Before you read this, I highly recommend that you play through Moirai first. It’s free, 14 mb, and takes only a few minutes to beat. Trust me, it’s worth it. Here’s a link to the game so you can check it out: http://store.steampowered.com/app/496920/
Moirai is difficult to explain. On the surface Moirai is a simplistic first-person experience. There is no combat that tests your reflexes, no villain that fantasizes of your utter decimation. In fact, there is no real challenge in Moirai. Instead, what we are given is a delightfully experimental examination of player agency. When the player is given the ultimate key to their fate, how do they react?
I had seen Moirai on the front of the new releases page on steam and it caught my eye. It’s visual aesthetic was jejune and grossly unappealing yet the steam reviews (over 2,154 reviews at the time of this writing) were overwhelmingly Positive standing at a 96%. I immediately downloaded the game and prepared for… well, I don’t know. I really had no idea what to think about this game. At the onset of my playthrough I could not, for the life of me, understand why such an outstanding amount of people absolutely loved this game.
You begin Moirai as an unknown character with no backstory, no name, no body. Absolutely nothing. You are just thrust into the world, and the situation, with no further explanation required. It’s one of the few times that having no background information on a situation helped to create a unique experience. With each new character that you meet in this tale, a disturbing narrative is unveiled to you.
Julia, a woman in the town, has led an increasingly unfortunate life as death after death in her family has sent her into a frantic spiral. The townspeople are worried for her mental health and ask you to investigate her well-being. You soon learn that Julia’s husband died and soon after her son disappeared in a nearby cave and, presumptively, died. As you continue to explore the town the game successfully lures you into this false sense of security that makes the game feel peaceful. Almost relaxing. Everything is so beautifully simple. The trees, the scenery, the environments, even the people and sheep all look so simple. Moirai‘s blocky textures and retro gameplay evoke a sense of nostalgia and familiarity. It feels like a game lost in time and devoid of anything resembling complex themes, gameplay, or story. It was baffling me. After the barn is where the game really ramps up and becomes something different.
In this next area you are told to press on into the caves. As you explore the surrounding tunnels an overwhelming sense of dread begins to build. I was holding my breath as I turned each corner. The caves evoked a sense of dread unlike anything I had ever experienced. I wouldn’t lump this into jump scare horror or anything because this felt different. It was a sensation that only something of this magnitude could pull off. I was lured and trapped leaving me with no idea as to what lied in wake for me.
Either way, I pressed on.
And then it happens.
A farmer soaked in blood holding a knife and lantern stands before you. The immediate reaction when I encountered him was one of absolute terror. I had never met an enemy in the game, I had never met anyone that hadn’t been out right friendly to me.
Now, what’s interesting about this is that the player (Me in this situation) is then given a series of questions which will allow you to press the man for information. My first experience with this system was confusing.
My conversation went something like this:
“Why do you have blood on your overalls.”
becaus3 I have aids
*I stare at my computer screen with a look of absolute confusion.*
“Why do you have a knife?”
follow me on twitch
*I begin to audibly utter “what the fuck am I playing?”*
“I heard moans, what have you done?”
fuked her gud
*I don’t even understand anymore.*
I was then given two options: let them pass or attack.
Seeing no reason as to why I should attack the man (as shown by the conversation), I let him pass. The game was confusing me to no avail. All that was going through my mind was “the writer for this game is just awful.”
As I progressed further in, I saw the boy of a woman lying on the floor. Pixelated blood oozed from every… pixel on her body. She screams that she is Julia and that she wishes to join her husband and son in the after life. You are given the choice: do you kill her and fulfil her wish or do you find help.
The choice was simple for me. I killed her and gave her the freedom that she had begged for. Seeing that the deed was done I turned back towards the cave entrance to tell the townspeople of what had occurred.
Instead, another man stands in the tunnel.
He asks me “Why do you have blood on your overalls?” and a text box appears under it.
It hits me right there. The absolute brilliance of it all. Looking back on it (fucking obviously) the man I had met earlier was none other than another player.
The sheer brilliance of allowing the players ultimate fate to be based solely on their skills to persuade is unprecedented and fascinating. When players use the tools properly, it gives a new level of depth to the game. Even with the awful interaction that had occurred in my playthrough, up until that realization, I had still thought the developers were just garbage writers. I completed a few handfuls of playthroughs of the game and I can honestly say that, while the initial shock had worn away after the awful first playthrough, the moment had still not lost it’s effect. When players play along with it, the moment works so well. It’s such a simple interaction but that is what allows it to work so well, the implications of what is occurring. The scope of your decision and the gravity of your choice. It’s a heavy burden since you know that whoever played that character will receive an email notifying them of what occurred. Was it life or death?
Due to the cyclical implications of the game, it can make the subsequent choices seem rather futile. But, it’s within that futility that we are able to experience the true horror of Moirai.
If you don’t believe me about people putting ridiculous answers for the questions, check out these answers I had seen to the three questions I had put above.
Moirai is unique. It’s simple, and beautiful because of it. My lack of knowledge only helped to elevate the experience and make it something that felt genuinely terrifying. It’s free, it’s 16 mb, and it’s something fresh that I hope more developers toy around with in the future. I hope advancements are made to allow this level of player choice to be expanded into a much larger field.