Obéissance, by Merritt Kopas, is a small, concise puzzle-platformer game about Christian Mysticism. Using a single repeated monochrome level made up of floating platforms, the player-character’s ascent upwards through the level and incorporating implicit player choices, Obéissance says a lot with very little.
The endlessly-repeating level in Obéissance incorporates writing by Simone Weil, a French writer, activist and Christian mystic living during the first half of the 20th century; navigating each level requires your character to jump from platform to platform, with text visible at the right-hand side of the screen – as the player vertically ascends through each level, new text becomes visible and can be read by reaching and resting on given platforms in the level.
The text comprises writing by Weil from across her lifetime, and focuses on the relationship between humanity and God, consent and obedience, choice and the exertion of Will — and absence. All of these concepts take on altered meanings when applied to games and how we determine how games “should” be played. In a sense, it’s tempting to look at Obéissance and see just a puzzle-platformer, with all the requisite jump mechanics, floating platforms, flavour text as lore, implicit goals and instructions from an unseen and unknown designer which we assume based on the goals and instructions we’ve seen before.
And that might have been true, were it not for the insights of Weil provided alongside the repeating level, discussing passivity, obedience, and how growth and reward do not necessarily come from physical exertion and one’s will to overcome.
Similarly, considering the focus in Obéissance with consent, obedience and liberty, it can easily be compared alongside Merritt’s other work, including Consensual Torture Simulator and SUPER CONSENT!, but especially the Soft Chambers project.
Soft Chambers is a radical approach to game design focusing on warmth and emotional connection in games in contrast to the cold, clinical, and mechanical approaches we often find in games today. Soft Chambers asks us questions about how we experience games, what alternative ways we could forge and explore new, complex and engaging connections through games. Much of the writing on Soft Chambers is likely to be of interest to anyone exploring how games can be conceived of not just in terms of raw, apolitical and anaesthetic mechanics rubbing up against each other unfeelingly, but also in terms of care, of warmth, and of contemplation.
Of particular interest to anyone looking for the ending to Obéissance (that the game-screen assures players exists) are the Soft Chambers pieces on “cozy digital spaces” and “waiting/transitional spaces”.
You can play Obéissance for free on your browser at itch.io, http://a-dire-fawn.itch.io/obedience, and find more of merritt’s work at mkopas.net.