Spencer Yan's My Work Is Not Yet Done is a narrative-driven investigative horror game that combines elements of the survival and simulation genres with a plot exploring "the imbrication and dissolution of human identities/meanings within uncanny wilderness", to quote the project's Github page. It follows the final days of Avery, last surviving member of a doomed hunt for the source of a strange transmission, and sees you performing complex acts of maintenance upon environmental sensors, while picking through journals and other found documents so as to "to discern the most viable 'truth' behind both Avery's mission and the signal itself".
It's all wrapped up in a dense, warping two-tone aesthetic with shifting naturalistic sounds that makes my breath catch in my chest. I love everything I've seen and heard about Yan's game, but I don't think I've ever done it justice in writing, and I doubt today's efforts will address this. For you see, what I'd like to call your attention to right now is the game's complex recreation of shitting.
Yan is among the respondents to a cheeky Twix post inviting devs to "tell me a tiny detail in a game you're very proud of". In Yan's case, that would be My Work Is Not Yet Done's simulation of bodily processes and excretion. As you can hopefully see from the embedded post below, the game tracks calorie consumption together with the presence of solids and liquids in Avery's stomach, colon, rectum and bladder, so as to calculate her desire to urinate or defecate.
While most players are unlikely to ever come into contact with it, My Work Is Not Yet Done tracks Avery's bodily processes down to her caloric burn per diem based on activity, and calculates her level of fullness and desire to excrete based on the amount of content in her bowels. https://t.co/lrePhIhXHb pic.twitter.com/knjFmTYvJm— Spencer Yan (@spncryn) September 18, 2023
As the developer notes, "most players are unlikely to ever come into contact with" these, aha, moving parts, but they do serve a purpose beyond familiar survival simulatory questions of authenticity or fidelity. "There's an actual thematic function to this otherwise total overkill," Yan adds. "The game revolves around doomed attempts at communicating with and making sense of semiotically opaque systems. My goal was to create at every level of interaction a degree of uncertainty via abstraction."
Yan has more to say in a short essay on the game's github page, which is laced with playfully scatological phrasing: it notes that many players often feel "empty" after engaging with "experimental" or "artistically minded works" that "[confuse] obfuscation-for-its-own-sake for interpretive richness".
As Yan goes on, Work is "inspired by the ever-shifting, often overwhelming noise of our lived experiences, in which we constantly find ourselves with too much information and too little time to process even just a tiny sliver of it, let alone all of it, meaningfully."
The essay continues: "I aim to create a gameplay loop that encourages the player to arrive at meaning through a process of careful discernment and critical subtraction of excess information, rather than the kinds of additive, fill-in-the-blanks, connect-the-dots kind of speculation that's common in a lot of other "lore-heavy" games." Broadly, Yan hopes to encourage players "to accept the necessary incompleteness of knowledge and interpretation in general".
The game's survival element "provides the moment-to-moment framework in which all of the above takes place, and occurs primarily at the level of material bodies: hunger, thirst, fatigue, nausea, discomfort." To attempt a haphazard summary of my own: Avery's need to shit is of a piece with the player's own labour of "discernment and subtraction" as you interpret Avery herself and, via Avery and her various machines, the world she's investigating.
The essay notes that "all of us, no matter the scale or nature of our ambitions, are inevitably constrained by the various quirks and demands of our bodies. The spirit is indistinct from the flesh, and philosophy little more than an escape from or justification for the aches in our muscles. The mechanisms of our existence - eating, drinking, sleeping, passing waste, wasting time - are not just necessary frictions of, or a complementary texture to our existence, then; but the very foundation of them."
It's certainly operating on a different frequency to the likes of Rust, or even The Long Dark.
These complex philosophical musings aside, My Work Is Not Yet Done is a reminder that games seldom bother to simulate excretion. Those that do are a motley crew indeed. There's The Sims, obviously, and Slime Rancher, where Slime poop is the foundation of an interplanetary economy. There's Death Stranding, where you can lob jars of your own particular brand of golden delicious at ghosts, and Duke Nukem 3D, with its stand-up urinals and often alien-occupied stalls. Do you have a favourite?