Over at the CreativeFluff design blog I spotlighted Today I Die, an indie game that came out around April of this year from designer/developer Daniel Benmergui. Go play it before reading anything below. It’s a short game and worth it. Today I Die is a game that firmly wears the arty badge and wears it proudly. It’s a simple puzzle game that has an interesting take on the point and click adventure game genre. Using floating words to alter the poem, you change the world and your avatar’s state of being. There is no challenge to the game itself and is very short. The game is about the experience and your reaction to playing it.
I wouldn’t call it a seamless meshing of game and story, because there really is no story. The game is an allegory. The meaning is wrapped in the symbolism and imagery.
The most obvious place to start is with the three lines of poetry.
full of shades
today I die
The poem tells us three things. The first line tells us where we are. It’s not the name of the place, but rather the state of the world. In the dead world, everything is dead. The jellyfish, float to the top crumpled, lifeless. The shades themselves do not move, they too are lifeless. The background is gray,Â probably the most lifeless color in the spectrum. The dark world is just that, dark. The art direction paints the world nearly black with the shades layering black figures on the black background. Incidentally, this is the only world with a ceiling, meaning there is no escape and like the darkness, the world exists only for itself. Then we have the painful world. This world has a background of red and six figures whose only purpose is to keep you there. They will not react, except to your attempts to swim away. Then they grab you and pull you down, further into the pit. At the end of the trials you are given the final world, free world. The background has changed to blue and the shades are once again inactive. The music changes to a soft hope filled melody and the game ends.
The seconds line, the only one that does not change, notifies you of the presence of shades. These shades are antagonists, obstacles and enemies. They exist and behave differently in each world, but they always exist, even in the free world.
The third and last line is about the woman herself. In gameplay terms it tells us what she is doing, but it also reflects on her state of mind. We see a woman, at the beginning of the game, in full depression. She does not move or react in anyway to the world around her. She is in a fit of depression; “today I die.” She is the same in each world so long as die remains in the third line. The other options are “shine” and “swim.” These three words are her character arc. “Shine” shows her changing and her hope. It is also her instrument of fighting back against the shades and depressing worlds around her. It keeps the darkness at bay. “Shine” would be the transitional element in her character arc, the instigating event. It pushes back both the darkness of the world and her personal darkness. Then finally she can swim. She lives underwater, swimming is her life and she can now return to it. Though the shades wont let her go easily. With some shining help she escapes and is free.
Furthermore when one new action word is gained, we leave behind one of the worlds. When we gain “shine” we leave behind “dead.” When we gain “swim,” “dark” disappears. The game is an allegory of hope and moving forward. It’s representative of any dark time in a person’s life, when they felt there was nothing left to live for. Today I Die speaks to a spiritual vision of hope and being able to overcome the world’s shades. The shades from before remain, but no longer try to drag you down. Like in life, even in the brightest of times, the shades exist, it depends if you let them rule you or not. In a way it can also be seen as a representation of growing up. The emo poetry of adolescence soon gives way to more life affirming poetry, if ambiguous in nature.