Music can conjure up far more than memories, as Across the Grooves‘ protagonist Alice learns when she listens to an old gift — a record from an old lover long gone.
As I’ve aged I have been to many places, seen many things. My tastes have changed as I age, and yet memories of old technologies and old times remain with me. When I was offered a chance to play Nova-box’s interactive fiction game Across The Grooves, a little voice inside told me to do so.
So I did.
Through my days growing up in the late 90s I was limited in what I could listen to or watch — there were old radio stations, VHS tapes, and the occasional playground jaunt. The Internet was around, but websites were in the form of Geocities pages or worse. With the turn of the 21st century, it was a new reality, and it happened too fast. I grew up knowing both the time-old weariness of the yesteryears, yet the continuous onslaught of information reminded me of my saturated present.
With my background in English literature, travels to Europe with family, and a friend introducing indie music to me several years back, I remembered the familiar sights and locales of the game — from Paris’ famous Eiffel Tower, to the clothing shops on Carnaby Street, and the famous canals where the waters of the Danube flow in Prague.
I follow the adventures of the protagonist Alice, as she receives a mysterious package from her long-lost ex-boyfriend Ulysses. It is an acetate record, with no information attached to it. She hasn’t seen him for years, and as her now partner Jean-Luc leaves their home she has a choice in listening to the record or heading for work.
My curiosity got the better of me, and as she listened to the eclectic piece, she soon found herself in a reality where Jean Luc does not know of her. They share a cigarette nonetheless, and she then meets Ulyssses telling her that she shouldn’t have listened to the record. As the shapes shifted around her, I found myself thinking of Angela Carter’s Wise Children, a classic piece of magical realism. I had read it in my final year of university, guided by a wonderfully stern lecturer whose love of literature was matched only by his love of espresso.
As I travel from the French city of Bordeaux to Paris, then onward to the rowdy pubs of downtown London, I soon find myself entangled with a colourful cast of characters, from musicians to bookstore owners, and even the odd cult slid in. The choices I made were reflected with four different symbols — a spiral, a lightning bolt, a flower, and a Calavera, a skull most commonly seen in Día de Los Muertos celebrations in Mexican communities.
There was no explanation for what those symbols meant in the beginning, but as I pressed on with the game I soon discovered the underlying meaning. My path then took me to Scotland, and on to Prague before finally settling on Greece. I learned of mysticism on the origins surrounding the record, and the name of the occultist Alestier Crowley (not to be confused with the demon in Good Omens) came up frequently. I listened to the record several times, and each time, the haunting melody shifted reality around me without stopping, yet sometimes waited for me to decide.
When I reached the end of my playthrough, I remember my years in my lecturer’s stuffy office, reading Ulysses and espresso. I remember my friend showing my indie music, and my partner’s recommendation of a Nick Drake song called Pink Moon, which came up as I played. So as I write this piece on Across The Grooves to the repeated strums of Pink Moon, I see it more as a meditation of our lives, our choices, and the time we have.
If I had the opportunity to turn back time and change everything, would I? Would I regret my present for a new future, or would I enjoy it the way it is now? We all have regrets as humans, but what we choose to do with them is what sets the course for our lives. Maybe nothing’s right or wrong, but merely the consequences of our actions. It is a game with rich art and lush music, and yearns to be played again, like the winding of an old cassette tape.