memory and dream in an Italian adventure

Telling Promesa in black and white is anything but a walk. It is one of those cases – less and less rare, thanks to how much the videogame medium has matured – in which the best thing to do would be limited to encourage the reader to discover the title for themselves, in front of the screen, without relying on the considerations of others such as those who now, in their own small way, are writing these lines.

The reason lies in the extreme peculiarity of the project by Julián Palacios Gechtman, which was awarded in the last edition of the Italian Video Game Awards: impossible to fit into a genre frame, exactly on the border between video game and interactive video art, very personal in terms of content and staging. On this page you will often read the term “experience”. It will not be used inappropriately, not only because the production, in fact, is entirely the fruit and expression of the experiences of the person who made it – and, in this case, of a conversation between him and his grandfather.

Promesa wants to be experience, and not a “game” commonly understood, also and above all for the user, so much so that he even bothered to suggest the ideal conditions of use: sit in a not too bright room, wear a pair of headphones or earphones and have about forty-five minutes of clock to devote exclusively to travel, without any distractions.

Spaces of life

But what is Promesa? Perhaps it is better to start from what is not: Promesa is not a walking simulator. It is important to clarify this because, understandably, it could be really easy to fall into error, observing everything from the outside: through first-person shot the “player” is called to proceed through a series of three-dimensional environments. Here, however, the possibility of manipulating any object or element of the scene is completely lacking and the gait – considerably slow – cannot in any way undergo accelerations dictated by whoever is in charge of the camera.

Furthermore, there is no space-time continuity between the situations that appear before the eyes of the user, on the contrary the order of the viable settings tends to vary from session to session; even, to intercept some of them it is necessary to repeat the experience one or more times after having concluded it. Rather, Promesa is a flow where time and space don’t matter, where it is mainly the images that count, as well as the emotions that could arise passing through them.

Because if it is true that the places modeled by the artist are remnants of his individual history, it is also the fact that, among those dioramas, there is a lot of reality that in different, we do not doubt, could also lead back to his own experience. Many of the scenarios in which the viewer will be guided by the software are in fact snapshots of ordinary everyday life: the night streets of a village, the interior of an apartment, the rainy exterior of a shop, an old railway depot; small corners of Milan, Verona and Argentina, the author’s centers of existence from the day of his birth to today.

If the reproduction of certain settings is the (almost) unfiltered derivative of Julián’s memories, other paintings arise from intense research and reconstruction, as in the case of the splendid sequence that fades from a postcard of the Hotel de Inmigrantes in Buenos Aires little by little in the vicinity of the same building, suddenly explored “from life”. In Promesa they are also present more dreamlike sections, between walks towards fascinating glows and excursions over endless expanses of white clouds. We do not doubt that, in words, everything may sound like an alternation of styles that have little to do with each other. This is not the case, especially as a function of what the work, in its own way, intends to represent.

Reflections of memory

This is because Promesa does not seem to set itself only the task – with the results that are not predictable in themselves – of staging the memory as such, but also, and perhaps above all, of giving digital form to the process of recalling and recomposing the memory itself. We mentioned that the starting point of the title concerns a dialogue that took place between the game designer and his grandfather, some

phrases of which, not surprisingly, peep out at certain moments of the gameplay, almost like the opening of a new act. It is a situation of normality, that of the chat about the past, which inevitably requires those who listen – in this case, the young Palacios – to re-elaborate the information received from the interlocutor according to sensitivity and imagination, especially in relation to certain events never experienced. in person. From this point of view, the artistic choice of using not very refined polygonal models is clear, sometimes transparent, or to shell out some scenographic details, perhaps to convey the difficulty in faithfully (re) creating some place or situation that emerged during the interview.

Recalling, for example, an old evening spent in front of the television does not necessarily mean having clear the content of the frames that at that moment flowed inside the cathode ray tube, which in fact Julián, in his small virtual world, reproduces vague and pixelated. Probably, it is precisely in the deformability of the mnemonic mechanisms that the succession and coexistence between realistic and dreamlike locations makes sense, immersing the controller in a singular and magnetic audiovisual path.

Visual but not only, precisely, why the audio component of Promesa plays an equally decisive role in the course of the experience, especially in terms of immersion. When the silence is not absolute, the wandering among the sites is accompanied by many small noises of context which at times alternate with some sweet notes, always in line with the tranquility that emanates everything you admire as you advance on this short but potentially unforgettable journey. . Speaking of Italian games: we recommend you take a look at our review of King of Seas and the preview of Freud’s Bones.