Review: Ruins
by Lynchrabbit (11)
March 19th 2012


Have you ever walked along the middle of an old, desolate back-alley while strongly keeping your eyes shut? It's just one of those things a guy who suffers from insomnia can do legitimately.

Still, if you haven´t try to picture the aging debris of forgotten edifices cumbrously bleeding your senses, while mournfully enveloping your body in shades of gray. From a distance, the wind's faint whispering begging you to linger deeper, and you do so as if sliding through black ice. Eventually, though, they slowly release their hold on you, and as you regain consciousness you struggle to identify the maelstrom of sounds resonating through your skull. Then, after taking just one more step, you find yourself on a crowded sidewalk trying to piece those images together, to find some form of meaning, while they quickly slip your mind leaving you with a mere husk of what you experienced so deeply just a few seconds ago.  

Playing through Ruins is precisely the same kind of experience - a form of interactive introspection, if you will. It's quite similar to psychotherapy really, just without a shrink's yawning and witty remarks making your aggravating existence feel, well, not quite as interesting. Cardboard Computer's Jake Elliott has quite a soft spot for such games - "Balloon Diaspora", "A House in California" and "Hummingbird Mind" also have a deeply interpretative aura about them, making them quite hard to classify as a specific genre or sub-genre. Although if it were really necessary, I'd probably call them something along the line of interactive expressionism. Honestly though, Elliott's game's shouldn't be classified as if you're tagging veggies for the fridge - they're wild, gorgeously eerie games that would make even David Lynch proud (and he's just as hard a veggie to tag). On a side note, I would go as far as to consider this game a true "art-game", and I don't use that word lightly. However, I won't dwell into such trippy and muddled issues as if I've struck oil (there's plenty of that going on at the moment).

On to more pressing matters, in Ruins you play as a black dog named Aggie with which you chase white rabbits scattered across the ruins of a purplish, dream-like desert under the haunting melody of Chopin's 24 preludes, Op. 28. Whenever you catch a rabbit however, you trigger short, fragmented monologues on the ephemeral nuances of someone's love affairs. But what's so interesting about it, and even more so than the actual gameplay, is how these monologues, a dog chasing white rabbits and Frederic Chopin's somber, albeit beautiful preludes, come together as if to simulate the workings of an actual dream.

Nevertheless, I do admit that Ruins isn't a game for everyone, and I want to emphasize that. You shouldn't play it unless you're not willing to invest some of your time into a game that's not heavy on gameplay, but in concept. Undoubtedly some might find it rather linear and somewhat dull, mainly because you're limited to walking a dog around a rather restricted area and to choosing one of two options available to branch out the story. Indeed, it might not be everyone's cup of tea, and it could become a liability to itself. Still, I assume the developer was aware of the gamble, but had a go at it anyway since gameplay is rather irrelevant as the game plays more like an interactive piece of literature. Thankfully, though, it's all graciously justified if you consider what it tries to do.

The nature of Ruins can be found in Chopin's preludes and in the logic of dreams in general, above anything else. Every rabbit you "catch" reveals a fragment of the narrative and you steadily begin to realize how the characters intertwine. This can be experienced freely as the game allows you to choose the rabbits you want to chase after in any order, much like how you can listen to any of the actual 24 preludes regardless of their sequence; dreams are also processed in a similar way. If you're lucky enough to remember your dreams, you'll surely have noticed how they shift abruptly, like a show reel going berserk, layering pictures within pictures without any sort of context. Indeed, dreams are wild, chaotic fragments of past experiences and our own projections of the future, yet they act more like a strict tutor who only gives you a glimpse of what you really are and leaves you to fend off for yourself. Ruins does precisely the same - it invites you to dream, plain and simple. So, even if the game has a certain degree of linearity in gameplay, and if the narrative seems at times highly random, it shouldn't detract you from experiencing it for it's as close to the essence of a dream as you can get.

I know there are a lot of reviewers who consider gameplay king - the ultimate subjugator of all the elements in a videogame. It's not that they're necessarily wrong, but they aren't necessarily right, either. I've never seen a game in which its creator is so "exposed" as in Ruins by making use of mechanics other than gameplay, such as a strong conceptual background and even if you've it in Elliott's previous games you'll ultimately have to admit it's extremely rare to find a game that's actually centered around its creator as poetically as Ruins.






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