Oíche Mhaith: You can’t always get what you want

 

Before I slap this proverbial pony on the ass so that it might just saunter out of the gates, I’m going to go ahead and fire off the disclaimer that Oíche Mhaith is not a particularly polite game.  While the warnings of excessive violence and nudity seem a bit much considering it’s an 8-bit flash game wherein the most you’ll see is a suggestive clump of fist-size pixels, the unsettling themes and unsavory language present in the text and events that weave together Eimear’s grim narrative are the active elements of discomfort and potential nightmare fuel.

That being said, here’s the link to play Oíche Mhaith.  For the full experience I’d recommend playing it before you read my spoiler-ridden post, but it’s whatever you want to do man.

There are a variety of ways that a videogame with some level of story can ask the player to engage with its virtual world.  I think it’s safe to say that all videogames that tell a story ask some level of player engagement, be it as a direct insert of the player’s own identity with their own agency and impact on the story’s progression (or lack thereof), as a guiding force completing whichever game mechanics that progress the game through the preset linear plot-points that all lead up to the same end, or as some grey area in between.   Much of the time, the narrative of a linear game will attempt to engage the player’s interest by catering the story to what they believe the player will want.  A silent protagonist might be incorporated to help the player to better insert themselves into the story (see almost every JRPG ever), a sympathetic protagonist with story-progressing ideals might be utilized get the player on the side of the person they’re playing, or the linear plot might be padded with various optional sidequests to pad the game and still give the player a sense of agency.  I could list the multitude of techniques used to create a player-enjoyable narrative for days, but this is where I think Oíche Mhaith does something incredibly different.

Oíche Mhaith, instead of catering to what might allow the player to slink comfortably into the playable protagonist space, puts them at the mercy of Eimear’s inevitable and unchangeable wants.  Much in the spirit of a interaction-progressed linear narrative, Eimear shuffles along only with the generous assistance of the player and their keyboard.  But that’s essentially all she needs, all she asks from the player.  Movement and interaction follows the same, simple dynamic implemented by most top-down 8-bit rpgs, not to mention that the interactions with objects and people are incredibly mechanically shallow (ranging from simple informative text  to matching the personalities of her family members at it’s most complex.)  All the game asks of the player is minimal interaction to move the story forward, but when Eimear’s stubborn wants are conflicting with the player’s sensibilities moving forward becomes taxing on an emotional level rather than through mechanical challenge.  The game psyches you out into thinking you are given some control of the situation by allowing you to put the personalities in whatever bodies you want.  You can place Babby’s soul in Mammy’s body and the dog’s soul in Daddy’s body to give Eimear loving parents if you want.  But the illusion dissipates when Eimear turns her nose up at the difference, and claims that something must be wrong with the program. She wants her broken family back. I don’t mean to overextend my reach and make blanket claims when I assert that Eimear’s self-destructive desires create a conflict with the player, but I certainly hope many would find it difficult to want Eimear’s old, abused life back as much as she does.  You must become Eimear and act based on your own agency rather than your own if you want to see the game through, you must play as she would to beat it.  A player might painfully relate to Eimear’s situation, distance themselves and attempt to psychoanalyze her and construct the greater narrative surrounding the given story, or connect with her in some other way.  But she is beyond their help, and it is much harder to enjoy “being” Eimear than with most other protagonists.

This makes for a fun comparison with One Chance, wherein your own agency as a thinking person has an impact on the plot but the outcomes are undeniably dim.  You can play Oíche Mhaith as many times as you fucking want, unless the developer steps in and changes something she’s still not going to let you progress until her mom is verbally assaulting her again.  In one game your personal agency is given weight, but you only have one chance (unless you’re a cheater) and every outcome has it’s own tragedies.  In the other you are taunted with the possibility of lessening a tragedy with your own agency but simultaneously denied the power to do so, and you can’t change this no matter how many times you play.  I feel like both developers were attempting to elicit the same feeling of hopelessness though different experimental game structures and mechanics.  While these games draw attention to themselves with their heavy subject matter, I believe they offer insight into an entirely different perspectives on videogames as a story telling medium.  The gap between what we want a character to be or do and what is actually happening is an interesting space that I hope to see explored in the future.

  3 comments for “Oíche Mhaith: You can’t always get what you want

  1. Margeaux
    January 30, 2013 at 10:24 pm

    Ok real talk: this game has left such a uncomfortably unsettling impression on me all day now. It needs to go away. I mean, I have been constantly thinking about it ever since I played it yesterday, and I just can’t seem to get it out of my head! Either I have a serious paranoia problem with simple 8-bit pixel games, or this was just one hell of a game.

    I a hundred percent agree with you on the similarity between the outcome feelings of Oiche Mhaith and One Chance–dark, dim, and slightly depressing. But yet, One Chance never made me feel so upset and confused like Oiche Mhaith did. Granted, I did cheat a little and clear my laptop’s cookies so I could have a “second chance” at One Chance (I’m a stinker); but right after I had successfully completed the cancer cure in OC, I had felt some sense of achievement. Oiche, on the other hand, after playing one simple run through and “successfully” inserting the souls correctly, made me feel…. confused. Just like you said above, I really had a problem dealing with the feeling of “what we want a character to be or do and what is actually happening”. But more so, there’s just little things throughout the game’s story that left me questioning. Like for instance: who shot the family? Who was the random person the helped Eimear after the family was killed? Exactly WHAT was the computer program she used to resurrect the family?

    Clearly these questions were not essentially important to the game’s overall point, but the fact that it happened and there was absolutely NO reasoning behind it left me feeling irked. These moments could have been crucial character/story developments that would really have driven home the game’s message to its players.

    ….but I digress!

    (also the title’s meaning was also bugging me SO MUCH that I just had to google translate “Oiche Mhaith”. apparently it’s Irish for “good night”…… slow clap)

  2. adavis7
    January 31, 2013 at 1:32 am

    This game is another to not play in crowded spaces. I was shocked by the sudden death of Eimear’s entire family and especially by her immediate response that she would fix it. What the actual hell?? Those comments notwithstanding I would like to disagree with Margeaux. I for one believe that the game’s lack of answers coerces its player to think about the game obsessively. It’s not just you though Margeaux, I too couldn’t seem to get the game out of my mind. I frankly wondered if I hadn’t missed something!

    One Chance has the same sort of generally uncomfortable mood to it. They both make the players want to replay to explore the world’s possibilities as fully as possible. In both games that option is not allowed (unless you are a cheater or there is intervention from the developer). The question for the player is consistently “could I have done better”, echoing many people’s daily thoughts about decisions they had made.

  3. Mamoru Fuun
    February 13, 2013 at 1:50 pm

    Well I am placing that game on the top of my “What the hell did I just play list.” I’m not really getting the point of these artistic games that seem to do nothing but instill a feeling of dread and hopelessness. It seems pretty counter-intuitive given the general mission of video games we played when we were younger was only to win and have fun doing it. But now you really get no joy from winning this kind of game.

    Having said that though I do realize many games now have taken an alternative ending route which allow us to explore a vast array of happy, sad, infuriating etc types of endings. But the main and obvious differences between those and Oíche Mhaith is that while a bad ending may be one of the results there are still other methods and routes to a obtain a significantly happier ending. This is not the case for Oíche Mhaith, where the protagonist almost inexplicably wants her sad existence to be repeatably played out despite the player’s wishes.

    Overall it really makes me wonder, based on my personal definition, if I can really consider Oíche Mhaith a game. I won’t go completely in depth to what I consider a game that’s really neither here or there, but my main idea around the definition is if it is fun to play. Now clearly this is a subjective point, what’s fun for some isn’t fun for others, but really now can we find an individual who honestly says “I had fun playing Oíche Mhaith”, yeah that be kind of messed up.

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