Jake described Ruins to me as something he created as “a distraction from Kentucky Route Zero or other more substantial work,” but I have to tell you, the poetic, emotional resonance contained therein feels like anything but a distraction.
You may be familiar with Elliott’s previous work, including games like A House in California and Hummingbird Mind. Though his games present a wide array of subjects in a variety of different ways, they share a common narrative strength that takes center stage. There’s a poetry to his prose borne from the fact that it’s unpretentious and conversationally grounded, but also from the way he weaves his stories together. California beat poet Richard Brautigan springs to mind as a loose stylistic comparison.
Ruins is officially described as “a game about a dog chasing rabbits through a shadowy, dreamlike landscape.” While this is certainly true in a literal sense, the game touches on a number of emotional complex issues (quite effectively, I might add) in an incredibly short amount of time, and in a non-linear way. Mechanically, players simply move a dog through the aforementioned landscape, to “catch” various rabbits that appear in different areas. Catching a rabbit triggers a dialog sequence with the dog’s owner, furthering the story and revealing more clues for the player to piece together. How each player interprets the underlying meaning of the game’s messages (and how much they’ll resonate, I expect) will depend on each player’s own life experiences.
Elliott also notes that it’s “not possible to see all the content in a single play-through,” though the game isn’t very long. I’ve played through it a couple of times already, selecting different responses, and while the emotional response that I had to each playthrough was in a similar vein, one playthrough felt much more melancholic than the other. It’s difficult to go into much more detail without the risk of undue spoilers, since enjoyment of Ruins is tied so heavily to discovering the game’s story. Suffice to say, the experience is sticking with me, despite its brevity.
If you’re interested in another mature, thought-provoking experience from Cardboard Computer, grab a comfortable pair of headphones (and maybe a glass of wine), and explore Ruins.
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