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The Fall of Asemia

by B.J. Best profile


(based on 5 ratings)
5 reviews

About the Story

⚔️ 💣 💥 💀 🏴 🏚️ 👪 ⛺ ✍️

Game Details

Language: English (en)
First Publication Date: April 5, 2022
Current Version: Unknown
Development System: Twine
IFID: Unknown
TUID: 9ohhjci8uk88w6vt


Entrant, Main Festival - Spring Thing 2022


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Member Reviews

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Number of Reviews: 5
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Most Helpful Member Reviews

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Signs and symbols, May 12, 2022
by EJ

The Fall of Asemia is a game about language, or a game about history and culture and the fact that these are necessarily mediated through language, which is something that can be lost. I suspect Asemia’s name comes from Greek: the negative prefix a- and the root sema, or “sign,” as in semantikos, “significance,” whence the English word “semantic.”

Asemia is not without signs, and those signs are not without meaning, but those signs are no longer legible to most people in the world in which the game takes place. The PC is charged with translating them, but seems unsatisfied with her ability to do so. Translation is always a challenge, but beyond that, the protagonist seems to be dragged down by the weight of the responsibility of serving as a conduit for the lost voices of the Asemians. Or perhaps not – we only see her in a few brief exchanges in between the translated journal entries that make up the bulk of the game, and though her stress and feelings of inadequacy are clear, the reasons for them are open to interpretation. But I did feel like there was a lot going on in between the lines.

The game is mainly played by clicking on glyphs to change them and reading the journal entries that result. The glyphs are lovely, aesthetically, and I was impressed by the fact that those of the five Asemian journal-writers managed to look like the same language in different handwriting, while those of the soldier of the invading force were immediately recognizable as a different language. I did find it somewhat hard to remember which glyphs I had chosen before and which I hadn’t, and I’m not entirely sure whether the texts I saw were sometimes quite similar because I was accidentally selecting glyphs I’d already seen or because changing glyphs doesn’t necessarily change sentences in the way I initially assumed it did.

I also have to admit that it bothers me a little that, although the conceit is that the player character is translating the glyphs, what the player is doing seems not to be interpreting, but rather changing the source text. Unless we’re supposed to take it that the player character has fragments that she’s trying to arrange in the correct order? Regardless, I would have liked a little more clear connection between what I was doing in the game and what the PC was supposed to be doing in-universe.

Regardless, the translated texts convey the Asemians’ sense of loss and displacement with painful clarity. They are often poetic (“The strange vowels of this province flood my mouth like chewing on leather. Someone has painted the sky a different color”), and even the blunter and more straightforward passages, mostly courtesy of a child diarist, sometimes contain surprising and effective imagery (“I don't even know the name of this town, but the clouds here make me want to punch them in the face”). The banal brutality of the invaders is also starkly apparent; one passage, after talking about mass executions, concludes with a complaint about the music tastes of the original residents of the writer’s stolen apartment (“The records are mostly jazz. Who likes jazz?”).

Ultimately, despite my complaints about the relationship of the interactivity to the narrative, I did find The Fall of Asemia to be an intriguing and memorable experience, and though the short length of the game meant that its exploration of the intertwining of language, culture, and history did not have room to be very in-depth, it was well-executed.

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Gesturing toward meaning, May 21, 2022

The Fall of Asemia is a story about loss and violence and language and memory that, to me, evokes the war in Ukraine and works like Ilya Kaminsky’s Deaf Republic, as well as the asemic writing of authors like Henri Michaux. In this game, you play a scholar who is translating an old text–an account of war and exile–from “Asemian” into English. You click through variations of each Asemian glyph, which causes the corresponding English translation to shift. Even though the story was bleak, I enjoyed inhabiting this world of churning meaning. The variations of each line were similar enough to suggest that they all might have come from the same source text, yet distinct enough to feel satisfying and novel, even over three “rounds” of translation.

The notion of gesturing toward meaning but never really nailing it down reminded me of John Cage talking about the relationships among syntax and sense and militarization, and how deliberately making language less understandable in effect “demilitarizes” it. I wondered how this might relate to translation–specifically, translation of a story about military invasion and occupation.

To get at this idea from a different direction: I felt a little let down by the final choice, both because I was hoping that it would feel more consequential, and also because I was disappointed to finally land on a definitive translation. Throughout the game, the failure of meaning to be pinned down felt like a kind of resistance, a kind of opening. This continuous movement, combined with the very strong writing, infused the game with energy and preserved a sense of possibility, albeit limited. Taking a narrative that was multivocal and constantly shifting, and freezing it into a single voice, a single sentiment, conveyed a finality that also felt a bit like defeat. It was a fitting and effective end to this haunting game that was as much about translation and the writing of history as it was about Asemia.

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.

See All 5 Member Reviews

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