear: the more "realistic," the better. Therefore, games like "no destination," "the last days of our castle," "flotsam," "forgotten depths," and "shoal," with their fundamentally antithetical modes of expression in relation to the audiovisual "realism" of more commercial works, challenge the traditional definitions of what a video game is, ultimately requiring the creation of absurd labels like "poetic games."

The first to articulate the notion of a "game poem" significantly was the critic and game designer Ian Bogost (Persuasive Games: The expressive power of videogames, 2010), originally to explain why certain games are not boring but rather poetic. In this sense, Bogost observed that these games often draw the player's attention to their own formal structures, aiming to provoke specific reflections on the nature and operation of the game itself as an experience.

Another game designer, Jordan Magnuson, recently published a very interesting book precisely on this topic, Game Poems: Videogame Design as Lyric Practice (2023). As he astutely notes, "calling a game 'poetic' is often like admitting a lack of words rather than expressing a moment of special insight." Seeking to fill this gap, he attempts to define "game poems" from a perspective that understands poetry not as a specific media or literary form but as "a mode of intervention that can exist in any media," including digital games.

In a way, what Magnuson offers are elements for a "lyrical" analysis of certain games that would otherwise be undervalued (likely by those seeking a more "realistic" narrative experience).

Although I cannot fully embrace the category of "poetic game"—precisely because I consider it redundant—it is undeniable that many of these "game poems" shed new light on the issue of representation and reinforce the need to rethink video games as a poetic experience, beyond the ludic.

On my part, I would like to go further and argue that the ludic and the poetic correspond in many points—if Johan Huizinga is correct (and I think he is) and poetry indeed has much of play, the reverse is also true.

To conclude:

In one of the most brilliant passages of the film Waking Life (2001, Richard Linklater), the protagonist watches in the cinema as director Caveh Zahedi talks to poet David Jewell about the "holy moment," quoting director François Truffaut. "Cinema has a narrative because it is in time," says the original quote, "just like music has a narrative. But, you know, you don't first think of the story of music and then make the music. It has to come out of that moment. And that's what the film has. It's just that moment, which is holy."

For Truffaut, the best films are those that can break free from the literary prison of the script, conveying what we could call the film-in-itself, that is: that series of "holy moments" that the work intends to highlight from ordinary reality. And in multiple senses, I might add: this is also a kind of "cognitive estrangement," of "defamiliarization" (Chklovski). Moreover, I could complement: alongside the best films, the best games are those that can break free from the narrative prison, abandoning appearances to reach the essence of the game-in-itself, which is nothing more than the series of "holy moments" that are alternatively set in motion in the player's consciousness. And, guys, there's a lot of "holy moments" in these games here.

an interesting little collection, this. nice work. the noise over the music in this part was very loud though

you are my hero.

this whole series just has the right kind of ominous and captivating atmosphere, i enjoyed myself a lot exploring the castle from the end to it's new life!


This whole series was an incredibly lovely journey. I'm so glad it ended well: the first 4 parts made me feel an incredible melancholy that I loved, but this hopeful ending was just what I needed right now. Thank you for this wonderful experience.

I really liked that machine ambience you added to the music. It's a really clever way to add atmospheric sounds to a bitsy project and I feel like it fit the cozy, optimistic vibe perfectly.

god this was so good! i missed the ladder at first but after checking the comments i properly finished the game! its so wonderful and hopeful?? <3

God this series had captivated me ever since the first entry! I can't wait to see what happens next! I replay them when I get stressed or sad and its so easy to loose myself in these worlds. Thank you so much for sharing this series!


Lovely! Need to check: are there only the four characters and no end screen? The last bit of dialog reads as final, but I'm not sure if I messed up or am missing something

oh no! it ends with the festival... where did you end up? you should see: the cat, the fiddler, the navigator, the flagbearer, the architect, the lady, the gentleman, the custodian, and the cat again -- perhaps you missed the first ladder in the flagbearer screen?

I didn't notice the ladder! Found it now and finished the thing for real. It was really nice <3


the colors & dialog, soft & enigmatic.... . what a nice style


this is the best!!!


Loved it. I can also float in the skyyyyyyyyy (in the first scene) <3


It's beautiful! what an inspiration!!


Another gem, Mark.


This is so incredibly darling, and a wonderful conclusion to the series. GREAT JOB!!!!!! 😭✨✨✨