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Conservation of p is violated in the mirror..., May 4, 2023
>"Weightlessness, wonder, a rare smile as the planet descended below you, a brilliant viridian marble swirled with soft white clouds."
Despite the protagonist of Protocol having left her lover to go live among the stars, high above/below the planet, this quote is on of the few instances where the space outside is witnessed directly from her point of view.
Protocol is an inwardly oriented game, both in its surface quest and in its more abstract layers.
The protagonist wakes up alone on an abandoned Space Observatory Station, a mighty telescope pointed at the tiniest pinpricks of light from the farthest, earliest moments of space, suspended in its ring of service modules and living quarters for the necessary living staff. The station is damaged. An urgency more felt than understood presses her to do all that is necessary for the repair of the station.
During the exploration of the station, wounded and confused, weakened and alone, a relation of mutual dependency/support/survival develops. The station needs/coerces/forces the woman for healing its wounds, for saving what is not yet irreparably lost of its memories while she struggles to remember herself. The woman uses/grasps/wills the station for a purpose, a reason. The only purpose left, empty and meaningless as it may be.
The desperate crawling journey of the woman through the station to its core systems, to the exposed and damaged vital technologies mirrors a descent deeper and deeper into the body and mind, into psyche and soma, to the wounded bleeding sarx itself, the flesh and bones that need repair.
However intimately connected, mind and body undergo an unnerving disorienting dissociation/distancing during the journey. The station becomes a distorted mirror for the woman. It reflects her broken dreams and yearnings and regrets back to her, reminiscent of the Nietzschean abyss. This is often expressed in physical, external circumstances and actions.
The painful state of the woman's mind is made apparent in her personal monologue/narration too:
>"Delusions of grandeur lost in the summer winds of her laugh, the comfort of a fire in winter in her embrace. Who could blame you, for turning your gaze away from the sky? You were enchanted by the stars, enamored with them. Who could blame you for leaving her, when the stars in her eyes shone no longer?"
While the premise of Protocol is well-known, and could be tiresome in a lesser game, it succeeds in using that premise as a means to search deep into the human condition. The sense of loss, the inevitability of choices, the impossibility of what could have been.
An important factor in making this work is the impressive writing. The author employs stylistic techniques to press the gravity of the situation on the reader. For the most part, this works very well. A bit more prudence might be in order as to the frequency with which one or another technique is used, as they do lose efficacy along the way.
Mesmerising, haunting repetitions, both of phrases and entire paragraphs (with small but telling differences) draw the player deep into the bowels of the story.
The juxtaposition of two major themes resonates throughout the story and appeals to different aesthetical and ethical value systems, perhaps loosely associated with the Appolonic and the Dionysic:
There is the beauty cold and austere of inevitable, ordered, lawful physics, geometry, even biology, juxtaposed with the messy hot-glowing spell of yearning, purpose, will of life and love and consciousness.
Both sides are reflected in the careful delicate writing. In the same passage of text scientific precision and sense of detail conjoins with poetic style, rythmic prose, flowing structure.
>"This is how it always ends; falling the mechanism of your demise, her demise, both the guilty Daedalus and foolish Icarus, too close to the sea, too close to the sun and always doomed by gravity."
At other times, the rhyme and rythm take center stage, as in this challenging and delightful lingual language game of leapfrog:
>"Where she walked the shores of a shallow salt sea, followed the tree-lined lanes dappled in light through the thin apertures of leaves to a home with knotted hardwood floors and open windows through which the wind whispered."
Protocol has few choices. The ones it does have are posed with appropriate gravitas. Each choice is a commitment, the player's role and responsability in seeing this narrative to its inevitable end. Whatever end that may be. It is still inevitable.
Very, very impressive.