Words: on “Tarantella Sicilienne” by thecatamites

Tarantella Sicilienne

What is it about thecatamites‘ “Tarantella Sicilienne” (made as part of a huge, thecatamitesy set called ♫HARMONY SUMMER HARDPACK TAPE 11-IN-1♫ for this month’s Make Game pageant)? I played it for the first time and finished feeling both exhilarated by how good it was, and saddened that I wasn’t making things like it all the time.

Although the game is made in some sense around the music, I wouldn’t say the music is its key feature, though you can see how it inspired the general aesthetic of the game. There’s a lot to say about the overall presentation, but one of the standout elements for me is the use of the text that appears throughout the game in the top left corner.

The text is always somewhat in the tone of one of those silent films I assume the game is recreating. But it also manages to range around a variety of voices and effects. Some of them are the typical announcements of setting that we perhaps most expect: “The day begins!”, “Mysterious Dreams”. But others are very colloquial suddenly, not the voice of a narrator but of a character: “Mom, the dog’s dead”. Some are prosaic: “Harvesting Corn”. Some are existential: “God is dead”. All fit together to create a lovely little world full of potential meaning and ambiguity. The single statement “Awful”, positioned over what seems to be a family meal, is deeply enjoyable both in its bathos and in the sheer variety of things it might refer to.

One of the final texts, in combination with its illustration, has this wonderful quality of combining a very unusual statement in a game, “The Polish army is crossing the Ukraine”, with an unexpected game-outcome, your inevitable (as far as I’ve been able to tell) death. And yet, the outcome is also entirely reasonable: this is what armies do, after all, it’s just that usually in games we’re in them, not under their hooves. It’s good for us to play a game where we get crushed, inevitably, as part of the cycle of seasons.

In the end, “All is resolved” and we even get a moral: “It’s never too late to learn.” So what could we have learned?

The tarantella is a frenzied dance about death, representing (or perhaps intended to cure) the reaction to being bitten by the spider. Is this game about the kind of tarantella we enact when we play video games? Our prized agency a frenzied spin across every available pixel, every action taken at every opportunity before going back to do it again better?

We can’t do things differently in the game, we can’t give the characters bath their faith in god or even save their dog. So perhaps we’re meant to learn a little fatalism: some things just happen and there’s nothing that even you, the almighty player, can do except dance the dance, and then die.

31 July 2014
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