Reviews by Cat Manning
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If you followed IF Comp '15 at all, you most likely heard about Taghairm. It inspired visceral disgust, real distress, horror, revulsion, boredom and annoyance and irritation. There was the sense of "is this a troll entry?" for a lot of players; if Chandler Groover were less prolific, popular opinion may have fixed on the idea. As it happened, the question was still raised.
Other reviewers have raised the point that the game is vague, possibly maddeningly so. It's true that it's sparse; you're performing a horrifying Scottish ritual with your cousin in order to mitigate a loss. That's all. There are - I believe - three endings; two in the game, where you can either stop the ritual or continue to the end, and a third where the player quits in frustration or upset.
Some might claim that this isn't an ending, but I'd disagree: Taghairm asks the player's consent to - and thus complicity in - the ritual at every step. Quitting before completion is just as valid an end to the game; it just doesn't necessarily involve a terminal screen. Disclaimer: I haven't played to the end, and I know several other reviewers haven't, but that hasn't stopped us from thinking and writing about Taghairm.
As such, it's one of those games that exists in the space that Robert Yang articulated in his blog post about games as cultural artifacts when he posited "To "consume" a game, it is no longer necessary to play it." I think that's true for Taghairm. People have been making Taghairm jokes for six weeks now; it keeps getting labeled as "the game for people who don't like cats". It exists more vividly in the space of the conversations about it than in the browser window. Consider how many reviews involve the personal confessional, the insistence that the reviewer really does like cats before the discussion of the game proper begins, or the admission of how far the player got. (This review is no exception.)
Even reviews which express boredom or frustration at the grueling monotony attempt to anatomize that frustration, and while that's a standard practice of generosity for IF Comp games, I think there's something to how many reviews attempt to engage productively with the dissatisfaction, the sense of being underwhelmed that Taghairm produces, both in the grind and, for some who reach the "end", the climax.
That feeling interests me: that sense of being underwhelmed or psychologically unimplicated or frustrated by a game which involves a horrifying premise and, at least initially, experience. I think that's key to the game experience of Taghairm: the feeling of dissatisfaction, that no matter what path you choose, it will be ultimately unsatisfying to both under-sketched PC and to the player. And I think that lacuna, that blank space where the game under-delivers on its stark premise, produces the larger experience of Taghairm as uncomfortable / vexing / gut-churning phenonmenon.
I can't say I enjoyed it. But it's made me think a great deal about what games can do, especially games which are experienced at a remove (it's impossible, but I'd love to know the statistics on how many people who played Taghairm played through to the longer ending). And I think it's doing something very interesting by creating that space to experience it as artifact.
I'm still going to keep making Taghairm jokes, though. Sorry, dude.
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