sworcery mailbag: praise, grief & hope

"Praise, Grief & Hope" is a letter from Erica Mathews sent in early summer 2012, posted on her web log in spring 2013, re-posted here with permission. 

To whomever it may concern, or whoever will actually read this, of the creators of Sword & Sworcery:

Let me begin by saying that this is one of the most beautiful games I have ever played, and one of the most intriguing. From the beginning I appreciated the framed narration and the breaks between "sessions," as well as the constant breaches of the fourth wall--all of which are things I don't often see in video games, and they enriched the experience and made it distinct and personal. 

The aesthetic appeal of the game was also undeniable: the music was quirky, epic, ethereal, and jammin', and it always complemented the scene. I could probably write a whole email on it, but this isn't why I'm writing.

Counterintuitively, Sword & Sworcery's constant reminders of the player's presence, combined with its distinct aesthetic and easy-yet-engaging gameplay, made for the most completely absorbing video game I have ever experienced. Its violations of the conventional boundaries of game and reality and periodic discussion of the player's psyche made me feel like I was engaged in an experiment, as much upon the world of pixels before me as upon myself. The game's setting and characters felt that real to me. Memories of the day's progress in the story relaxed me to sleep several nights; as an insomniac with a tendency to see the sinister in the most innocent of media, I can tell you that this is an accomplishment in itself, that the experience was purely positive while I played.

But I meander still. To get closer to my point, if such a point exists, let me speak of the Scythian. First of all, I was ecstatic when, in the second session, I discovered she was a girl. She is the only girl I've met in a video game that didn't make me scoff. She's a total bad-ass, and totally believable--that is to say, she isn't merely a bad-ass chick for the sake of having a chick. I also loved the personality that shone through in her observations in-game. ("We spied the solitary grave at the edge of The Perilous Precipice & we wondered what was up with that.") Her fluid role as personal avatar and character-unto-herself served to further blend game and reality, but perhaps even more importantly for me, it helped me to sympathize with her, like our goals were one and the same. I wanted to help her, to accompany her on her woeful errand. In the end, I think I truly wanted to be Cosmic Friends Forever.

Perhaps I should praise the writers for actually breaking the law of protagonic immortality. Perhaps it would have been trite if the Scythian had survived her woeful errand. Perhaps it also speaks to her courage and selflessness that she should pursue her quest, knowing the final consequences. Whether or not this is the case, the Scythian's fate as a martyr hit me like a blind curve at 80mph. I don't think I started to wonder if she would indeed die until Dogfella's Megatome entries explicitly mentioned martyrdom somewhere in the third session. Perhaps if I had, I would not have taken the Scythian's death so unhappily.

As it stands, I have been overwhelmed with grief since the end of the game--unexpectedly so, since, after all, it was Just A Game. I hesitate to even listen to the soundtrack in spite of its great beauty and positive associations, afraid that it will only remind me of how upset I was when I watched the final scene, how I kept hoping the Scythian would be alive somehow when Logfella scooped her out of the river, and how I had to finally resign myself to her death at the funeral pyre. If I could travel to the Caucasus Mountains and find the spot, my tears would pour out on the meadow where her ashes were scattered. In my mind, at least, I do travel there, seeking solace from her promise of eternal cosmic friendship. I remain inconsolable.

I think it's that I believe her death too completely. It hit me as a surprise, but looking back, the signs were there all along. That, at least, is to be admired. I only wish that I could believe in her promise of Cosmic Friends Forever as deeply as I do her death. As it is, I feel betrayed (an emotion I shouldn't feel about anyone who isn't a real person, which is also a sign of this game's brilliance) that she would die the moment she promises we will be Cosmic Friends Forever.

But perhaps I am also sad that the game is over. If nothing else, I do hope that you respect my request that you make more games like this. I know the development team may well be scattered now, working on their separate projects and enjoying greater glories, as well they should be. I also know that the same thing never happens twice, not exactly. But if, somehow, a game could follow in the same spirit as Sword &Sworcery, perhaps I could find closure--or, even better, hope. I know I cannot be the only one; somehow I know that if we could find the place, many would make the pilgrimage to pay respects at the Scythian's grave, and even more would embark on the quest to find the resting place of her spirit in the Whirling Infinite. I sincerely hope that we will be given that opportunity some day--if not for the Scythian as we know her in Sword & Sworcery, then for the things she represents: Snarkiness, bad-assery, and the ultimate triumph of Good.

If you know nothing else, know that his game holds a special place in my heart. If any of you has taken the time to read all of my ramblings on the subject, then I only hold a deeper respect for you. Come what may, I hope that every one of you continues to revolutionize people's ideas about video games, and that every one of you continues to rock worlds with the sheer awesomeness with which you've rocked mine.

Sincerest regards,
Erica Mathews


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