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Datura is more moral barometer than video game

Datura is the PlayStation Move's morality play

Gallery Photo: Datura
Gallery Photo: Datura

Datura is judging you. This PlayStation Move-enabled release is equal parts game and morality play. Brought to you by the former demoscene artists at Team Plastic, who previously released Linger In Shadows.

Given the choice between being mauled, and beating a growling dog to death with a crowbar, I chose the former.

It was a good decision, Datura producer Matt Morton tells me. The thing is, while in this PlayStation 3 game there are good decisions and bad decisions, there are no wrong decisions.

Developed by Team Plastic, the former demoscene artists behind trippy PS3 experience Linger in Shadows, Datura initially feels a bit like Myst with Move. Players use the PlayStation motion controller to wander through a forest peppered with Aspen trees and laced with fog, twirling clouds of colorful leaves and buzzing flies, chasing the tendrils of a fleeting narrative. Everything in the game, from those iconic flies, leaves and trees, to the puzzles a gamer faces, is steeped in deeper meaning and morality.

The experience of playing the game, and shaping the forest and your personal journey through it, seems to be driven nearly entirely by heavy, moral choices. What a player decides to do, for better, for worse, changes how the game emerges.

That a video game wants to dip into this very literary journey is something special, something not to be missed.

It's telling that Datura starts where most games end, or at least restart: The player's death and delivery to what poet Dante Alighieri describes as a "forest dark."

The symbolism of the game is blunt, obvious, loaded into nearly every aspect of the game, as are the game's moral choices. When faced with the decision of killing a deer in the road, or crashing a car, which do you pick? When asked to escape from a wrecked prisoner transport vehicle do you cut through the chain of your handcuffs or the arm of an unconscious police officer.

Those choices are backed up by the need to reenact the movements of your decision, be it steering or sawing. As you play, and puzzle, your way through this odd wood your decisions make the forest darker, gloomier filled with swarms of flies, or a bright, colorful autumn grove.

I played through a bit less than half of the game and while I found the controls a bit finicky, I liked the game's desire to avoid moral ambiguity and unflinchingly pluck from your choices the sort of person you might be, at least in the game, and the sort of dark wood you might move through.

Where Team Plastic's first foray onto the PlayStation 3 was a bizarre, interactive art installation, this second creation is much more game-like, though the end result feels more like a morality barometer than it does the adventure game it loosely apes.

"I'm surprised you're making the choices you're making," Morton tells me as I wrap up my short time with the game. "Most people decide to hit the deer, kill the dog."

"There's no way I could beat that dog to death," I reply, and while it's a game, I know it's true. I can't bring myself to go through the motions of virtually crushing a dog's skull with a crowbar, even in seeming self-defense.

And that's the point of this game, I think: To push you to take it seriously and make the sorts of decisions you'd make in real life. It is an exploration of something Dante only mentions in passing in his Divine Comedy: The Dark Wood, time in a person's adolescence when they wander aimlessly through life forming their beliefs, their personality, their morality.

That a video game wants to dip into this very literary journey is something special, something not to be missed. If you're interested in seeing it in action, check out our interview and gameplay video from earlier this year.

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