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The Fall of Asemia, by B.J. Best

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
How to feel for a country you've never known and never really will, April 9, 2022
by DB (Columbus, OH)
Related reviews: Spring Thing 2022

Minimal, abstract graphemes of varied points and lines assemble lost stories from forgotten country ("the land of no signs" if I parse the name correctly, or perhaps "The land of which there is no sign," which sounds more accurate to its state). In Point and Line to Plane, Kandinsky proposes an exercise in "hearing" the geometric point, whose sound is silence. ["Today I am going to the movies. Today I am going. To the movies. Today I. Am going to the movies Today I am going to the movies

."] To my mind B.J. Best has used a style of abstract imagery similar to Kandinsky to likewise create a multimedia exercise in hearing and feeling for the dead of this imagined land, who currently speak the same language as the geometric point.

What do the pictures themselves represent? Typically triptychs, though sometimes less, we can see in their horizontal alignment how one method of reading perhaps already influences the reading of the art, further bolstered by its presentation with interstitial scenes in English that make new meanings from the player's selections. Are these arrangements written sentences in Asemian? No, they assemble into larger passages. Are these images perhaps journals, with each image representing a day? No, the text suggests they are probably less formal than this (at least one seems to be little more than a crumpled note, though to whom any of them were written seems uncertain). Unless I missed something, their relation to the textual translation that follows seems to imply that each grapheme operates as a discrete unit of meaning in some way, like the practice emoji tutorial that the game opens with, featuring no interaction between the graphemes though they do form a larger picture. That smacks of a missed opportunity to me (what might it have meant for any one triptych to only contain a single point? what if we managed to arrange points in ascending order?), although it would require exponentially more work to finish the project and as the time to complete any particular work approaches infinity the artist is certainly justified in making cuts. In this way though, although these mysterious scribbles are translated into lines (haha), they sort of remain points of relation rather than transcending to a lexical plane.

I was quite captively spellbound by the possibilities of the graphemes and studied them and their accompanying textual scenes for quite some time the first time around, as one might art on a museum wall, but the game features multiple rounds. The recycling of selectable images and their related lexia (if any new ones were introduced on subsequent rounds, I missed them) led in my case to desensitization and scanning rather than deep reading, especially by the third time around. I was more into seeing what changed if anything on the second and third pass. By the third I was more or less just clicking through and this is too bad because I really enjoyed finding what I felt was the "right" fit for all of the scribbles on my first time through. Maybe this aspect was intended as a commentary on translation. Regardless the monotony of this experience is definitely reflected and commented on by the framing of the viewpoint character (a literal translator) and a choice of dialog options responding to that character's surrounding monotony, frustrations, and the relation of inner and outer states (the need to get the "right" translation, lingering sadness and anger, and eating (Spoiler - click to show)nothing but chicken). The game's final choice (Spoiler - click to show)between some "translated" lines of text not drawn from a grapheme allows the player a say in capping off the emotional experience of the project in general.

This is all to say that I found The Fall of Asemia intriguing and exquisite without even beginning to touch on its sonic aspect. My previous tries at reviewing something like that suggest that while I can say that I thought the ambient soundscape matched or heightened the mood of the piece overall and suggested either what the language of Asemia might have sounded like or how 'twas garbled through the mists of time (? [(Spoiler - click to show)but at least not so long ago that they didn't have jazz]), someone else out there is better qualified than myself to more fully assess that part of the experience.

Ah, well, it's natural to miss something, I suppose. The translator does it, the survivors of the dead must do it, and so any one reviewer probably will too.

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