In Praise of Slowness

Screenshot from We Sing for Healing an online musical text game by Elisabeth LaPensée

In an age that praises, even demands, speed, Anishinaabe, Métis and Irish game maker, Elisabeth LaPensée wants people to slow down, to reflect on the repercussions of their action and to consider the pathways that exist for them. She encourages them to first do so in their game play, hoping that the habit will translate into their everyday lives. Though it exists in the high-speed online universe We Sing for Healing, a musical text game she created in 2015, amounts to a break from our velocity driven world. In fact, we’re reminded in the description of the game, that it was “made from a place where Google Maps can’t zoom in and Skype doesn’t load”; in other words, a place unlike our own.

“And in the slowing, there is hope for healing” — Elisabeth LaPensée

What Elisabeth LaPensée built is a dreamscape, complete with visuals of her own making and sounds from Exquisite Ghost, who hails from Péguis First Nation in Manitoba. Stripped down, it’s a straightforward choose-your-own-adventure game. The player is presented with a situation and given two or three options in response. Yet, In this case, it’s not as verbose as most. The only information given takes the form of an image, a line of text, if at all, and the different possible course of actions. Most of the time, the whole is shrouded in entrancing and ethereal music.

Unlike most video games designed to value swiftness, especially those with countdowns or who keep track of the rapidity at which the player completed a task, the whole structure of “We Sing for Healing” is conceived to make speed an ill. Its mysterious nature encourages the player to take pause in hopes of deciphering what appears on his screen. The accompanying melodies, which can be up to nearly eight minutes long and unfold like the recounting of a complex journey, reinforce the player’s desire to stop and get fully immersed in this unfamiliar world.

In the meantime, the player is compelled to consider what emotions the image and the beat conjure in him. For instance, the first slide appears to be of a wet spider web. Does it induce fear or intrigue? Fittingly, the options presented are: “walk away”, “look closer” or “listen”. Here, the player’s emotional response to the experience informs the path he will take. If he’s afraid of spiders — like myself — his intuition might push him to walk away; or, having taken the time to assess the situation and determined that the risks are minimal — there’s no spider, real or virtual, looming in the distance — , feel like this might be an opportunity to confront his phobia; or, lastly, needing more information to make a decision, wonder what he could learn from opening his ears. In this regard, “We Sing for Healing”, offers a mild sense of embodiment as the lines between our virtual reactions and those we have in the “real world” merge.

This aligns with LaPensée’s belief that digital games, as any other type of play, can be and should be safe spaces to explore the challenges we face everyday. Many of the options given are reminiscent of fight or flight behaviours. For instance, upon learning that a battle is being waged, the player can either “join the battle or step away”. If he chooses the former, he is then faced with an unknown, unnamed and unfamiliar creature made of beads, bones and shells. His option: “charge, sneak or aim”. At times, Elisabeth LaPensée includes a third avenue, which at first glance can seem esoteric, but can help in providing hindsight or to imagine unexpected alternatives. During the fight, the player-turned-warrior, can stay in the battlefield or “port to the spacecanoes”.

Hence, “We Sing for Healing”, is a very reflective game. Having been slowed down by the inherent structure of the game, the player has the time to consider how the decisions he makes throughout the digital adventure compare to those he makes when confronted with real life problems. Does he fight, flight or imagine an unexpected solution? And what consequences could each of these courses of action have on all his relations, now and in the future? By its design and its narrative ark, “We Sing for Healing”, if approached with the attention it calls for, teaches the player the value of slowing down and contemplating the situation before moving forward. The virtual and the real mirror one another.


For more information on the framework for analysis, have a look at the reading guide.


Inspiration and influences

LaPensée, E. (November 25, 2015). Healing Historical Trauma Through Games. Video retrieved from https://vimeo.com/146947564

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