Llaura Dreamfeeel’s Curtain
Curtain is a narrative game about an abusive relationship between two women in a punk band called Casey’s Party. The game’s system is cyclical. One repeats the same moments, the same movements, as the visuals become clearer and the narrative becomes muddier. Can you trust your own behaviour? How can you know if this is what relationships are supposed to be like? Where is the line between the personal and the professional? Isn’t abuse meant to be between a problematic man and a troubled woman rather than between two successful women?
Casey showers you in compliments. She’s exciting. Without her, you wouldn’t be in this band. You’d still be writing your comics. Casey has rescued you from the ghetto of comics. Nobody reads comics anymore. Your band matters.
Llaura dreamfeeel says that empathy games are problematic. “You can’t play a game and understand totally what it means to be somebody, like ‘I’ve ticked off the box, like a bucket list of things, like you don’t have to consider their point of view anymore.’ [But] it’s definitely a very powerful way of expressing stuff, and it does help people to consider other people’s experiences.” Empathy games can give the illusion of knowing an experience without requiring of you the gruelling hard work. Curtain does a good job of replicating the feeling of distrust and the confusion that keeps people in abusive relationships. Can you really know your own mind? Maybe the things you believed about life before this were wrong? You think you can remember what happiness was like, but you’re no longer really sure. Although Curtain takes about 20 minutes to play, its focus on the psychological cyclicity of this situation makes it a potent emotional force.
The visuals are overwhelming at first. Why can’t you see where you’re going? Everything is coloured shapes, blurred objects. As you learn to navigate through your apartment you realise that you have been living in this fog for a while. This is how things should look. This is how things have always looked. Your girlfriend Casey asks you for favours. You oblige. She’s been good to you, after all. If she wasn’t here, how would you even begin to navigate through the fog?
The system of the game itself involves goals and what could crudely be referred to as ‘missions’ being fed to you through Casey’s demands. She is your narrator, and she controls both the way you move through the game and your self-image. As systems go, this is one that allows Casey to dominate your universe. She speaks with the authority of a game announcer. The game mechanics are therefore as crucial to our understanding of abusive relationships as the writing. One isn’t just witnessing a narrative, but existing within an abusive system.
Released at a time when indie games have tried to examine game mechanics, Casey is in many ways similar to the narrator of The Stanley Parable. She tells you how the narrative should go, and she tells you who you are. In The Stanley Parable your instinct is to disobey, to create your own narrative. In Curtain, you don’t even question Casey. To reject her demands would be an act of cognitive dissonance bordering on the psychological effects of deradicalisation. It would take extreme strength to get out of this situation.
Funding for these kinds of art games can be problematic. Llaura dreamfeeel relates Dublin’s indie game scene to Irish artistic avant gardes throughout history. There was a stir recently when Samuel Beckett had a ship named after him, as well as the obvious posthumous resituation of James Joyce. When these writers were in their prime they received little to no support. No Irish officials attended the funeral of James Joyce. Samuel Beckett fled for France. The huge Joyce industry, alongside the Beckett ship, speaks to a larger issue within the Irish culture industry. There is often great reverence for artists of the past but little support for our contemporary artists. Dave Lordan writes about this in relation to contemporary Irish poetry, and it appears that contemporary Irish games could do with more support, funding, and visibility, too. Now that many Irish artforms are bleeding into each other, with artists on the literary scene making games and visual artists turning to performance, it is an exciting time. And it is notable that the main Irish artists we still hear about are Beckett and Joyce.
This isn’t confined to the Irish culture industry. “Liz Ryerson, who made Problem Attic, writes really great stuff, gives really good talks,” says Llaura dreamfeeel, “And was lauded at the San Francisco Game Developers’ Conference last year while she was days away from being homeless.” We could look to the UK, which is a thriving games hotspot notable for its support of indie game designers. The UK’s culture minister Ed Vaizey spoke at the Develop conference in Brighton of the success of the 25% tax breaks given to game designers. As a cultural export, videogames are the new movies and Ireland would do well to acknowledge and offer its support.
Curtain is an example of the Irish cultural avant-garde, and its success at the 2015 Berlin A Maze Fest (it won Most Amazing Game) shows that these kinds of games are a flourishing artform that deserve our support.
Words: Stephen Totterdell
Curtain website: http://dreamfeeel.itch.io/
Llaura dreamfeeel Twitter: https://twitter.com/dreamfeeel
Berlin A Maze Fest: http://amaze-berlin.de/