is Dia Lacina’s weekly non-linear, non-hierarchical aural odyssey through gaming’s great soundtracks. This week we take a listen inside the Itch.io Bundle for Racial Justice and Equality for videogame soundtracks about stasis, possibility, and everything that comes after the end of things.
When the fundraiser ended, the Itch.io Bundle for Racial Justice and Equality raised north of 8 million dollars. It included over 1,700 games, assets, and all manner of game related media. It’s an astounding thing, perhaps too audacious for its own good. And in the days that followed the fundraiser period, Itch.io has had to build new ways to even engage with the vast wealth of content in the bundle.
A number of incredible critics have sifted through and made lists of their top choices, my favorites being Kat Brewster’s and Colin Spacetwinks;’. But these are more holistic suggestions, and this is a specific column. Our interests here are soundtracks. And while there are hundreds of incredible scores in this bundle, and any three of them would have been fantastic, worthy inclusions—I’m in a mood.
It’s hot out, y’all. Mosquitoes have sprung out in full force with the stagnancy of moisture clinging to everything. And it seems like each day brings with it as much bullshit as it sweeps away.
Since my last column, the games space has been consumed with The Last of Us 2, and whether you think it’s a stirring epic about love or a miserable thematic retread—it sure doesn’t paint a picture of humanity in a state of after-ness that I’m at all interested in.
So, this week we have three soundtracks for games (much smarter, smaller, and more interesting) about what comes after.
After conflict, after death, after collapse.
And if you bought the Itchio bundle, they’re right there waiting for you to dive into.
If I was a game designer there are only two composers I would want to score my mech game.
First is Jack de Quidt, whose compositions for Friends at the Table’s PARTIZAN season are a sonic revelation of towering iron hulks and the desolation of power.
The other, who has already appeared once in this column, is Priscilla Snow.
To call Can Androids Pray a mech game is perhaps a disservice. It is a game about anticipation, conflict, resignation. There is fracture, reconnection, and yes, death. Its questions and themes are as Cyclopean as the ruined mechs, and small and fragile as the pilots in the face of an uncertain certainty.
Snow’s score is every bit as densely layered yet ephemeral. Servos hum and consoles blink as atmosphere hisses into void. Bass and drum tick out time as it passes with an excruciating, deliberate urgency.
Against a backdrop of the cosmos and ruin, Snow threads their sonic needle with aggression, interpersonal disintegration, but also the hope for possibilities of reunion and reconciliation.
It’s everything the soundtrack for a game about “two angry femme mech pilots” should be.
There is a sadness to halina heron’s score, to be sure. After all, death is sad. People die, we miss them, we grieve. But that’s not all there is to death. Whether you believe it is a passing on to a new spiritual form or simply a shift from one of matter to another, death for the living is something entirely different and perhaps unknowable from death for the deceased. And, for the caretakers and preparers of the dead, it can be something else entirely.
In just four careful and kind tracks, heron (who also composed the soundtrack for fellow Itch.io bundle game, Don’t Wake The Night) weaves these sometimes disparate feelings about death into simple, whirling hums. Songs that enfold separation and connection into one another. Stasis and possibility. Grief. Also hope and memory. A gentle diaphanous hand resting on one’s shoulder is woven from fuzzy chords and reverberations and small twinkling bells that prick through like stars at the periphery.
If Brian Eno’s Music for Airports is fixated on being held in time through the possibility of death, this is being held in thought and emotion in the face of it. It’s a beautiful, thoughtful score.
With Signs of the Sojourner, Steve Pardo has given life to a world in the aftermath of collapse. Upright bass kicks along with the slip of fingers on steel string guitar as caravans make perilous treks to connect outposts of civilization through dust bowl wasteland.
And those civilizations…
Well, post-apocalyptic fiction almost never sits well with me because it can’t anticipate just how people will connect and support one another in crisis, how even after decline there will still be creativity and vibrance and culture will persist, even flourish.
Sojourner says screw all that. Dust bowl or not. This world is alive, and the inventiveness and character of these new cities and outposts is hand claps and screaming guitar, folk riffs borrowed and adapted from times before collapse. But this is a game built on the transmission of goods, and that always carries with it the transmission of culture. Motifs make their way across the outposts and towns, just as the caravan travels, as the player learns new ways of communicating. Stuff from one place finds its way somewhere else, and not always in the original shape. And sometimes people just make do—with found sounds and other oddities.
There’s so much momentum and vitality in this score that it’s breathtaking at times. And in others… Well, not every place people take root is a bustling metropolis. Some places you sit on the porch and wait. For what? Doesn’t matter. The waiting is enough.
And yeah, that’s in here too.
It takes a whole lot of soundtrack to contain all the possibilities of something after this. And a lot of media doesn’t try. Picking and choosing, reducing humanity to its basest, most desperate existence. Not here. Pardo links the isolation with the fullness, giving exhilaration to the places beyond.
Dia Lacina is a queer indigenous writer and photographer. She tweets too much at @dialacina.