Impressions: Trauma

By John Walker on August 8th, 2011 at 6:52 pm.

There really isn't anything traumatic to speak of.

Originally due in 2009, it’s been quite a wait for Krystian Majewski’s Trauma. Nominated in three IGF 2010 categories, including the Grand Prize, it was pipped in each, but clearly highly lauded. Kieron spoke to the developer about it back then. Well, it’s just been released this very hour, and having played it I’m jolly well going to say things about it.

I’m really not sure.

I’m currently in an incredibly bad mood, which has worsened thanks to unrelated circumstance as I’ve played, and I’ve found myself warming to the game more the fouler my temperament becomes. I’m not sure what that says about me or the game, but it helps to explain the sort of territory we’re in.

Trauma plays a little like using Google Street View during a fever dream. You manoeuvre your way through static real-world photographs in the same way as Street View works, clicking on projected images where they appear to travel. The image then spookily glides from one to the next. Unlike GSV (although after playing this I think they should introduce it), you can also use gestures to move around, such as turning left, right, or around. Then other gestures will interact with the world, although not in familiar ways. One, for instance, allows you to drain elements of reality down a plughole.

So you’re a girl who’s been in a car accident, and now you’re experiencing the four recurring dreams she has in hospital. You can play any of them in any order, as often as you want, with different goals each time. Each has a main “ending”, which will trigger a cutscene related to the stay in hospital. But there are three other alternative “endings” that can be discovered through exploration and experimentation. I put “endings” in such quizzical quotemarks because, like a dream, they don’t bear any narrative sense of being an ending, simply a place where things stop.

Scattered throughout each dream are Polaroid photographs, some containing (annoyingly repeated) hints (although presumably that’s so you can start with any of the four dreams), while others offer brief memories. The dreaming girl’s awkward narration half-explains these things, also commenting on anything else that takes her attention as you move around.

So is it any good? It’s very difficult to say. The means of interaction is fascinating, and creates a peculiarly disjointed aesthetic. But then at the same time this is essentially the same way you moved around all those vile Myst-clones throughout the late 90s, and it was rightly condemned at the time. It’s far, far better delivered here, being – as it is – memories constructed from literal photographs. The creator has clearly taken an enormous number of shots, documenting interesting, backstreet, graffitied areas of urban oddities, and then cleverly constructed them into something you can move through. At the same time, you are often just waving the mouse around trying to find if you’ve missed a way of changing scene for about half the time you’re playing.

It’s nice that finding new gestures in one dream means you can then go back to another and do something different there. It’s altogether an extremely interesting construction. My issue is, I’m not sure it quite delivers.

Returning to an earlier dream to execute a move I couldn’t before doesn’t result in opening up a whole new area to explore. Instead it invariably just offers me another ambiguous, esoteric finish to the dream that ticks a box on the screen but offers little else. The sense of achievement is lost in the muddle of deliberate obfuscation, and then leads nowhere but the menu screen.

I’m also not convinced by its motif. Of course, this is a far more personal response, but – well – I just didn’t have a response. The music is wonderful, the use of photography fascinating and well executed, and it certainly creates a dream-like uneasiness. But that was background and I didn’t discover any foreground. I certainly didn’t feel like I’d “shed light on different aspects of her identity – such as the way she deals with the loss of her parents”, as I read in the Steam description after I’d played. Then again, perhaps this was passing over my head? Clearly this aspect is going to be different for different people. I’m just not sure it goes deep enough.

Which is to say, I can see why this game was nominated for so many IGF awards, and I can also see why it didn’t win any of them. It’s one of those cases where I’m left thinking, “I can’t wait to see what this guy does next”, rather than wanting to champion him right now.

Which makes the price of just under £5 (you can get it from Steam now for £4.39, or directly from Majewski’s website for €5 plus any tip you want to add) a tough one. It’s certainly not a large amount of money, but it’s also a game that’s over in an hour. However, hugely importantly, you can try it for free via the website. I certainly recommend you do that, to see what you make of it. And you can watch the trailer below:

, , , , .

50 Comments »

Sponsored links by Taboola
  1. killerkerara says:

    It took me 5 minutes to figure out that the top screenshot was a hand.

    • p4warrior says:

      I couldn’t quite put my finger on it either.

    • frenz0rz says:

      Same, I’d assumed at first that it was some sort of orifice.

      What has the internet done to me? I see orifices in everything!

    • Mistabashi says:

      My first guess was an albino elephant’s nostril.

    • patricij says:

      strange, I recognized it immediately.

    • Jake says:

      I just immediately assumed it was some sort of tiny shaven toothless animal mouth trying to drink from a straw and moved on.

    • Tei says:

      My very broken, and wrong way of thinking was this:
      Since this is a “search hidden objects game”. Is that a female nose? is weird, but strangelly atractive.

      Wrong because don’t seems a search hidden objects game, but something much more smart and interesting.

    • PleasingFungus says:

      My guess was the mouth of a baby piglet. Didn’t get it until your comment.

    • Raiyan 1.0 says:

      I thought it was a pear wrapped in human skin.

      That’s some trauma right there.

    • Gassalasca says:

      Yup, orifice here as well.
      You don’t want to know what kind of an orifice.

    • Highstorm says:

      I got it straight off, but my sister saw the page and was like, “What the hell is that?!”

    • leeder krenon says:

      you all made a good fist of guessing what it was.

    • LionsPhil says:

      It has a very obvious thumb joint, and knuckles. You people must just be perverts.

    • Premium User Badge

      Gap Gen says:

      Ricky Gervais’ The Orifice?

    • aeeaqw says:

      ★ good web

      === w w w . j o r d a n f o r w o r l d . c o m ===

      exquisite watches shirts,bags,hat and the decorations.We have good reputation, fashion products,

      favourable price.—★FREE SHIPPING

    • Groove says:

      Reminded me of the opening sequence of Dexter: flossing.

  2. Inigo says:

    I’m just not sure it goes deep enough.

    BWOOOOONG

  3. Branthog says:

    I AM TRYING SO HARD TO BE ART!

  4. sonicblastoise says:

    This game is actually a very accurate depiction of what it feels like to work through traumatizing events and the suppressed emotions that they might elicit (if you have any) along with the emotions that come from being in an accident itself.

    I’ll probably end up writing a crapload about it later. But so far it’s quite good.

    Even if you’re not keen on this type of game (which is admittedly an “art” game) it’s worth a look simply because of the way they use the assets to tell the story (whatever story that may be).

    • Crainey says:

      Sounds like quite a clever game then, I’m intrigued.

    • sonicblastoise says:

      so instead of being vague like i was before, i’ll just clarify what i meant by “accurate depiction”
      Traumatic incidents (in this case a car accident) begin a cascade of psychological events that, if and when they are successfully maneuvered through, lead to the acceptance of the change in life.

      the steps of Grief (recovery from trauma) are as follows:

      1. denial
      2. anger
      3. blame/bargaining
      4. depression
      5. acceptance

      Not necessarily in that order, and not necessarily equal time spent on each.

      The thing is, each of these aspects is usually worked through in episodes of anecdotes. And, as we all know, most anecdotes don’t have a true “ending”, simply a lingering feeling that results from the anecdote which serves to act as a marker for that episode. So it’s not conclusive in a narrative sense, but it is in an emotional sense. The game replicates this beautifully. Each goal that is met ends with you going back to the menu because it introduces or clarifies a feeling, but does not resolve it. This is first step to successfully overcoming.

      Travelling deeper into these emotions does not occur consecutively in real life. Often, epiphanies and understands come piecemeal, bit by bit, until a full emotional story can be told. But, when talking to people who have recovered, they tell this story AS THOUGH it occurred consecutively. But the truth is, it did not.

      So far, the game is doing a great job telling the truth.

    • Igor Hardy says:

      dude, The Steps of Grief are not real science. They have similar place in culture as The Hero’s Journey. That said, I like how you describe what the game meant to you.

      For me it is more about the atmosphere of being stuck in a hospital, having wandering thoughts and dreams, while you are trying to put important concepts back together. I don’t see it as having a specific, all-symbolical structure.

    • sonicblastoise says:

      Uhhh, well personally I wouldn’t say it isn’t “real science”, but yes I suppose if you’re going to hold it up against more empirical disciplines like biology and chemistry, than psychology as a whole is still consider a pseudo or soft science. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t have a lot of relevance and truth to it.

      I guess I was just saying that the game does a pretty good job exploring a very abstract and subjective topic. I think it’s probably not for everyone and people who play it will draw wildly different conclusions, but it’s an interesting exercise in pushing the envelope; that is, seeing what games are capable of doing.

      Thanks for the compliment, though!

    • thebigJ_A says:

      What he meant by “not science” is that they’ve not been shown to be accurate by science, not that psychology isn’t a science. Essentially the findings have been inconclusive. It’s not been determined that grief is divided into stages, or that there are that many stages, or if those are even the stages, if it is.

      In other words, you can’t say “the five stages of grief are…” since it isn’t determined whether the Kubler-Ross model (the model that claims grief works this way) is correct. It’s just an idea some lady had at this point. Thus, not science.

    • Squirrelfanatic says:

      @sonicblastoise: I think psychology is not what you think it is. At least in part. For the last few decades the science of psychology has developed in a very empirical direction and can in parts be very well compared to “real” sciences, since it uses empirical methods. Building theoretical background is not the whole picture. Deriving hypotheses from theories and testing those hypotheses in experimental settings is just as vital.

    • sonicblastoise says:

      I studied psychology for 4 years in uni, and continue to keep up with some of the literature today (though I’m more inclined to read philosophy than psychology, I’ll admit), and everything I’ve come across still smacks a bit of pseudo-science. I’m sorry, but it’s true.

      Science, at least in biological science (which is what I do now), is highly dependent upon not only the quality of the researcher but also the biases he/she brings to the data. In psychology, these biases are amplified because of the types of measurement tools used (surveys, deception, questionnaire, interviews, observation) rely more on subjective interpretations rather than objective ones. As in every science, data and conclusions are based on a preponderance of probability, and in psychology, that probability usually never reaches the conclusive levels that other sciences can.

      Not that I don’t respect the study and understand that it is indeed science, but I take the conclusions they draw from their data with a grain of salt, which I think everyone should.

      That being said, I do understand what Hardy and BigJ_A are talking about when they are talking about the lack of evidence supporting the 5 stages of grief. It is an unproven hypothesis.

    • Squirrelfanatic says:

      “In psychology, these biases are amplified because of the types of measurement tools used (surveys, deception, questionnaire, interviews, observation) rely more on subjective interpretations rather than objective ones.” I think you are missing out a fair amount of methodology there, but fair enough.

      I was thinking more about experimental psychology, especially cognitive psychology. Just like anytime humans are involved, biases can’t be far (incidentally, this includes biology). What I wanted to say was that indeed theories aren’t worth much without testing them empirically. Seems we can agree on that.

    • sonicblastoise says:

      “I think you are missing out on a fair amount of methodology there…” true, true. I’m just going from my own experience in the field! :)

      But, in all honesty I’ve had a bit of a falling out with Psychology, so I’m quite ambivalent about the whole thing. I love it to death, but it often lets me down. It’s very difficult to test (nay, to even formulate) psychological hypotheses, and often they feel like an exercise in frustration. But this game really struck me as a creation of someone who understood the psychology of trauma (what empirical evidence there is on the matter) very well. So I wanted to reiterate that in a concrete way. Unforunately, I picked something that didn’t have much evidentiary substance! Woops!

      Anyway, thanks for the conversation. It’s been enlightening!

  5. KenTWOu says:

    @John Walker The image then spookily glides from one to the next. Unlike GSV (although after playing this I think they should introduce it)…

    It looks like Photosynth, Microsoft already uses it in Bing Maps.
    http://photosynth.net/

    • Matt says:

      Haha, my first thought upon reading that sentence was, “so it’s Photosynth: The Game, then?”

  6. Araxiel says:

    If I get it right this is “Mindfuck: The game”?

  7. Navagon says:

    A game that gets better if you’re in a bad mood? I think I need that game.

  8. povu says:

    I think I’ll save these 5 euros for Dear Esther. :)

    Hoping the porting to the Portal 2 engine is going well.

  9. Odessa says:

    I never knew $6-7 could be regarded as ‘expensive’. Fracture is a brilliant little title that is more than deserving of the admission price. You’ll also be telling the developer of the game ‘Hey, nice job! Can’t wait to see what you do next.’
    Some of you people make me weep myself to sleep (which is a joke. Don’t taze me bro).

    • Matt says:

      $7 is three meals, so in certain circumstances one might consider that ‘expensive.’

  10. Premium User Badge

    CelticPixel says:

    As a big Myst fan I still enjoy slideshow movement. I think it gives these games a unique pacing, and the developer has put his own spin on it. It’s quite a lean experience, but worth a few quid to enjoy something a bit different. I’m also excited for what he might do next.

    • Faxmachinen says:

      Heck yes. I miss the ol’ pre-rendered goodness. Even the Myst series itself has gone all polygonal and mushy now.
      Anyway, I wasn’t originally that interested in this game, but after adjusting for Mr. Walker’s Myst-hating bias, the impression I get is that it’s actually pretty awesome.

    • arghstupid says:

      New game revisionism. Everyone cheered when the slide shows gave way to funny 360 degree maps and later full 3d worlds. Photos are still pretty however.

  11. faceface says:

    The premise reminds me a little of Jacob’s Ladder or Sublime. I’m intrigued if nothing else.

  12. Tony M says:

    I don’t recognize the orifice in that picture. Is there a body part no-ones told me about?

  13. Mr Bismarck says:

    [£5] It’s certainly not a large amount of money, but it’s also a game that’s over in an hour.

    This is less money than you’d spend going to see Transformers III, (something you’ll wish was over in an hour).