In Other Waters is an ecological game. It’s a game about how environments shape and are shaped by the things within them, as well as the interdependence of diverse forms of life. Its player plays as a consciousness inhabiting the diving suit of a xenobiologist (Ellery). Ellery has come to an alien planet in search of a former colleague and lover (Minae), who has gone missing while conducting research in one its oceans. The game’s narrative revolves around a series of mysteries, including Minae’s motivations, the nature of her and Ellery’s relationship, and, perhaps most importantly, those presented by the alien ecosystem itself.
Despite its graphical and structural simplicity, the game is very beautiful,. The player’s perspective is cartographic – they look down upon a map overlaid with a number of readouts that allow them to monitor Ellery’s status (oxygen levels, suit power, depth, inventory) and position within the environment. Using a radar, the player uncovers possible routes in the form of nodes to which Ellery can be directed to move. Ellery can also be instructed to make observations of local lifeforms and at certain locations can take samples which can be analysed at waypoints. As the player learns more about the ecosystem within which they are navigating, these samples can be used to overcome simple environmental obstacles by exploiting relationships between the lifeforms within it. For example, one type of seedpod creates a shrill sound upon being burst, which makes other plants retract into the ground and allows the player to open previously unpassable routes.
As a result of the simplicity of its cartographic perspective, the majority of the game’s flavour is provided by the text of Ellery’s detailed observations. As the player and Ellery explore the ocean, Ellery describes their surroundings, as well as the lifeforms they are encountering. These observations build a rich picture of life within the ocean, as well as the complex interdependency of its ecosystem’s many organisms. I found this process of slow discovery and the ecological understanding that underpins it to be quite captivating. Its relative structural simplicity also makes the game very accessible – even if I can imagine that some players less inclined to reading about fictional organisms might find it rather repetitive.
These processes of exploration and discovery provide a frame for the personal narrative that unfolds between Ellery and Minae. To find Minae, the player must follow in the footsteps of her research into the ocean’s ecosystems and understanding this system’s structure is key to making progress within the game. Furthermore, these personal narratives are embedded within a wider context of unfolding environmental catastrophe on Earth, which shapes Ellery and Minae’s respective identities in the same way as the ocean that you explore during the game.
This interrelation between the individual and environmental is what makes In Other Waters a compelling piece of ecological fiction. Not only is the impact of environment (natural, social, institutional) upon individuals a key theme of the game, but many of Ellery’s descriptions emphasise the agency and the complex modes of extra-linguistic communication (e.g. spores, mycelium networks, etc.) exhibited by the ocean’s organisms (as well as their similarity to those on Earth). The player must come to understand the ‘language’ of this world in order to successfully move within it. In this sense, the game offers players the opportunity for an important kind of experience. Understanding both the complexity and fragility of ecosystems, as well as humanity’s inseparable position within them, is key to producing the forms of environmental consciousness that might allow us to recognise the urgency of our own catastrophe.
Publisher: Fellow Traveller
Developer: Jump Over The Age
Platforms: Windows, macOS and Nintendo Switch
Release Date: 3 April 2020
Genres: Adventure Game
All pictures are screenshots taken by the author
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