‘The Sun Stands Still’ confronts life’s darkest times (Wired UK)


Author Naomi
Alderman
is well known for her books. All three of her novels
to date have been serialised on Radio 4, and in 2007 the Sunday
Times named her Young Writer of the Year. But in recent years she’s
been gravitating towards video games and she’s just put the
finishing touches on The Sun Stands
Still
 — a lovely bit of interactive fiction about
darkness and light.

“I’ve always been almost unbearably moved by the winter
solstice,” says Alderman. “It’s the day when everything is darkest,
but which therefore must be  the day when,
imperceptibly, things start to get lighter. The Sun Stands
Still
is about the dark times in life and how just keeping on
can be enough to get you through.”

Players take on the role of a little smoke-character who has to
complete a series of tasks each day — going to the supermarket,
for example, or enduring an office party without too much
embarrassment. At the start it’s fairly simple — you turn on
lights to see things so you can avoid tripping over them. But as
the game goes on, it gets harder. The lights get fewer and dimmer,
until you’re forced to move through the darkness. Once you do
however, regardless of how many mistakes you make, lights begin to
appear once again.

In traditional games failure tends to be punished, but the
message in The Sun Stands Still is that it’s okay to fail.
“The core team who made it — myself, Alex Macmillan our developer,
Marsh Davies our illustrator and Holly Gramazio who designed the
game mechanics — are all game-players and know how those ‘do a
thing, collect a thing, get a little pat on the back for collecting
the thing’ games work,” says Alderman. “Sometimes life does feel
like that too, some accumulation of objects and achievements which
you’re supposed to be able to use so you can feel better about
yourself. I think part of what we’re offering in this little game
is the idea that those achievements can end up distancing you from
your own life and your ability to see other people.”

Alderman, who’s written for a number of games and game-like
experiences over the years — including Perplex City, Zombies, Run! and La Mappa
Misteriosa
 — says she wouldn’t have been able to
tell the story in any other medium. “You can spend half your time
in a novel working out how to get your reader to identify with the
main character,” she says. “In a game, you move a cursor, the
character on the screen moves, ‘oh,’ you go, ‘that’s me’. In the
same way you can fall in love with a character in a movie or a
novel just fine, but it’s only games that can give you the
experience of being loved by them. A thing so powerful it
almost feels dangerous. “

As well as the theme of the solstice, the title is also a quote
from the Bible and the game was commissioned by the Genesis Foundation
to accompany some settings of the Stabat
Mater
 — a hymn to Mary at the foot of the cross. “I’m not
a Christian. I’m Jewish and not practicing,” says Alderman. “But it
seemed to me that this moment is a universal one, a thought about
hope in the darkest place. It’s not a game about The Love Of Jesus
or anything. But maybe it’s about those things that we sort of want
to talk about but don’t necessarily have a way to now that religion
is on the wane in the West. About hope, and the abiding faith that
we can make things a bit better. For ourselves, and for
others.”

If you’d like to give it a go, you can download The Sun
Stands Still
for PC or Mac, or play it in a browser window, right here, for free.
What does Alderman hope you’ll take away from it? “I hope that in
the end it’s uplifting, I hope that it’s hopeful,” she says. “I
hope that it reminds people that we all, just all, feel that way
sometimes. That when we feel most alone, ironically, we have the
most in common with all other people on Earth.”

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6 March 2015 | 3:33 pm – Source: wired.co.uk

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