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Questions about the nature of sacrifice, November 21, 2015
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.