Madison Karrh has created a unique point-and-click game where death precedes birth. As a lonely wanderer in the city, you scavenge for bones and organs to construct a companion. While the concept may seem reminiscent of Frankenstein, the game is far from gothic. Instead, it offers a personal and surreal experience, akin to exploring someone’s daydreams. The game’s title, “Birth Follows Death,” defies conventional logic, and this theme is reflected in the game’s use of seemingly worthless items like feathers, dandelions, and bird skulls, which can become priceless in the right hands. The ultimate goal of creating a friend is both impossible and emotionally compelling.
The artwork in Birth is minimalistic, featuring bold black lines and a subdued color palette that expertly captures the essence of aging, abandonment, and decay. The game is difficult to categorize, as it seamlessly blends puzzle elements with thought-provoking themes. It serves as a poignant reminder that every game is unique and cannot be confined to a single genre. Players must complete a variety of challenges, including dominos, jigsaws, hex games, and inventory Tetris, to earn bones and organs. However, not all tasks have a clear purpose, which adds to the game’s allure. Birth is not bound by logic and instead invites players to explore deeper, more meaningful themes.
In Birth, the thrill of exploration and curiosity takes center stage as you piece together the contents of a fish tank and peruse the shelves of a bookcase. The games themselves seem secondary to the act of prying into other people’s private worlds, much like poking at a collection of Activity Bears. One particularly memorable moment involved typing on an old manual typewriter, only to witness plants sprouting from its chattering innards. It’s a shame that not all manual typewriters possess this enchanting quality.
The essence of birth resembles the contents that children collect in their pockets after a satisfying day spent in the woods – mushrooms, buttons, torn pieces of paper, and weeds. The game is composed of fragments, and frequently, the objective is to locate the dispersed pieces of something and reassemble them. This is essentially a puzzle within a puzzle – reconstructing an item and receiving a portion of the living object that you aspire to revive within yourself as a reward.
The puzzles are discreetly placed throughout the city, depicted in a sepia tone reminiscent of ancient textbooks. The illustrations are face-on, resembling the work of Ellen Raskin or a New Yorker cover. As you navigate through the city, you visit various locations such as the library, bakery, and art studio. If this were a film, it would be a haunting lateral tracking shot, evoking a sense of mystery and introspection. If this were a book, the pages would be thick and well-worn, with edges softened to a cottony texture. Perhaps there would even be mold in the shape of inverted starbursts.
As you explore these locations, you’ll encounter individuals who are just as empty and hollow as a pomegranate’s shucked skull. In one particularly enchanting scene at the game’s core, you can delve into their lives. You may believe that you’re helping these individuals, but are you truly? Overall, there’s a feeling of being an unseen entity, and at times, you may feel insignificant.
The soundtrack of the game is haunting and unsettling, evoking a sense of mourning. The rendition of Holst’s I Vow to Thee, My Country sounds like it was recorded in a haunted storm drain at midnight. The Gymnopedies are accompanied by the buzzing of bees, while Beethoven’s Seventh is given a funereal treatment in a shopping mall rendition. The music seems to be playing in another place, bleeding through the thin walls of a bedsit. This contributes to the game’s stark atmosphere, which is created by a sense of absence. The game is about loneliness, and the player is tasked with creating a friend. The game captures the texture of modern, urban loneliness with remarkable clarity and compassion.
Do you ever wonder where Birth will lead you? I certainly do. It unexpectedly transported me back to a time more than two decades ago when I revisited my hometown during a hiatus from college. As I strolled through the streets, I experienced a sense of isolation and obscurity – the liberating yet burdensome obscurity that Birth can bring. I realized that I no longer knew anyone in the area, and that my former acquaintances had all dispersed, just like I had. I found myself in a location where nothing and no one was familiar, except for the surroundings.
The game Birth, created by Karrh, not only takes me back in time but also seems to be designed for that purpose. Karrh has created several other thought-provoking and empathetic games, but Birth may be her most powerful and delicate creation. Throughout the game, there are tasks such as putting bugs back together or sorting stones, which are simple enough for a child to play. As I continued to play, I realized that this simplicity is a crucial aspect of the game. Loneliness in adulthood is especially painful because it reminds us of our childhood loneliness. These experiences are rare and essential, where we can seamlessly move between adulthood and childhood without any hindrance.