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Haunting, atmospheric game that allows for multiple interpretations, January 23, 2019
In this choice-based game you play as the last priest of a dying cult. You have never heard your god's voice, and you wonder if the god is still there. Your primary choice in the game is to decide which particular act of devotion you will perform, in the hope that your god will speak to you or give you some kind of a sign.
The music is excellent, particularly the piece that sounds like Gregorian chant. It completely changes the feel of the game. The background graphics are also lovely.
Also, the opening line is up there with Erstwhile's as one of the best opening lines in IFComp 2018: "You have devoted your life to a god whose voice you have never heard." Immediately gripping.
More substantively, DEVOTIONALIA manages to pull off a feat that is difficult for any artwork in any form: It's emotionally powerful and yet ambiguous enough to allow for multiple interpretations.
For example, I kept coming back to how DEVOTIONALIA dramatizes a question that many of us probably ask ourselves at least once in our lives, perhaps when we're alone with our thoughts and no distractions: "Has my entire life been based on something that does not matter?" The priest wants a sign that the deity is there, that the god he has spent his entire life serving still cares, that what he's done with his time on this earth has served a real purpose.
There's plenty of religious literature that wrestles with situations like the priest's: of people going forward, day after day and year after year, living out their acts of devotion (in all kinds of ways) - without direct confirmation of the value of what they're doing. I think of some of the Christian mystical works like John of the Cross's Dark Night of the Soul; or the title of Dorothy Day's autobiography The Long Loneliness; or Mother Teresa's diaries, in which it was revealed that she spent decades working with the poor of Calcutta because of a directive from God, all the while questioning God's very existence; or even of C.S. Lewis's A Grief Observed, in which he wrestles with his faith and his wife's death from cancer.
But you don't have to be a religious believer to wonder whether this thing that you've devoted your life to is worth it. Have I made the correct career choices? Is this political movement I'm involved in really for the best? To reference another game in this Comp, have my reproductive choices been the right ones? Many of us, like the priest, just want a sign from God, or some confirmation from the universe.
In DEVOTIONALIA the priest gets his sign. Something is there. But the sign doesn't really answer his fundamental question: "Does what I've done with my life matter?"
Which is probably the right ending. This question may ultimately be one we must answer for ourselves.