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About the Story
"Perhaps the most horrible of all recorded magical spells."
46th Place - 21st Annual Interactive Fiction Competition (2015)
Emily Short's Interactive Storytelling
The list of games that intentionally test my willingness to play to the breaking point is not huge. I don’t (obviously) have fun with this kind of thing or especially want to see it take over as a dominant mode of expression, but it provides some interesting data.
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Taghairm is essentially a test of player complicity: How far are you willing to go in order to continue on with the game? Taghairm is in some pretty high company here, from Victor Gijsbers Fate to Toby Fox's Undertale.
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Old Games Italia
L'esperienza mi ha ricordato quella vissuta guardando (e scegliendo di guardare per la prima volta) Salò o le 120 giornate di Sodoma di Pier Paolo Pasolini. Conosciamo tutti in modo innato il Male, ma è legittimo metterlo in scena o anche solo assistervi? Quali sono i limiti dell'arte e di ciò di cui possiamo parlare?
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The combination of tight writing, anguished pacing and sound effects creates an experience that is genuinely horrifying in a way that only a text-based interactive story could be.
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The Short Game
The game that I would most compare this to is Year Walk. It's a game about a strange folk practice being enacted in sort of game form. I really liked this, and that makes me sound like a psychopath, but I thought this was really dark, haunting, and interesting.
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Wade's Important Astrolab
...being that this was a horror game about skewering cats to summon a demon, I'm not motivated to pay off meta-tiredness. I'm motivated to pay off the horror, inseparable from the whole piece of course, and I did find the atmosphere to be vivid.
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Number of Reviews: 6
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Most Helpful Member Reviews
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.
Taghairm is a game about magic. Real magic -- blood magic, the kind performed by desperate people in desperate circumstances. The kind that leads you to a secluded barn, where you perform an atrocious act without knowing whether or not it will work, because you are desperate enough that a chance at the reward can drive you to make terrible sacrifices.
Practically, it is a game about roasting cats. The ritual performed in the game is historical -- as many awful things are -- and the narrative that unfolds is essentially a dramatization of the only written account of the ritual being performed.
As such, Taghairm is not so much a narrative as it is a simulation. You are invited to play the role of one of these desperate people, committing a desperate act, and the effectiveness of the game really hinges on what you bring to it: How you feel about the things that happen, and what those feelings mean.
For me, it is a game about sacrifice - in both a literal and sybmolic sense. It's a game about what happens when you've come too far to turn back. It's a game about achieving what you want, only to lose everything in the process. It's a game about forgetting what it was you had even wanted to begin with.
What makes it really effective to me is the design. It's not immediately obvious, but this game was really created with care. There are multiple sound files for atmosphere. The UI takes up a tiny amount of the available screen, filling the gaps with darkness -- enforcing the idea that you are isolated, huddled around this terrible fire in the dark. The text, sometimes, moves quickly, events happening beyond your control; and then it stops, refusing to budge until you make a choice. For every cat, you are given the choice to stop the ritual (Spoiler - click to show)-- and to learn that whatever it was you were trying to achieve is now, forever, impossible. You can take a more active role, grabbing the next cat, turning it on the spit. Or you can force your cousin to do the heavy lifting while you stoke the fire. These are not small choices. They inform the world you occupy and your identity within it. They create the simulation.
And, if you let it -- if you don't cringe away but instead allow yourself to stay a while in these people's shoes -- they raise questions that are very worthwhile.
By now everyone know what Taghairm is about, right? I liked the game, and my experience was a bit different from other people, so I might as well talk about my experience.
First of all I had no idea this kind of thing existed, and it is SO messed up. For some reason I really like (Spoiler - click to show)messed-up, creepy, horrific Middle-Ages beliefs (changelings are another good one), so this was really interesting and neat! The sound atmosphere is really cool too, and adds a lot to the experience.
The game is very repetitive mechanically, and you (Spoiler - click to show)burn cat upon cat upon cat. But I felt like the horror you feel the first time starts to diminish after a few, and then is worn off by the end; I very quickly entered a pattern where I'd click almost rythmically on the links, barely pausing to read. This might be on purpose, and (maybe I'm thinking too much) may be meant as commentary on mechanized evil, and how easy it is to remove yourself emotionally from actions when they become repetitive. But if that was the purpose, I'm not sure it came across very well: basically my reaction was "ugh (Spoiler - click to show)I'm killing cats... why am I killing cats? I guess this will make sense later? Ok, I'll keep going, humor the game to see what it has to say in the end" - and then it was just about following whatever motions the game would make me follow.
By the end it's like I didn't believe the game anymore, I think I felt very removed, in a very conscious way, from the game. The voices near the end and the thunderstorm made some of the creepiness come back for me, but I wish it hadn't gone; I wish the game had been either more concise and more focused, or with more variety.
In particular, another thing that removed me from the game was that I quickly figured out that the game generated cat descriptions at random - if the game can keep generating interchangeable cats, why should I care about them? They're just 0s and 1s. If the description had more, sorry, fluff to them ("the scared cat is looking at you with big eyes", "the half-dead cat is twitching and his eyes meet yours", "the angry cat scratches you which wakes you up a little"), I might have cared a bit more; or if there was an actual direction to them, I'd have tried to see what the next cat showed me about the world or myself or my state; or if the intensity was heightened or the game kept going further. (If that makes sense?)
As is, I felt like the game heightened things by small amounts that had too much space in between them; I wish the moments where things changed had been bigger (big changes, big punches to the gut, new sounds, screen gets smokier, etc) or that the space between them had been shorter. Other than that, it's creepy, well-done, with nice sound effects, and a nice Halloween game - if you want to provoke very loud reactions in a group of friends.
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