David here from inbetweengames. After giving everybody a bit of time to may be check out our game ‘The Mammoth: A Cave Painting‘ and reading the awesome comments on the page, I wanted to talk with you guys a bit about the integration of the theme that we decided for. This is going to be somewhat of a spoilerfest so if you want to check out our game with fresh eyes best do it now before reading this. We’ll be waiting here.
Everybody good? Are you ready for a hippie, arty rant? Cool, let’s go.
At first glance it’s not very obvious who the monster really is in the game. There’s no clear Sesame Street or Horror like monster at all. The Mammoth itself seems like the first obvious answer but that.. well is that a monster really? Does the game fulfill the theme at all? We think it does, it’s just when we were brainstorming we took all of our obvious first ideas and threw them away. All of those were good ideas and there are a few games in the jam that went for them and executed them beautifully. We just decided for the oddest one that hopefully has more than one possible answer about who the monster is. So let’s look at some of the possible answers together.
‘YOU ARE THE MONSTER’
A quick excursion into semantics about how we read the theme to begin with. In our minds the sentence ‘You are the Monster’ can mean a great many things.
It can be ‘you’ as the player. It can be ‘you’ as someone else in the world that you’re saying this to – aloud or in your mind.
It can be ‘you’ as the collective you. Everybody. A group of people. etc. So which one did we go with? Basically all of them. Let’s check them out.
THE MAMMOTH IS THE MONSTER
The obvious choice for the answer of who the monster is. You’re the mammoth – so you’re the monster. Kind of an odd choice for a monster though isn’t it? But we thought the way Mammoths (and most animals actually) are displayed in cave paintings like the famous Chauvet Cave gives them monster like qualities. The animals are drawn immensely large in comparison to humans in the pictures in a way that goes beyond a realistic depiction of scale and probably has much more to do with the perception of meaning and power. So scale here is based more on emotional and magical evaluations rather than the ones our modern minds would focus on.
On the other hand when we looked up the term Monster on Wikipedia (of course we did) we found this little perl of a quote:
‘The word “monster” derives from Latin monstrum, an aberrant occurrence, usually biological, that was taken as a sign that something was wrong within the natural order.‘ Wikipedia
The Mammoth in the game is also meant as a totem like representation of all mammoths, THE Mammoth as a whole, as an idea, a shadow on a cave wall – you might have heard that parable before.
So the story of The Mammoth in the game is not really the story of a single mammoth. It’s a legend on a cave wall telling of The Mammoth as a symbol, meaning all mammoths really and how they went away which obviously is what’s wrong with the natural order. The story is told by the hunters whose many hands also mark the borders of the level. In this case you as a player are telling the story by playing in a theatre like performance. Which leads us to..
THE PLAYER IS THE MONSTER
‘Very cathartic to smash up the hunters’ village at the end…though I lost my last baby mammoth in the process. Point made, I suppose?‘ Ryusui
Now since this is a game you as the player are the one driving most actions in the game. So when we heard that the theme was ‘You are the Monster’ we kind of went ‘Oh well we have done this before, let’s just do it again.’ Which was based both on the fact that we did a game called Spec Ops: The Line before in our day jobs at YAGER but also had never done a game jam before. So it seemed like a safe option.
So within the game our goal was to turn you as the player into the monster. We give you something that you care about hopefully and then we construct circumstances that in all likelyhood will take it away from you with a clear culprit to project your negative feelings upon. You will either care and seek revenge, in which case you’re a monster, or you won’t care at all, in which case.. well you get where I’m going with this.
THE HUNTERS ARE THE MONSTER
‘I’m truly upset that the horrible hunters did what they did ‘ TailyILoveYou
‘The only problem is that I (as the mammoth) am not a monster… the monsters are the bad humans who killed my kids!‘ Galvesmash
Now that we have the more obvious answers out of the way it gets a little more interesting. The Hunters in the game are really the ones killing all the Mammoths right?
So they’re kind of the monsters. Which is a comforting thought because we get to shove the blame on these external evil beings that we have no connection to – if it would’nt be for the fact that..
WE ARE ALL THE MONSTER
We are the hunters. We as humans have eradicated more species than anything that came before us including whatever killed the motherflipping Dinosaurs.
It’s quiet possible that we will add ourselves to this list eventually. We are the monsters.
NOBODY IS A MONSTER
‘Really loved the sad story for this although I don’t see how the mammoth was a monster in this case.‘ RougeRogue
Now this can mean that we either missed the theme completely or something a bit more meaningful.
For that second option I’ll just leave this one to some of the commenters on our page who laid it down perfectly in my opinion:
‘Hard to say if you’re the monster or the hunters. I guess, in the end no-one really is, they’re all just trying to survive‘ dickpoelen
‘Oh my god that was so depressing! I don’t think I was the monster here though, I only cared for my progeny. But weren’t the Hunters protecting their children too when they were hunting instead of watching their beloved die from hunger?
Is there really anyone to blame, is there any monster or is the world itself the merciless beast? The story of the Mammoth and the Hunters repeated several times in the past and will happen again, perpetuating the neverending suffering… but I can’t help to wonder, and I cling to that though as it is my last glitter of hope, is there a way to spare one mammoth child and make the herd anew?‘ Hvedrung
Thanks for reading this wall of text and please let us know what YOU think by commenting here or on the game page!
We’ll write a more traditional post-mortem sometime soon but this just kind of started to write itself after thinking about your comments.