Archive, Criticism

ARCHIVE: The Fragile Point of Pachalafaka

Originally posted on tumblr on June 14th, 2014.

To read this article, you need to have played Pachalafaka. Otherwise, a lot of things aren’t going to make any sense. You can download it on PC and Mac for free/name-your-own-price from here, and it takes five minutes to play. This is an attempt to exorcise some vague thoughts that developed throughout my playthrough(s), rather than a sincere explanation or examination of what the game is “about”.


I don’t get Pachalafaka, but I think that’s the point.

The best place to start any attempt to understand it is probably the website of the author, David Calvo:

‘Pachalafaka is a world, ending in songs.

Each song has a different meaning but this world always ends.

Entirely drawn by hand, with ink and watercolors, Pachalafaka is a series of game poems, transgender* prototypes between comic books and games, trying to articulate the fragile point where sequential art becomes interactive.’

So it’s a game about games, and about the boundaries that define what constitutes ‘a game’. It exists on a liminal boundary between ‘sequential’ and ‘interactive’ art, occupying neither of those spaces wholly and thus escaping solid definition. In the game’s opening, a contented face moves across the screen, the island space in which the action is situated is created, and the player is given an avatar at the westernmost side of the island. Afterwards, dandelion buds appear, which can be thrown about by the player moving into them. This is how we are presented with this movement from sequential to interactive – Pachalafaka starts with a single image before introducing elements of what we might call ‘gameplay’ as time progresses. But if this is where we start, then what we end up with is collapse. As you play through the game, the scene of the island your little avatar is occupying starts to shake violently and the rumble of earthquakes pierces the otherwise laid-back soundtrack.* This violence is the tension that arises from the movement that enacted the entire text; the work is unstable because its definition is unstable, a mere ‘fragile point’ in a movement from one concept to another.

The natural instinct of the player, then, is to escape this rapture. There’s a thing –  without a stable definition of what Pachalafaka is I don’t even have a vocabulary to name the objects that reside within it – in the middle of the island that reveals a character, or a drawing, a suggestion of a character, who tells the player: ‘This world is doomed. The sky will hold. Fly safe, girl.’ Another encounter on the island says: ‘When all hope is lost. At the west peak. And fly to me’. In keeping with the idea of the ‘game poem’, here’s another way of formatting these two pieces of information:

‘This world is doomed.
The sky will hold.
Fly safe, girl,
When all hope is lost
At the west peak,
And fly to me.’

The solution, then, is to fly, to leave the land and occupy the sky. But this is where the interactive ends; the player cannot fly, cannot leave the island, is forced to bear witness to the end of this small place. Even the dandelion buds that you can manipulate stop their journeys short of the boundaries that restrict the player; they can be interacted with, but with a limit, and to little effect. Pachalafaka is not just about movement, but a movement which is frustrated, attempted but denied. It gives us this fragile point, but cannot sustain it. The elements of the textual, the visual, the aural and the interactive are piled on top of each other, one by one, to create an impossible heap. Then, the heap collapses.

What Pachalafaka presents to us is the idea of art as a spectrum as opposed to a series of “art forms” that are clearly defined and blocked off from each other. It interrogates the borders of these forms and attempts in its own small way to forge a space between. The experiment fails, of course, but I think there’s a knowingness about how it fails; Calvo seems to lack the tools to make this space between the sequential and the interactive concrete, the title itself foregrounding the search for something that may not exist.**

I still don’t get Pachalafaka, but I think that’s the beauty of it.


* – I can’t parse Calvo’s use of ‘transgender’ here; my guess is that he’s using it to refer to the placement of Pachalafaka between two artforms.
** – Stardust by Hoagy Carmichael
*** – The title of the text, Pachalafaka, comes from the Irving Taylor song of the same name. Calvo quotes the following lyrics from the song on his website:

‘Takes me back with you to passionate desert scenes
And it’s there we’ll stay
Till the very day
We find out what Pachalafaka means!’

But the word ‘pachalafaka’ doesn’t mean anything; it’s a nonsense word. The song is, in one aspect, about searching for something that isn’t to be found. This makes sense in light of my earlier comment: ‘It exists on a liminal boundary between ‘sequential’ and ‘interactive’ art, occupying neither of those spaces wholly and thus escaping solid definition.’ Or perhaps my comment makes sense in light of the word’s origin. But it’s one of the two, I’m sure.

See also: Porpentine writing on Pachalafaka for Rock, Paper, Shotgun
Writeup on LA Game Space at Indie Statik, featuring Pachalafaka