The seasons change, and Satan remains.
“Purpling” will forever be an expression which I will find as amusing as it scares the ever loving hell out of me.
In the summer of 2007 I was hired for a term as a counselor for a christian summer camp. I was at that particular age between my freshman and sophomore years of university. That I did not believe or follow such a path on a personal level any more mattered less to me than the fact that it was a paid position. Food for a few months, I would get to live in the woods, help kids, and there would be a nominal monetary deposit. I had on paper all the credentials to do this job very well. In years prior done everything from teach confirmation courses to attend national level denominational conferences. I knew the words backwards and forwards. And in a situation like this I knew how to use them so I could minimize saying things which did not jive with my own perspectives. I like the idea of eating.
Summer camp is its own world. Designed to be something of an enclave separate from the universe outside it. I never went to one growing up. Beyond myself and a few international exchange students, everyone else on staff were folks who had gone to this camp for many years. Lifers, with memories at near every conceivable rock. In a vacuum, that is kind of nice how someone can have a place of such intimate connection.
Policies and training would be essential of course, and part of that involves vocabulary. Understandable ones, like nonchalant code phrases to use when radioing in an Actual Problem. You should never, ever say something like “Wild bear, we are moving” in earshot of kids, for instance. But there also are more cultural ones.
“Purpling” was a pet term which I learned was one of a set referring to romance, physicality, getting too close, etc. What happens when blue boys and pink girls connect, I was told. “To purple.” Preventing purpling was a priority, and it was part of a standardized rule set we were to say and go over with the youth in our care at the start of each week. I was assigned to the high school age attendee tier, so this was stressed as very important. Which, of course, I more than understood from a particular potential liability standpoint alone, religious camp or not.
The almost alien quality of this and other phrases to refer to human interaction added up one after another in a dizzying jumble though. It was terrifying, in ways. They knew teens could want to talk about these things even as faith discussion topics. Enough to construct whole worlds of artificial language around them. We can never talk about these things directly. We can only talk around these things. And all this just for the single standards of gender and relationship expression the organization endorsed, let alone anyone else. Kids of any and every stripe, potentially looking for guidance or having questions, to be led through a verbal minefield resembling little of the world outside.
This has come up before, but it is worth pointing out again: every significant piece of outerwear I own is labeled or coded as an item for women. From what keeps me warm right on up to the suit I used to interview for the job I now perform at my current position at a large multinational group. A fair number of other attire bits too. So it bleeds right into the username I have used for years, and in turn this website, but this is not readily apparent. This is comfortable for me, and keeps me happy. An easy general way to tell offhand on an item like say, a dress shirt, in real life is to see where buttons are sewn (ladies are almost always on the left). Many people, at least in my experience, have had a tricky time putting their metaphorical finger on it unless they have reason enough to think about it too long. Something may even seem wrong, but the how or why has no words.
I was not about to be the hotshot newbie to get myself fired for raising too many problem questions about overhauling the language we were learning in summer camp training. I like the idea of eating. But I assured myself I would try my best to weave my words well in the months ahead. To find inroads to talk about the things left obscured. They would be very important to someone, perhaps even in ways they did not yet understand.
I tell you this story to tell you of another.
Adults who build languages of paranoia, and so the young learn though fear.
Youth who are terrified at the gates of the world, and so around their peers there is fear.
Folks who have internalized so much terror, and so in themselves most of all they fear.
We Know the Devil is categorized as a Group Relationship Horror Visual Novel by its development team.
As the kids try to survive the writing arrives by way of Aevee Bee [Editor-in-Chief of digital games magazine ZEAL]. Visual art and creative direction are fulfilled via Mia Schwartz. Soundtrack design and other audio shenanigans come from Alec Lambert. In addition to further roles and responsibilities handled by others, of course. Games are a group effort!
Hearing “horror” and “visual novel” can cause one to leap too far ahead, and thus thinking this is akin to something like, say, parts of the Corpse Party franchise. Let us rip the content advisory warning right from its own storefront page:
Themes of isolation and alienation of queer youth in a religious rural setting. Abstract, psychological horror, and possibly alarming music.
I feel it is important to note this here and now, before delving further on the game itself. This is not an experience driven by gore, if that would be a concern for you. There are no jumpscares, audio or visual. The mood of the music may shift depending on the emotional tension of a given scene. Some tracks contain distortion elements to enhance these feelings. But the game does not deploy, say, shock ultra loud noises of bangs or sudden screams, fast flashed pictures, or similar cynical manipulations.
It is not my place to tell someone what they will or will not find scary. However, and I will get into this further, I feel the game casts a wide net when it comes to presenting a horror narrative experience to a wide variety of potential audiences. That even many who might often shy away from more horror films, books, games and so on may be able to sit at the table here.
The devil is about and the devil wants to know you, in all the ways that comes to mean. That this is the horror of atmosphere and tone. Frayed teenagers in the woods that one time at summer camp. Personal livewires which scare the absolute hell out of some of them each in different ways. The unknowns of connections and oneself when trying to tie any and all of the world together at such an age. What others know, and how that knowing may manifest itself. That fear, those sights, this touch, their stray thought.
Per the Date Nighto delivery platform, you can curl up with it on a tablet, cell phone, or laptop. Just about anything with a modern web browser. To hold on, indeed to hang on, and keep as close as you may.
Because, and I can assure you, We Know the Devil is very much a horror game.
Even if one does not have a particular background in playing visual novels, one may have a general idea of how they go.
The Choose Your Own Adventure style book given electronic form, with graphics and sound assets. Hit a juncture, pick your path from a multiple choice list, and try to direct yourself to an ending you desire. Often these are first person perspective narratives, for all manner of reasons. These can range from ideas regarding player agency and roleplay, putting limited time towards characters on the side paths, and so on.
In the case of We Know the Devil, its system is designed around the third person experience. This is, in a way, something rather darkly funny. After all, this is an work adamant in its sales pitch about how combinations of its central characters will leave another out. The player does not get rooted into this world via a specific person and role they are performing, so much as they are directing the atmosphere around our central figures. Venus of the best squiggly mouth faces and endless apologies, Jupiter of situational diffusion so strong, and Neptune of the active truth bomb weather reports.
Choices are not delineated in ways like “Venus and Jupiter unpack while talking about things left behind” or “Neptune and Jupiter collect the firewood to burn the day’s memories into their minds.” You only receive the planetary symbols of each character name presented as if they were formulas. “♀ + ♃,” or “♆ + ♃,” and so on and so forth. Your options akin to someone nudging just a bit closer to another, though for what result you may not necessarily know. Not until after they have declared it. There is reason in formulas, or at least that is what I was always told in every math class I ever took. Anchoring. Weight. That they contained truths and proofs and are very difficult to break.
The player never knows what their choices are going to lead to outside of the general “Pick two people to do this thing, one will do something else” related to a situation at hand. You are like air, and you permeate everything around them. You are not with the characters as one yourself, but you are with them. Insofar that others, perhaps someone like you, have impacted them in their past. That they carry an ever so small bit of you with them, acting and reacting as individuals who have learned certain things are okay or bad to express or avoid.
You are also separate from their situation and thus, restrained. Which is to say, you do not get to leap to their aid as an active participant if and when you feel they need it. Scream all you want. Your restraints are absolute. You are not going anywhere.
There is no emergency override to grab the fluffy mane of Venus, to tell them everything you might hope to share. You do not get to tug at Jupiter’s jacket. Your future has no stares from Neptune. You are tied back, away, and try as you might the characters as people will need to figure things out themselves. There is just the hope of being able to nudge them just a little bit. Some crystallized thought lighting up in their hearts or minds like one of the esoteric summer camp sirens Venus is so good at fixing. That they will zig and feel even a bit better, rather than zag.
And yet, there is still also that looming fear of collateral damage. As advertised, after all. Right there on the digital box copy.
There is a clock ticking the hours away in these dying days of summer scouts, as we wait in the woods for the devil to come.
In its original form, this was a very different post.
Nothing was coming out well, or at least nothing in a way where I felt I was able to juggle the purposes I felt I wanted. Perhaps I wanted a lot, and that would be fitting for a work full of exploring ideas of want. I do not do Video Games Journalism, after all. So I had to dwell on my wants for a while for our time here right now. To encourage someone to try the game out, sure, which involves a financial cost and thus risk on their part. I like to hope maybe I can even put together a sentence or three that can stick with someone who already finished the core game. Of course also to provide some kind of processing catharsis for myself.
I was looking forward to the game after it was announced months ago, and to the credit of all involved it hit like a wall of bricks let loose from a kick to a decaying cabin.
This is, if anything, a nice way to have a memory uploaded beyond my own head.
I returned to the content advisory zone, and thus a declaration of what We Know the Devil is and what it contains. Working out from there to structure and formulas. Ideas of framework and guidance, to provide some semblance of an ordered progression. The game is about many things, and one of those would be systems. The ways we set ourselves up to hurt and be hurt. How others have led or conditioned us in ways leading to the same.
There is of course a religious oversight aspect of the summer camp setting itself, this is readily apparent. But also those of adults and counselors who have exerted influence. Peers who strike out at you, or those you maybe want to know a little better. All of which were informed on various what’s and how’s of life and expression in their own ways from others. So much hitting at once when one is a teen, like our stars are here. When you are just old enough to perhaps begin to understand the cosmic weight of all of this. Itself a force of terrible horror. On top of what your mind may be screaming at you when you are trying to figure out who you are and maybe where one fits into all of this.
That same content advisory area I wanted to highlight is where one’s eyes would dart to see if there was blood and gore. It leads and is upfront with its horror, the emotions of queer youth at summer camp. To make this post too much about the development team mix I fear (at least in the context of my article here right now) would risk taking the spotlight away from allowing their work to speak for them. How it is informed by and through knowing. But suffice it to say the emotional content is dredged up from the deep down and the every day, the long ago and the right now, fictional though this exact story in this game may be. This world of strange incense radios in a time of cellular phones and people with the names of planets christened after old immortals.
The characters have the texture of conversations I have seen and had with all manner of folks over the years. In turn I feared all the more, because these kids are so honest in their portrayal.
That most terrible wonder of how far the dial would be turned before their night was over.
The space Venus, Jupiter, and Neptune occupy and where they are and where they can end up is the chewy emotional (and horrific) nougat. Which is where I was so swamped in my previous attempt, to write about them all at once. Indeed there are three main types of nougat, in fact, talking about the confectionary good. This is not a metaphor I am going to twist in all kinds overwrought ways of comparison for our leads. It is far too late and I can not eat that much candy. I just think it is kind funny to think about. I may like eating, as came up more towards the start of this post. But it is also far better for me to encourage others to share in a meal together, and that applies to a narrative like this too.
There is so much I hope you will find, because these are the stories and dynamics games have the space to get across. But they are so very rare even now. Sometimes, folks may not even know that they want something until they even realize wanting it was ever an option at all. Which is such a core part of the cycles of wants and fears here. So in the end I decided that at least for my own time here I wanted to spoil as little as possible.
I often like to write as if I am having something of a conversation. Or at least a providing a transcript from a radio broadcast you are kind enough to dial into. This seemed all the more appropriate now. The communications and broadcast equipment our characters carry, maintain, and in turn what burdens them.
We Know the Devil contains three endings, plus a fourth finale. I read a volume of manga at about the speed of forty-five minutes to an hour, which is around as long as it took me to reach my first ending of this game. A relaxed, but zippy pace. Tight, yet comfortable. To reflect on new revelations. The terror of the atmosphere as the hours shift. The situation changes over its duration, and in turn its impact on our shooting stars.
To try all over again. Exploring. Knowing.
May this signal reach you, even if you feel you are in the loneliest cabin in the woods.