The Gurge: Into the Labyrinth is in early access on Game Jolt as of December 2020.
INSPIRATION FOR AN INTERACTIVE FICTION EXPERIENCE
In Paradise Lost, Milton describes Babel as a tower made of a “black bituminous gurge” that “boiles out from under ground, the mouth of Hell” (XII, 41-2). The Tower of Babel often provokes fascination as a figure not just of human arrogance but of human aspiration; and yet a symbol of the inevitable threat to human existence altogether. But Milton’s “gurge” is an apt descriptor not just for the biblical earth, but for our own climate-devastated lands. An Australian wildfire-stricken rainforest might become a kind of gurge; likewise, the flood-prone streets of the coastal south United States, or the earthquake zones in Indonesia, or Chile, or California. In the myth, the Tower of Babel ultimately signifies the loss of language and human connection. But what about us; what will we lose, in the next ten or 100 or 10,000 years, beneath our own bituminous gurge? How will the story of that loss be told?
GAMIFYING THEMES OF CRITICAL INQUIRY
The Gurge: Into the Labyrinth is a first-person interactive fiction experience that tests the limits of non-linear narrative and explores what it might be like to uncover the stories and ruins of human civilization thousands of years after the world’s ruin. The game builds a story about human-caused loss and climate change by asking the player to unlock serially the different visual layers of the game space using “keys” and making various choices. Beginning in the lush and sunny “ruins” of an ancient courtyard, the game presents a natural paradise with overgrown vines cascading down the broken walls and a light breeze flowing through the trees. As the player unlocks the courtyard’s various iterations, the sun and sky darken, the plants begin to die, the remnants of human industry become more dominating, with gas tanks, tools, broken wood pieces increasingly littering the ground, and the forces of climate-change, like smoke, wind, and flooding, begin to take over. In The Gurge, the ancient ruins are “ruined” by the carelessly dumped modern structures and artifacts that, together with the climate changes, blemish the game space.
PUSHING THE BOUNDS OF EXPERIMENTAL FICTION
While The Gurge explores the themes of climate change, cosmic collapse, and historical discovery, it also experiments with the video game medium as a means of storytelling. The fiction experience asks: what can the 3D, immersive, and interactive space of a game world do for narrative building that text, image, and film cannot? The answer is in the question, and The Gurge capitalizes on these three elements of the medium.
- 3D space: The world of the video game allows for both visual and audio narration and the mise-en-scène of storytelling, and The Gurge makes use of multiple narratorial voice overs, written text that can be accessed on the walls inside the game world, and the careful placement of objects and artifacts to show the passing of time.
- Immersion: The player of The Gurge uses both the game world and the video screen as two separate but related interfaces that build the game’s story. Examining a gas tank in the game world, for example, brings up on-screen a virtual “notebook” filled with historical descriptions about the object in question.
- Interactivity: As the agent of choice in the fiction experience, the player of The Gurge interacts with the objects, collectibles, and narrators to the extent that they desire.
The effects of these three elements on the process of narrative development is that the game’s “story” becomes immediately non-linear and entirely dependent on the player’s personal desire to interact with the world in order to uncover these hidden story pieces. At the same time, the story becomes the reward for positive interaction with the game world.
The freedom within the video game medium to include multiple contradictory and unreliable narrators as the only narrative “sources” with whom the player can interact, is unparalleled in any other creative medium. As the player of The Gurge hears one narrator negate the entire testimony of another, they themselves are implicated in the process of storytelling: story in this fiction experience becomes a puzzle, and narrative exploration the process of solving it.
The Gurge: Into the Labyrinth has been published in early access on Game Jolt. The next major release is currently in active development and set for publication on PC and Mac in 2021. The game is made using Unreal Engine and Quixel Megascans, with 3D modeling work done in Blender3D and music composition recorded and edited with Garageband and Audacity.
For more information about the gameplay experience and features of The Gurge: Into the Labyrinth, visit the Mad Air Studios games page.