Archive, Criticism

ARCHIVE: Your Words Are Losing Structure: Brief Notes on The Falling Sun

This was originally posted on tumblr on 23rd February, 2015.


The Falling Sun is free and available on itch.io

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“There are times in life where you simply cannot win… where you have no choice but to accept your unpreventable, impending fate.” – Game description

Kingdaro’s The Falling Sun begins at the end of the world.* The player is given some Typing of the Dead-like word prompts to fulfil, but as soon as they do so the game collapses as the timer starts and a raging, dying sun comes closer and closer to the earth. You are implored to type the words at the bottom of the screen, but this does nothing to halt the world’s demise; the entire ludic element of the game serves no obvious “function”, inasmuch as it never intersects with the one other mechanic present and seems to have no relationship whatsoever with anything else in the game. It is a game built specifically around arresting as much agency from the player as possible.

This is something I talked about briefly in my last essay about Glitchhikers, in which I quotedBrendan Vance noting that the driving mechanics of Glitchhikers do not affect the way the outcome of the game. Instead, they exist to reflect the game’s themes of solitude versus solidarity with the wider universe. In The Falling Sun, the gameplay does not affect the outcome of the game either, but this in itself is what makes the game so interesting.

At a certain point, the game begins to try and trip you up. Certain prompts are confusingly laid out, with the spaces in certain words placed oddly so as to trip up your sight reading. Worse than that are the times where words are deliberately misspelled, with the internal letters of a word scrambled – this particular challenge taps into the psycholinguistic phenomenon affectionately known as“typoglycemia”, whereby a word with scrambled letters is read as if nothing were amiss by the human mind as long as the first and last letters of the word are in the right place.**

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My point is that The Falling Sun is a game that consciously plays with the way the player perceives written language. Whereas Typing of the Dead privileges quick perception and touch-typing of an established vocabulary, The Falling Sun is a typing game that takes place at the death-site of language, forcing the player to slow down, read the text as written on the screen and type against all linguistic instinct, against years of learning the canon of the English corpus. It doesn’t increase its challenge with bigger words, but with different words, wrong words, non-words. And to what end? The end of the timer.

There’s no satisfying conclusion to the game, only an inevitable one. By typing out the word prompts on screen, the player does not unravel any narrative, discover any characters or learn any secrets. Instead, the game turns outward and addresses the player directly:

‘how was your / life / make many friends? / have fulfilling / experiences? / ? ? ?’

The player is being asked to evaluate their experiences in a world that never existed to them until it began to disintegrate. Not only that, but there is no time to answer, nor even consider the questions being posed, unless one stops typing, and it is here that I think we can draw the threads of this game together.

The Falling Sun poses a question: if there are no rewards or revelations to be gained by playing the game, what is the point of continuing? Is there some kind of value – and I’m using a deliberately vague term here – to be derived from the psychosomatic act of typing against the clock alone? The Falling Sun is implicitly questioning the way we approach challenges and objectives in games by taking them away, leaving only the hurdles without the finishing line.

At one point earlier in the game, a word prompt reads ‘value your time’. Perhaps this should be our core takeaway, that there is a zen to be found in inescapable calamity. Rather than calling you to further action to stem the destructive tide, The Falling Sun asks the player to see it not as a challenge that can be overcome but as a moment to be experienced. It is a game of futile effort, a typing game that insists you stop typing, lift your head from the bottom of the screen and really look at this dying world, this screaming apocalypse.


Notes

*- Kind of like Pachalafaka.

**- A lot of the publicly available writing on typoglycemia is more pop psychology than hard science, but that’s a digression.

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