Year: 2016

Developer: Variable State

Genre: Surreal and existential drama, silent and metaphoric detective story

Virginia has not linear nor traditional narrative approach. There are no dialogues, characters do not speak! No problem, Virginia tells more than so many games or movies full of words! It does not resemble X – Files or Twin Peaks, although actually the surreal style of David Lynch is the backbone of the title. It’s more similar to Mulholland Drive! Virginia melts dreams, visions and reality; it avoids to offer rational and logical explanations, and forgets the cause and effect principle, mixing past, present and future. It’s a flow of imaginative metaphors and symbolisms that revolves around a just mentioned plot; it’s aimed to dig deep into the existential and introspective dimension of the characters and to express universal messages and concepts, but in an abstract and surreal way.

From this point of view there is no innovation, because it is what already done by David Lynch. This time it is a Video Game and not a movie to undertake such an experiment. A Video Game bursting of love for cinema, so much to borrow its language! Indeed Virginia imports the editing films techniques into a Video Game. It’s a first-person view game where you play a young black woman, Traver, recently recruited as an FBI agent. You live the story through her eyes, but it is as you were filming through a camera! In fact, the frames cut is distinctly cinematographic; so you are at the same time director and main character!

Editing, cutting and mounting the scenes are provided by games AI; for example, while you are walking down the hall, suddenly you find yourself going down the stairs and then suddenly opening a door; while you are traveling by car, suddenly you find yourself inside the place where you were going to. Action is not always in real time as in traditional games, where you are able to freely move across the environment, and you have to walk all the space between to get from point A to point B; it is like in a movie, where action is more dynamic thanks to the editing cuts, which eliminate what is not essential; so we have not to watch the whole stairs descent, but it is enough to paste the first and last frames. At the movies it’s a very common experience, but in a videogame it is really a weird experience! You are playing the main characters and moving the camera at the same time, and while you are doing some action in one place, suddenly find yourself making another action in another place! Everything happens naturally and continuously, without waste of involvement. A special and pleasant mix of cinema and videogame! It is no coincidence that Virginia ends in just two hours and costs as much as a movie ticket! Variable State team took inspiration from a very short indie game, Thirty Flights of Loving (2012), for the absence of dialogues and the editing film techniques; nevertheless Virginia reaches  higher expressive degrees.

The following is the answer to the objections of those who have experienced a lack of interactivity. You are faced to an unusual type of interaction: interactive cinema! Virginia is characterized by this strong cinematographic inspiration and is not exactly similar to titles like Dear Esther, Gone Home, Firewatch etc; it gives a new experience, only sharing some similarities, such as the low poly graphic style of Firewatch. Another similarity is the will to offer an interactive experience not only intended for challenges. Sometime you are collecting clues, but the core of the game is to explore the existential and introspective sides of story and characters.

Many people did not understand the message of the game, so I’m going to explain it; i suggest you to read the following part only after completing the title.

Virginia is about the individual-society relationship. We are forced to wear a mask when we relate to others, especially at workplace. In order to keep the job, chase career and be successful, we make some compromises, even at the cost of overshadowing our inner values and feelings or even trampling on our friendships. Sometimes we perceive our social and working life as we were cogs in a ruthless machine we are forced to join in order to survive. We take the risk of “selling our soul” and being sucked and degraded by all this “shit”, as suggested by the scene of the initiation ritual, reminiscent of Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut. The bison represents the individual nature, free of social chains, simple and primitive, which we have to sacrifice to the “machine“. A system that does not tolerate nonconformist and rebel attitudes and tends to repress them, rewarding homologation and mediocrity. Even the most bucolic and seemingly peaceful place like Kingdom town hides dark secrets, evil, perversion, ignorance, hypocrisy. Yes, hypocrisy, like that of the one who dresses as a sheep but secretly acts as a wolf…

It’s the ruthless game of Hobbesian homo homini lupus, a world that sensible people like you, agent Traver, must escape if they do not want to suffer and die as the red bird. Otherwise it happens that after growing up with so much hope and optimism for the future, making treasure of your old wise father advices, suddenly you find yourself adult, grown up into a grim reality that does not belong to you; you feel yourself deceived and hounded, something in you has broken as the key in your hand, you deny your past, burning it like paper in a fire. You do not feel comfortable with your sexuality, you use lipstick no more, you feel a pure and sincere love for another woman, but it is not easy to establish a relationship because you and your beloved are imprisoned in separate cages …. So, you just want to run away, away, away …. but there is no escape; escaping is indulging in drugs and lysergic visions, escaping is dying …. yes, to die ….. and go where innocents lie…..

That’s Virginia ….. A very meaningful title that will not please everyone, but that gives an important contribute to narrative language in Video Games; highly recommended for cinema lovers! And do not miss the unique soundtrack!

Rating: 83/100    (Info about Ratings)

3 thoughts on “Virginia

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