What is the act of play? When presented with a game, is play the participation of the so-called “player” within structures created for them, acting within the choreographed dance laid out before them? Is play the moments in between, where improvisation takes hold, and the unexpected occurs? Is play the times in which you stop clinging to control, to perceived notions of input and action, to simply be within whatever world it is you’ve chosen to delve?

Developer ARQUOIA posits these questions and more with heady art-house release AENTITY. A digital rumination on, or even recreation of, Plato’s Cave, the project aims to immerse the viewer within the experience of letting go and allowing the moment to moment of the visuals wash over them. There is input here, but only the barest. You position the camera, clicking and tapping to change hue or angle. The player finds themselves the flicker of the flame casting the shadows upon the wall.

Vision becomes subject here, streaming lines and popping silhouettes obfuscating the whitespace beneath. Bleeding colours and gyrating models are hinted at beneath the surface of the flow. The way in which objects appear gives a sense of myodesopsia, as if you’re catching a glimpse of the floaters in your eye. You try to cling to these images, snapping screenshots as quick as you can, hopeful to capture the beauty in the effervescent.

I call this “Big Mood.”

Even the controls go so far as to elevate the experience, your inputs acting as surreal effects on the world: hypnotizing, neutralizing, memorizing. Nothing feels quite like anything else here, even the presentation within the menu. Amongst the menu choices lies an art gallery, populated by glimpses of scenes you come across, a hallway of reminders of the fleeting. Here stands a momentary lapse of the chaos that comes from the main mode, a pristine, empty series of chambers to juxtapose the intensity of pure creation. It’s in this stillness that the participant can tether themselves to any anchor before drifting back into the slipstream of imagery.

Contrasted against the release prior, RŌA, a central thesis can be seen to emerge from the work, one the evolution of another. RŌA is a more bare-bones version of later AENTITY, a lesser effect but much the same. While AENTITY concerns itself more with a greater exploration of what it means to play as imagery generation itself, RŌA is more a rumination on life and death, its subjects seemingly a horde of skeleton-like souls desperate to flee some sort of larger entity, a chthonic monster forever terrorizing their eternity.

Roads, to, uh, somewhere?

Decisively, ARQUOIA is interested in exploring the space of interactive media outside of the standard of the mainstream, or even the majority of the indie space. Thrusting the participant into the role of creator themselves, they become artist alongside the developer, locked in a waltz of enigmatic design that facilitates an unbound mind, finding a precipice with which to dance on. It is tenuous, a balancing act on both ends, but they manage to hold on in such a gentle way that the participant can’t help but lose themselves to the comforting breeze of imagery. 

Catherine Brinegar is a trans game developer and filmmaker who explores the surreal and abstract in her work. Beyond her creative endeavors she enjoys losing herself inside other worlds, interactive and not. Finding inspiration in everything, Catherine aims to see all the world has to offer, through the continual conversation of art. You can keep up with her on twitter @cathroon.