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In another life, I picture myself in a small boat, swaying as a gentle river cradles me. Slowly I move forward, with something ahead of me, but not necessarily somewhere to go. The sun covers me in a comfortable blanket of warmth. I sit and I listen to life around me. I am happy there.
In this life, where my reality takes place at a desk on the third floor of an office building in Brooklyn, perhaps a few hundred yards away from a river that I’ve only ever taken a ferry over, I played Becalm.
Becalm is the latest from Colorfiction, the developer behind 0ºN 0ºW. You begin on a small sailboat in a dense, kaleidoscopic environment, watching the horizon as shapes and colors subtly shift all around you. When you hit spacebar, you shift between one of three environments, each with their own unique soundscape of sweeping synthesizers and field-recorded sound bites. While you can look around with your mouse, it’s never clear if your boat is actually moving. Your surroundings constantly fluctuate, but your ship never moves past the general landscape surrounding you. You can trace a blade of grass as it moves across your screen, but you’ll never actually move past the greater landmass it sits on.
In the first environment, my boat meandered along a coast—to my left, the ocean’s expanse, to my right, a thicket of dense trees situated just beyond a bar of sand. I hear water lapping at a shore, colossal waves breaking far in the distance, and the occasional cry of a seagull. At first, I watch as the trees’ geometric leaves move between shades of blue. I see a neon yellow horizon ahead, and the purple sky is dotted with floating flecks of pink. By the end of my four minutes, the sky had become pitch black, the clouds a radioactive green, and the flecks that had once looked like flower petals now looked like sparks of fire. Yet I haven’t gone anywhere.
Then, I hit my space bar: I’m sailing through arctic waters, effortlessly gliding between floating blocks of ice, which bobble past me. The sound of waves crashing against glaciers layered over atmospheric synths fill my ears. I watch as periwinkle daylight slowly fades into neon brushstrokes of green against a background of vibrant fuschias and deep violets.
On the last voyage, I drifted towards an obscure mountain between a wall of reeds, which shifted in color from a pale cyan to green, then to yellow, to purple, then finally, cyan again. At first I heard birds chirping, then the sounds of rain as what looked like drops of sunlight showered all around me. It then shifted into the chittering chorus of cicadas as my timer came to a stop.
To spend time in Becalm is to be visually mesmerized by its colorful fantasy, yet at the same time feel grounded by the sounds of nature. During my voyage, I felt nostalgic for a place I had never visited, a deep longing for an experience I had never had. I felt at home in something completely unfamiliar.
At the end of my play, I leave my sailboat and return to my desk. I think again of the river next to me. Through a window to my left, Manhattan’s lights glitter in the water’s reflection, almost like the sparks of fire I saw before. My eyes trace a car pass from one edge of the glass to the other, but the island itself is stoic, unmoving. Where before I felt stuck, anchored in my chair, dreaming of another life, I begin to see glimmers of the fantastical in the movement of light around me. I am happy here.