Ritual of the Moon (RotM) is a game that inspired Alice Bell of Rock Paper Shotgun to review the experience in diary format. Since the game is very cyclical in nature (and released during a full moon), it also made her reflect on her period. For me, it generated thoughts about how my supposed astrological sign is that of the moon (Cancer). I often take solace in reminding myself that even if I’m going through any sort of mental strife, all states of being are temporary. Like the waxing and waning of the moon.
What’s amazing about all of the above is that it was a very natural process, driven by the mechanics and the framing of the game. And as Kara Stone has demonstrated with her previous title the earth is a better person than me, it’s possible to develop games that are compelling not for their escapist qualities, but for their mindfulness. I’ve previously reviewed Earth Person and found it to be a transcendentalist meditation in the form of a game. RotM is certainly a meditative experience as well, but it’s more than that. It’s as much a journey as it is a game, and I almost feel like it’s reductive to categorize it.
Despite being a digital game, RotM’s sequences don’t truly feel like gameplay. There are certainly mechanics, goals, and eventually an end state (after having played it for 28 consecutive days). But none of these elements trap RotM into the confines of a strict video game/game genre definition. This whole game is a ritual, and I’m still in the throes of figuring out what it means to me as an experience. I almost feel guilty for writing this in the format of a review, because I’m not finished with RotM yet, and there are more revelations to come over the next 14 days. To alleviate some of this guilt, I’m writing this piece in two parts. This first reflection covers my first 14 days enacting the Ritual. I’ll post the other half when I’ve successfully completed the calendar.
What I have thus far is this: deliberation as a pillar in game design is severely underrated. This is as much because of the whip-fast nature of AAA gaming culture as it is because of the constraints on time and resources most game designers deal with. Especially indie game designers. To make a game deliberate, you must put a lot of care into the mechanics and be disciplined about your aesthetic. And judging from how in-depth Kara Stone’s dev log is for RotM, there’s no question about her conviction when it comes to the core experience and aesthetic. The way the Witch avatar solemnly trudges across to her spaceship, the way she slowly breathes, the old Hollywood black and white glamour of the collaged graphics and embroidered fonts for dialogue, not to mention the eclectic soundtrack; full of breathy, chant-like vocalizations, pulsating ceremonial drums, and orchestral leitmotifs for before, during, and after the Witch’s daily ritual — all of these elements emphasize how precious and crystalline a daily observance is. Two post-ritual mantras that stuck with me regarding rituals occur on the first day and the 9th day: “Self care is warfare” and “I make time.” Living in the late capitalist age where we are often both economically poor and time-poor, carving out space for yourself to deal with your physical and mental imbalance and protecting that space does indeed feel like a worthwhile challenge to surmount in the form of a game. And that is, in fact, the main challenge of the game.
In order to complete RotM, you must play it consecutively for 28 real-time days. If you miss more than one day it can potentially derail you, although it won’t punish you. You also must make a conscious decision each day of the game to save or damn the earth with a comet. So far there’s no explanation as to why a comet is shooting towards earth every day, but I like that this event is mysterious. The subtlety of this mechanic allows me to speculate on whether this is some sort of other ritual gone wrong, resulting in a comet streaking towards earth every day, or if this is just a common occurrence in this world. Seeing as the Witch has the power to control the comets, it makes you realize why people like Malinda (the Witch’s ex) and the council fear people like her. There’s another element of subtlety that I particularly loved regarding the comet, however: you’re not instructed on how to use your powers to divert the potential disaster. The emergent stories you can experience because of this lack of instruction regarding the Witch (and perhaps your) inner struggles are wonderful.
On the first day, I let the comet fall to earth because I didn’t know how to use my powers. The Witch remarked “Doing nothing is as good as doing it myself” on the second day when I tried harder and failed because I assumed it had to do with how long I pressed and held my touchpad to fire up my powers. On the third day, I worried that I was losing power because I’d failed to protect the earth the first two days and claimed that as the reason I’d failed. And on the fourth day, I thought perhaps the earth was meant to be punished no matter what when the Witch explained that the council exiled her to the moon so that they could look strong. I marked down in my daily RotM observation diary (it’s almost impossible not to start even an incidental diary with this game if you’re a writer) that the comet is the perfect metaphor for how in hurting others, we hurt ourselves. But then on the fifth day, I discovered how to use my powers to divert the comet, and my whole perception of the daily ritual changed.
Once I realized I’d essentially goofed and let four comets fall to earth, I resolved that from here on out I’d only use my powers to divert the comets. And I’m beginning to think that the more rituals I complete and the more comets I divert, the better I’m getting at doing both. I think having no tutorial was a brilliant touch because it emphasizes the theme of healing. Sometimes when we’re in a particularly rough headspace we don’t realize the harm we’re causing to ourselves and others. On the eighth day when I saw that I’d saved the earth as many times as I’d let it burn, although it was a complete coincidence, my overly portentous Cancerian brain read this as a sign. One of sticking with empathy rather than apathy. That doesn’t mean there weren’t relapses: on the eleventh day, I seriously considered letting the comet fall to earth again when the Witch felt “stuck” in her old wounds and how her mother would’ve been furious knowing she had revealed her identity to Malinda and the council. Because you are embodied in the game, following the Witch’s journey in real-time, it’s easy to project similar feelings you may be experiencing onto her. That day I was feeling very cross knowing I’d be going to my day job, which I’m not fond of…I felt stuck as well, offering services to people who don’t care. Ultimately, I stuck to my goal and didn’t strike the earth, but I did let the comet come dangerously close to the earth before diverting it (feeling some vindictive glee at knowing the ignorant council and Malinda might be cowering because of it).
Every morning for the past year I’ve meditated for about ten to fifteen minutes in the morning and at night. This has become my anchoring ritual, to keep my mindset from becoming too fixated on the negative, and also because I gain a lot of pleasure as a workaholic from doing nothing intentionally. RotM easily slipped into my personal daily ritual for the past fourteen days, and I’m looking forward to continuing that ritual for the next fourteen (and most likely beyond). I’ll miss this experience too much when it’s over to not replay it. On Twitter, I called this game a gorgeous habit about 4 days into playing it, and I stand by this opinion. This is the sort of gaming habit I think a lot more players need to develop.