One of the pleasures of writing about video games is the ability to occasionally step away from the palaver and clamoring of commercial releases, and take a wander around artistic ventures, often made by students.
I recently came across Ritual of the Moon, created by a small team at the University of California in Santa Cruz. The game is designed to be played in short bursts, over a period of 28 days, a lunar cycle. Set in the future, it tells the story of a woman accused of witchcraft and banished to the moon. Each day, she undertakes a small number of activities, leading up to the contemplation of a comet heading for Earth. The woman finds she has the power to control the comets, to either hit the planet, or to miss.
Playing the game feels like engaging a celestial, soulful advent calendar, a reflection of mood and mindfulness. The woman’s thoughts intermingle with mine. Her actions lead to different outcomes, depending on my decisions.
Ritual of the Moon has been in development for four years, headed up by Kara Stone, a Ph.D. student in film and digital media with a designated emphasis in feminist studies.
Stone has spent much of the development time hand-crafting the game’s startlingly beautiful assets, including the use of embroidery and wood burning. The work, she explains, is “a combination of physical crafting and digital manipulation.” She adds that it “reflects the story’s themes of cycles of time, witchcraft, and the blending of the past and future. We created everything by hand, scanned the objects, and collaged them together.” A short video offers a good sense of some of the objects and textures used in development.
Stone was originally inspired by a personal journal habit. “To track a pattern in my moods, I had a ritualistic practice where everyday I would rate my days, like four stars out of five,” she said. “It also served as a daily check-in on my well-being. Ritual of the Moon operates in a similar way. The player is presented with meditational activities and is asked to make an emotional choice.”
She wanted to make a game that provides “a few short moments of self-reflection and emotional consideration,” adding that her work is about “about emotions and mental illness.”
In the game, the woman’s banishment tests her humanity, as she is separated from the world and from her lover. Her strength on Earth frightened the authorities enough to get rid of her. When it turns out that the punishment increases her power over them, she must wrestle with this too.
Stone says that time is central both to the story and to the project. “I didn’t think it would take this long,” she explains, adding that she wanted to avoid working on a soul-destroying crunch project. “The team all have jobs and other art projects and, just like in the game, cycles of mental illness that we had to figure out a way to sync up, taking care of ourselves, knowing when we should take a step back.
“I know the elongated time is making the piece much better, but it’s not done. It has a lot of programming and bug fixes left. I look forward to when we finally get there and everyone can play it, some time in the future.”
Ritual of the Moon is being created with artists Julia Gingrich and Rekha Ramachandran. Music is by Maggie McLean and Halina Heron. Programming is by Chris Kerich. It will be released on Windows PC and Mac. You can find out more at Stone’s Ritual of the Moon website.