“She learned the intricacy of loneliness: the horror of color, the roar of soundlessness and the menace of familiar objects lying still.” – Toni Morrison, A Mercy
Yet to describe NaissanceE in any myopic blanket statement is to pigeonhole something striving to be more than merely an experimental architecture exhibit. Inspired by Belgian Anouk De Clerq’s Building video, NaissanceE’s visual language is easily defined as an abstraction of dark and light. It’s enlightening to approach NaissanceE’s design with the artistic sensibilities of MC Escher in mind.
A man predicated on creating impossibilities, he once stated, “We adore chaos because we love to produce order.” The chaos of infinity, anachronisms and paradoxical contradictions keep us enraptured with their utter disconnect from the traditional tropes of life.
NaissanceE isn’t about chaos, though. For all the winding staircases and interweaving architecture, there is a tidy calm underlying the superficial chaos. Almost every game has an intrinsic order that defines at least one path through its experience. We can take side paths, explore each nook and darkened cranny, stare into the illuminated abyss, but inevitably, we must return to the premeditated order someone crafted for us. NaissanceE doesn’t take cues from Escher’s philosophy; instead, it channels a barren world built in Deistic fashion.
Someone placed this winding behemoth here. The construct doesn’t offer clues as to why you’ve arrived in this desolate area. You merely wander through its passages, stuck with solely the company of your own consciousness. There’s one minute section where a higher power seems to acknowledge your presence. Although insignificant in the grand scheme of things, I couldn’t help feeling discomfort. This was an abandoned space station, a godlike complex placed there solely to test the will of any soul caught within its walls. This is no place for Gods. They had their moment. Their creation is a place for human will to exercise itself over the obstacles naturally built within the world.
This alien construct is defined by darkness and light. At opposing ends of the spectrum, their constant interactions throughout the game almost feel like a dialogue. In the absence of a light, darkness seems to relish in its freedom, uprooting any my simplistic perception of the space before me. Still, these tricks are but façades placed to instill chaos. Staring beyond the darkness, there is always light. We love the recognition of order because it’s comforting, familiar. I trek towards the nearest illumination.
“It feels cold, an unsympathetic purge from a world clearly content with its stagnant, lifeless state.”
I’m standing on the precipice of an endless drop. The sequence is merely called Going Down. I discover shuttered door after shuttered door in a vain hope to find that singular exit providing an escape into the city below. Above me, a reflection shimmers; another city seems to await. I imagine another woman searching through the vast recesses of this world, contemplating its meaning as she descends an endless staircase. I have no choice but to continue; I begin my descent.
The standout part of NaissanceE’s lonesome exploration is how it allows an internal narrative. That’s where the minimalist, hands-off approach really shines. I trudge around the expansive walls looking for a minute ledge that may lead further into the darkness. When I finally find the exit, there’s a profound sense of relief. For a game relatively absent of any particularly difficult puzzles, it still manages to create the same sense of contemplation intrinsic in an adventure game. However, that contemplation mainly stems from mindful exploration, rather than searching for any insightful mental breakthroughs.
Below my feet, a series of monstrous insect-like creatures traverse the city’s walls, disappearing into their bright alcoves. The lone possible life form I’ve seen so far, I hope to find relief in some semblance of life in this sterile world. I finally arrive, only to discover that they’re nothing but a series of boxes. Their geometric construction keep them from feeling like anything more than a lifeless vessel stuck in a perpetual cycle.
I hop on their back, and the ambient music makes a marked turn towards slightly whimsical. I climb onto a nearby ledge and prepare to mount the next vessel. I die in the process; I perish on my next attempt as well. The next hour is filled with death. It doesn’t feel like a release from purgatory. It feels cold, an unsympathetic purge from a world clearly content with its stagnant, lifeless state. NaissanceE is a game about pondering your own existence. Mine was oftentimes snuffed out too often to enter the quiet solitude necessary for such an introspective task.
“I just find mental taxation to be a far more interesting implied mechanic.”
Were NaissanceE a more heavy-handed game, the easily recognizable themes of loneliness and self-reflection might be shoved down your throat with inscriptions on walls or collectible journals. To its credit, NaissanceE avoids typical gamelike conventions in this respect, leaving you truly alone to explore what’s scattered across this dense building. Yet for me, the game destroyed a vital sensation implicit in loneliness through its devotion to diversifying this hefty experience: the comforting thought of death.
It’s a fine line to walk. NaissanceE introduces plenty of puzzles within its winding staircases as a way to keep you engaged. A Sunday stroll through this lengthy of a world would defeat the purpose. It’s supposed to be dangerous. It’s supposed to test your physical and mental limits. I just find mental taxation to be a far more interesting implied mechanic.
Micromanagement of your senses is an important part of NaissanceE’s journey that is as much internal as it is external. Should you choose to run, you have to physically click to keep your breath at a steady rate. This tiny touch helps keep you in the moment. It’s hard to escape the recesses of your own mind when bodily functions we take for granted rely on careful observation.
Colors are fake familiarity in this world. The sparseness of the color palette makes any definitive shade beyond the drab blacks and whites stick out. Unfamiliar colors shine too bright for my unaccustomed eyes. They’re merely imposters, illusions designed to rip me from the comforting color dichotomy pointing me towards my true path. My internal withdrawal continues.
Some may interpret NaissanceE as a journey towards salvation and absolution. A trip towards some bittersweet final bastion where the remains of society lay housed in the wake of some unspeakable calamity. Others might see a delirious trip that delves further into the darkness in some ill-fated attempt at self-actualization. There were times when I contemplated both sides of the spectrum; it seemed only practical in such a black and white world. Ultimately, I settled on the latter.
I tested existence by running myself through an endless loop of stairs while withholding regular breathing patterns. Is it terrible I figured she would eventually just die? Is it bad I wish she had collapsed, instead of forcing me to click on “last save” in the pause menu?
NaissanceE is one of few games that allows for silent reflection. Loneliness doesn’t subscribe to a singular connotation. For some, it’s depression. For others, reclusiveness is comfort. Every game is open to intense interpretation, but most of them try to force some greater revelation on you. NaissanceE is an insular experience. This world is as much a vessel as those crawling geometric insects. External advancement is ancillary. Your only measure of progress is through NaissanceE’s intense examination of the self.
NaissanceE is available on Steam for $19.99, with a sale price for one week of $17.99.