Thoth is the Egyptian god of everything. Presumably, each faction of people in egyptian society claimed a divine representation for itself and in order to avoid too many gods, Thoth was not only responsible for science, but also for the west, magic, the writers and the calendar. He invented the hieroglyphics and at some time in between he was also the peaceful and benevolent main god for 3,000 years. He helped his predecessor Horus to restore his left eye after it was ripped out during the fight for the throne. And how was Thoth’s benevolent god-life rewarded? He became the moon. Only no one had reckoned with the demon that constantly feasted on the moon. Similar to the Greek Prometheus, he has been trapped in perpetual torment of being eaten ever since, because the moon only grows again and again to satisfy the demon’s eternal hunger.
And what grows back, too? The lifeless, unyielding geometric objects that are the death-bringers to my tiny white circle in the video game Thoth. The very fact that an indie game that seemingly has no narrative or grounding in anything whatsoever bears the name of an Egyptian deity slightly disturbs me. And the deeper I delved into the game, the more I felt a delightful horror that I really wasn’t expecting when I purchased this unassuming game in an eShop sale. Thoth doesn’t tell a story, but it is a thriller. It uses motifs, gameplay and audiovisual effects to create a psychotic trip that triggers multiple feelings in me that I can’t immediately pinpoint.
As a plain white circle, I shoot at geometric shapes like in hundreds of other shooters. But when I hit them, their color gradually drains until I let up and it replenishes. I therefore keep shooting at the soulless shapes until they are emptied into space-colored nothingness. A shape depleted in this way doesn’t disappear, but becomes even more dangerous because I seem to attract it and it speeds up.
From the first moment I feel a looming threat, When I shoot, I slow down. I have to complete four levels in a row to progress. There are no upgrades, no items, nothing that would make it easier. Again and again I am all alone with those aimless bodies. The geometric figures want nothing from me, but they react to me. They are deadly and so I fire at them without getting rid of them. All the while, sounds from the deepest cellars of Silent Hill fill the sterile and uncluttered screen again and again without any discernible pattern. Everything happens without drama. There are no creepy transformations, popping sound effects or screenshakes. The indifferent, deathly silence of the squares and circles is far more terrifying than the wildest hunter could be. There is nothing but emptiness in them and beyond them. They are like the Borg in Star Trek. They don’t care what happens. They simply are and bring the end.
That’s what I thought. But then I remembered Thoth and the demon. And I noticed: I am the demon. Except I am much more merciless than the moon parasite, because I don’t let anything grow back. I am bringing the endless nothingness, through which sounds break, that are not from this or any other world. I bring the end of everything.
Only after finishing Thoth (2016, Switch/PC), I learned that it was made by Jeppe Carlsen, the lead gameplay designer of Playdead’s Limbo and INSIDE, and now I am not surprised anymore at how much theatrical emotion is found in this unassuming game and how disturbing a shooter with circles and squares can be.
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