Games are a diversion. They’re the sort of thing that millions of people pick up to wind down and close the door to the outside world. They’re often violent, promising cathartic release of all of the frustrations of the day. They promise an escape into a fantasy world, one that will let us be someone else for a little while, someone powerful and dangerous. It feels good to swing that much limitless strength around, or to dive headfirst into an enemy barracks without any thought to your health. Games provide an endless source of power fantasies, letting us become anyone but ourselves. If they’re doing their jobs right, games must make us forget about who we are, or the narrative and immersion gets broken, right?
Then why is one of the year’s most important games trying so hard to make you think about yourself?
The Sea Will Claim Everythingis a fun point and click adventure. It has a small amount of problems and doesn’t take huge steps to improve the genre, but it takes game narrative to a level I never dreamed was possible. Through a simple story of people being kicked out of their ancestral homes, Jonas Kyratzes puts together a fantasy world that tugs at the heart.
It’s not a heavy-handed look at poverty. There are no cries that demand we tear down the banks and kill the money lenders. No one wants to burn down the government. All of the characters in the game seem possessed of an almost optimistic melancholy, talking about their problems without seeming to acknowledge them. All of the characters have problems that are related to the steady loss of jobs and money, but the signs seem so small to them that they hardly notice. They’re all still positive about their lives, accepting that this is just how things are now.
If you find yourself getting chills as you play the game and noticing things that are similar to what your family and friends have said at times, you aren’t alone. The game is populated with wonderful, kind people who are resigned to the poverty that is coming for them. Their problems are small if taken one on one, but as you see the big picture of the whole game you can tell that all of these issues come together into one huge societal issue. The businessmen of this world are eating it and its inhabitants alive, and have created a system in which people don’t think they can escape.
It’s all presented in a children’s book art style created by Verenas Kyratzes, reminding me of the old books my parents read to me when I was a kid. It’s something that should have made it harder to immerse myself in the narrative, or should have taken away some of its power, but it only adds to it. Seeing such a beautiful, fantastic world put into this kind of turmoil just made it that much more sickening. Watching economic problems and poisonous business ethics bearing down on these colorful, vibrant places just feels like the definition of wrong.
The music is easily the most haunting stuff I’ve ever heard. Any hope I had of dismissing this story went right out the window when I heard the first notes of “Habanera of the Sun.” Chris Christodolou’s work on the game’s soundtrack is without compare, and is the thread that stitches everything together. There is a sadness that runs through each song, one that literally feels like it’s tugging at your soul. The song could be rising and falling with the beauty of the landscape in front of you, but there is a sadness in the song that tells you these places are in danger. Even without the game in front of me, songs like “The Sea Will Claim Everything Part II” can reduce me to tears. This is one of the most powerful soundtracks ever created for a game, able to bring your mood up or down on a note.
All of its parts come together into an experience that demands that you reflect on your own life. It’s just so subtle yet powerful, boring right into the player’s mind to show how things aren’t all right in the world. It makes you acknowledge how much you’re willing to work to help out a fictional character, leaving you wondering why you don’t do more for the real people in your world. It’s never heavy-handed or direct about it, but rather just puts together a story that shows how ridiculous and dangerous the rules of the world are. When seen through this brilliant fiction, you can see that there are some terrible things going on in our world, and it left me feeling that I should try to be more active in trying to help people however I could.
Games rarely encourage the player to think about the world around them or give them the feeling that they should be trying to effect change around them. The Sea Will Claim Everything pushes that without ever feeling like it’s being direct. It weaves a subtle magic on its players, drawing them into the world and showing them the darkness poisoning the happy lives of the inhabitants. It makes you hate it, and then you begin to see it in your own world. It was something I’ve never, ever felt so strongly in any entertainment medium, and is something I think anyone who loves video game should experience. Whether you want to look at the world around you in a different way or would just like to go through one of the most emotionally immersive, powerful experiences in all of gaming, then this game is something you need to play. It really is my most incredible gaming experience of 2012, if not of all my years playing games.
The soundtrack is available for download from Chris Christodolou’s website.