On The Yahwg

Damian Sommer and Emily Carroll originally made a version of The Yahwg for the first Comics vs. Games. I don’t know what the conversation after that looked like, but I imagine it was something like “you want to make this a little more full-fledged and then release it?” Now, a long time later, we have The Yahwg.

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Some description: The Yahwg is a game in which a player or players control some characters who move about a town. This town will be attacked by a creature known as The Yahwg. No one in town knows this fact. Each week allows each character one action at one location in the town–you can choose to go to the forest and chop wood or go to the palace and attend a ball or a number of other things. These choices lead to events that change your stats–you get in a brawl and your physical abilities increase or you learn a little bit of magic in the alchemy lab.

After six weeks, or six actions for each character, the Yahwg comes and destroys the town. Each character chooses the role she or he wants to play in the post-Yahwg city and the story ends. I’ve played through a few times now, and it has never ended well.

The Yahwg is a lot like another game I played recently and loved: Monster Loves You!. Both of these games are about making choices and seeing their repercussions. They’re the morality systems and dialogue trees from Bioware RPGs ripped out, retooled with some actual thought put into them, and then released as standalone games. They don’t take very long to play, and I find them more emotionally satisfying than most games.

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However, The Yahwg diverges from the Monster Loves You! style of game by pulling a thematic fast one. The game purposefully pulls you into a narrative of no fewer than two characters, and in the experience of the single game, those characters are important to me. But on multiple playthroughs, it becomes apparent that it has less to do with individual characters and their experiences and more to do with a collective crisis in the face of a moment of unpredictable.

The Yahwg, like death, is always on the way, always almost here. We do what we can in the face of it, and sometimes we succeed in really fighting it with a great work of art or humanitarian work or revolutionary change, but mostly we collapse into nothing. Those around us do too. Everything ends, everything burns and crumbles in time.

The aesthetic of the game carries this emotional content into the visual realm of the game. While the writing works, and is often a mix of melancholy and humor, it is Emily Carroll’s illustration style that best mixes in the vitality of life before the coming of the Yahwg with the bleakness of knowing that it will come and tear everything in two. Her comics work, which you can read me writing about here or just look at here, has always contained this tension, and I’m really glad that we get to see her work in this format now.

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What else is there to say? I liked it. It is painful, everything collapses, nothing good comes from it. It is beautiful. Loss permeates everything in the game.

You can pre-order The Yahwg for $5 which you should do. It comes out on May 30th.

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