Computer programs die. Data may seem ageless, yet it degrades; the physical medium on which it’s stored simply loses its ability to contain information over time. Old information accumulates glitches and dead-ends, then simply stops working altogether. In Forgotten, a free text adventure, an old videogame enters its last days–and in a tragic twist of fate, its inhabitants know it’s happening, too.
“Beyond this address is darkness,” says one of those characters, a retro videogame boss taken to philosophizing. The world around them, a role-playing game from the 1980s, has all but disappeared after years of abandonment, gathering dust in some collector’s basement. To save it, the denizens of the fantasy world took over, rewriting it, but even triage only lasts so long against the ravages of time. “Junk accumulated,” another creature says. “Cracks ate up life and sanity.”
Forgotten is brief, but moving. Designed to play out within a fictional computer interface, the game is suffused with decaying purples and the haze of a long, foggy night (courtesy of art director Arielle Grimes). Its only sound is a desktop fan humming away–a small detail that transports the player to somewhere quiet and lonely. A dark room in a forgotten place; an old bedroom, perhaps. The writing, by Sophia Park, is crisp and poetic, just stylized enough to strike the tone of a fantasy world decomposing. Short, experimental games are often like lyric poetry, creating an idea, a mood, a sketch of a scene, and then leaving the audience to meditate and feel it. This is what Forgotten does in its scant few minutes, and it does it well.
The calendar for major videogame releases is thin at the beginning of the year, making now a perfect time to explore off the beaten path. Start your new year with this bittersweet elegy to the breakdown of cherished objects from the past. When you’re done, maybe plug in an old game console, visit a bygone friend. See if anything’s changed while you were away.