Wire Wood Daughters leads you on a bewildering wild goose chase through a scattered memory. Marrying 8-bit, two-tone aesthetics with sparse, textural sound design and a disjointed narrative delivered in hushed tones, Wire Wood Daughters feels like the game Gone Home could have been if it had been made in the early ’90s, though here disrupted domesticity has been traded for the threat of a folkloric forest.
From a mechanical perspective this is a simple game. The player guides an ephemeral figure through a seemingly unending maze of copses, basements, and caves; the game seems at best ambivalent to your route, if not actively disinterested. Pixelated circles dug into the ground reveal themselves as lamps once this enigmatic, white-noise spirit walks over them – evoking for a moment the mythic image of the ghost light, or will-o’-the-wisp. It’s a sharp contrast against the contemporary functionalism of the lights themselves, the harsh creaking of rusty doors opening, the tangles of wire that litter the forest floor. Glistening scraps of dismantled electronics are found sparsely decorating the forest floor – their names alone conjuring imagined embellishments to a story half told.
Punctuating the disorienting maze of the forest are short sojourns into dank underground caverns. We navigate the brackish roots of the world above, though again technology seems to have inserted itself. Brightly lit monitors are embedded into the walls of the caves, watching with a cold Orwellian gaze; switching them to black both reveals the path forward and closes the way back.
There’s a rich palette of operations at work here. Hushed, distorted Dictaphone monologues begin to play as more floor lights are switched on. The relighting of a path as the player steps on the part-entombed lamps seems like a retracing of steps, while literally illuminating the forest – referencing the classic image of the ‘lightbulb moment’ or a firing of synapses. Each tentative step through this unwelcoming landscape provides a fleeting glimpse into a fraught, emotional time and place.
“The aesthetics of Wire Wood Daughters describe a liminal space in human history where digital, analogue, and biological memory exist simultaneously in discomforting competition.”
The space presented in Wire Wood Daughters is one where technics and biology collide. Despite its digital form, the era it represents is one where the imperishable accuracy of binary memory has not yet taken hold. Instead it builds an uneasy truce between the vague haze of biological memory and the staccato decay of analogue tape. It is not alone in creating a facsimile of magnetic erosion, but here it is deployed to explore a specific memory and a specific feeling about memory. Like the transitory space of the forest, and the transitory narrative, the aesthetics of Wire Wood Daughters describe a liminal space in human history where digital, analogue, and biological memory exist simultaneously in discomforting competition.
While on a surface level Wire Wood Daughters makes complex gestures towards the nebulous evolution of modern memory-making, it is a videogame, and often in videogames, there are things to do. The player will walk, relight lamps, leave doors open and shut, follow some fractured path, listen, and be haunted.
In examining these actions and their relationship to one another it becomes apparent that the game’s simple description as “[a] short story about the faded memory of another place” does not do it justice. The forest being explored here is not just a singular memory but also our memory in general – an allegory for how we as humans engage with those memories that are both painful and euphoric. The sense of a repeating, of uneasy déjà vu as the player wanders disenfranchised between turbid thickets and claustrophobic hollows, is an appropriate spatial metaphor. The discovery of lost objects – sea glass and wire – whose presence provokes nostalgia for the easy explorations and fascinations of youth gently connotes a profound loss.
“Wire Wood Daughters fascinates me.”
Within the catacombs of Wire Wood Daughters there is a lurking threat, an electromagnetic antagonist who is both an apt representation of certain explicit narrative elements, but also suggests another operational metaphor – another way we interact with our memories. There is, it seems, some redrawing that can only be performed at the expense of total recall, that some memories can only be accessed if we’re able to disentangle ourselves from their traumatic elements. In the world Wire Wood Daughters depicts it is unclear whether this process is one of repression or closure.
Wire Wood Daughters fascinates me. It seems at first a cold, uncompromising thing but quickly opens up a story that is warm, poignant and commemorative. It is a story for which the specifics are best discovered at your own pace, in your own way (hence my reticence on narrative details). It is a game that weaves 8-bit revivalism and ’90s analogue nostalgia together with a deeply personal story that serves not just as an expression of its creator, but also a set of open questions. How do we go about remembering, and do it well? How do we confront trauma? Do we want total, perfect recall – or does the space to misremember and reimagine protect our sanity?