In Other Waters
Platforms: Switch, PC, OS
Emoji summary: 🧪🌊 👤
Review by: GDLP
Everyone is talking about lockdown horniness but no one is talking about edging. For these first 6 weeks of quarantine, I don’t think I have really allowed myself to indulge too much in anything because: the world is frozen, resources are scarce, and mostly I think big happiness would be followed by big sadness so wouldn’t it be wise to stay somewhere in the middle of the two? If I could Esther Perel myself for a second, I think I adapted to quarantine very quickly by making abstinence a new and temporary fetish of mine, not just in sex (which I cannot have because I am locked away from my boyfriend) but in many strange parts of my day. I realise in retrospect how in unconsciously cutting myself off from things, stopping certain activities, limiting or postponing them indefinitely, I suddenly enjoyed the wait. The wait wasn’t as painful anymore and instead it meant a building momentum to something greater. And this sounds very dramatic but in reality what it means is: I didn’t have any alcohol outside of a glass of wine on my weekly phone call with the cousins; I didn’t wash my hair for two weeks and then it felt amazing when I did; I’ve not done the nano block puzzle in my room because I’m waiting for peak boredom so I can unlock peak joy; and I’m only having one can of coke a day (instead of doing what I actually want to do which is to buy a 3 litre bottle and drink it with breakfast, lunch and dinner) so that one can of coke tastes like advert-coke, freezing and bright and fizzy. I’m somehow managing to ration my easter eggs because easter egg chocolate is supreme quality and I dont want it to disappear from my life, and having it in the cupboard means it is something to look forward to. If I had eaten it, that optimistic feeling would be gone already. like, I haven’t gone on a mad online shopping spree yet like I’ve seen loads of other people do because I want to save that special madness for a later date. Nothing really to do with the specific things and everything to do with the waiting. I don’t know if this is genius or if I’m just really missing out on the good things in life, but that’s how the first month has gone, and I needed you to know,
because now my unnecessary self-imposed holiness is starting to crack. I’m not enjoying having a routine as much either and have started to shake things up. I just had a cider while I watched a mediocre episode of New Girl because I am in dire need of catharsis now. To be honest, I would really like a Purge moment, to break every rule in one day and have a BBQ in the park with one thousand writhing people around me while I have loud sex in the middle of them all, like Midsommar but in Sefton Park. Consider this text my attention nude on the timeline. I want the sun to blast my face with freckles, I want to neck coke until all my teeth fall out, I want attention and love and as big of a release as I can get. I think I am feeling very, very alone and when my family sometimes stop by the front gate it feels like I’m talking to prerecorded versions of them because the conversation is like the one on the news and on twitter. It’s hard to get past that and into something more but I need that thing beyond.
This week I played a game that did not give me the big dramatic catharsis I was wanting (I know I am not going to find it in media and it’s not fair to expect it of some random game I didn’t even read up on before playing, and I don’t think anything will satisfy me until lockdown is actually over). So this game left me stuck and edging, and tbh I think if I’d played it even just a few weeks before I would have enjoyed it more, but now I need everything turned up. I am writing about ‘In Other Waters,’ a video game developed by Jump Over The Age and published by Fellow Traveller earlier this month. By far the most niche game style I have ever played, I completed it this week in two sittings over the course of a few hours. N like, I’m glad I played it because it gave me something to chew on and write about but it was like chewing over and over again and never swallowing because it never broke down in my mouth. Let me first tell you what the game is and what it does and then we can circle back to affect and the problems I had with it. Bc ye, it is so far removed from what I expect of a video game in the cultural imaginary, and you really do just have to see this one - it’s so strange (and old, in a way); sci-fi and sad.
So the whole screen is taken up by a digital and fictional scientific device that you use like a Swiss army knife of game controls to play with. Through the device, you can see a topographic map with contour lines and odd moments of activity that are detected in dots and flecks around the screen. And like, that’s it, we can only see the device and the map - no street view detail, simply dots and lines like pya old games people played on grey box PCs and arcade machines: Asteroids or Pong aesthetics but 2020. So, the map is presenting Gliese 677Cc (aside to camera: why do sci-fi names make me cringe so much?), a submerged alien planet revealed to be one of the many planets humans are having to investigate because they have ruined Earth and need to find other places to live. The company leading on this, Baikal, ‘mine exoplanets, skim helium from gas giants,’ and ‘help drive forward humanity’s expansion.’ The story begins when biologist Dr Ellery Vas is called to the planet and then unable to make contact with her colleague (and hinted at ex-lover) Minae Nomura. She sets out to locate her, to figure out what she was doing on Gliese, and also what might have gone wrong in the abandoned laboratories, wasted places, and radio silence between them. We don’t see Ellery though, she is only a dot on the screen in a space-swim-suit that WE control because we are the AI computer system. She speaks to us through text-on-screen communication, and the player controls what her suit does. Ellery asks us to move her along the map hopefully towards Minae, and we investigate things, picking up samples of spores and taking recordings of all the weird microbial fluff along the way in an attempt to figure what’s going on.
To move Ellery’s suit, you have to scan for possible landing points in a 360 degree circle around you, switch modes and then target which spot the suit swims to next. Kinda feels like walking down a staircase you’re not familiar with in complete darkness and having to carefully feel out with your foot where the next step might be before committing to it. It makes the game SLOW and precise, and requires mastering the many controls the scientific device can offer - like at points it was as tho my hands were playing a tiny piano, and when I got it all right and the movement was smooth, it felt good. I feel like tho, the game mechanics are what I will remember more so than even the post-apocalyptic biology/lesbian romance storyline; the controls were neat and pushed right to the front, n I wasn’t used to that, most games I’ve played try to make the controls innate. For ex. the motion to take a sample meant targeting a dot, flipping a switch for the sample-taking option, moving the up and down arrows to focus in on the item, to trap it, and waiting while a circle loaded around the piece and it was put in your inventory. Again slow, but good n satisfying; made me nostalgic for the plastic kid-microscope I got off my science tech godfather once upon a time. Me and my sister would put dirt and worms under the shitty lens and see what we could see. Reminds me also of my uncle showing me how you could tilt a magnifying glass to make light set fire to leaves and newspaper - not to be a fire starter but because it was science in action, and that in itself was exciting.
I liked the controls, and I liked the nuts and bolts stripped-down design of the whole thing (especially when colours shifted between depths, reminiscent of Atari’s Centipede changing and inverting colours between levels), but its form was so neat that I think it ended up holding the story back. Like come on, give us some more, give ME some more, I’m gagging for it. Once Minae is found and brought back to base, we’re told her body blooms out into this flowery organism that fills the room - n this is such a moment, a luq, but it isn’t made a moment, it is mentioned and moved past so quickly. The same goes for a discovery later on in the game when Ellery comes across not just another facility but what looks like a city of dead workers, going dot to dot between the rooms and finding at least the bodies that haven’t been buried under sand yet. Why did no one know about this? Why was it a secret? The answers to that could have had so much weight, but the emotions I was hoping for were contained n stiff inside the lines of the instrument, the map and the graphics. Tight lid on reactions, so straight, and the same goes for the ending too - it gave a quick final remark and slipped away round the corner.
It’s a shame because at the beginning of ‘In Other Waters’ and bang in the middle of play, I really did feel like I was floating somewhere unreal, continuous and mythical. It felt like… idk. Imagine you are swaddled tight in multiple thick blankets and you’re lying on ice, no memory of how you got there. You're outside on this creaking land with nothing else to do but stare up at a big black sky. Maybe instead of that scenario, imagine you are cradled in a giant empty nest made by a bird that is too big to exist in the world you used to know. You’re in there floating across a calm ocean, rocking evenly and slow. Your eyes blur in and out of focus and when they settle, stars and then more stars reveal themselves to you. Eventually you float too far away from the ones you came to know and look for new stars to enjoy further down the sky, finding them one by one from the comfort of your big bird bed. You do this as a constant, you are always doing it, and feeling neither here nor there, because the sun never comes up and it is night forever. You don’t reach land - just loop around the planet; memorising, forgetting and remembering every star you can see. Like, that’s where this game put me in my mind, and when I nipped downstairs to refill my water bottle or stopped to check my phone, I felt put in a nice dazed state. That’s where we could have gone, all the way to that magic. Amos Roddy’s sonar drippy weirdo soundtrack was really taking us there, and the good, good writing had the potential to make it all land. But all the moody drama evaporated whenever it was about to get good in this game. I guess the format of In Other Waters pinned the narrative down way too hard instead of letting it do a Nelly Furtado. Maybe it hit different for other players, idk, but it didn’t do enough for me - not anymore, now my coping edging fetish has expired.
I will end by quickly mentioning the fact that there were about two moments when the instructions on the game came up and then disappeared and I couldn’t find anything besides a full gameplay recording on YouTube where I could check what I was supposed to be doing next. I didn’t wannnnnna have to check but I had no choice. And tbh I dont think I would have missed any orders if Ellery’s comms were on the top of the screen instead of the bottom; it would have been good if you could move them up there (could you? Idk) / & it would be good to have had a mission section on the device so you could keep on topic (if it was there, I didn’t see it). I dont want a game to hold my hand but if after 10 minutes it can sense that I’m going completely off track or round in circles, I would appreciate a slight tug on the reigns bc I was straight up guessing at some points and that bummed me out. If anyone knows what game I should play next, something that might make a dent in my frenzy, please let me know. Unfortunately, I’ve got all the time in the world.