IF Comp 2011: Cana According to Micah

Cana According to Micah” tells the story of the wedding at which Jesus performed the miracle of turning water into wine. After the jump, there’s some general discussion of the design, then spoiler space, then a couple more particulars. As always, those who want to encounter the game in total innocence should avoid reading.

“Cana According to Micah” initially presents itself as a light, even comic puzzler about one of Jesus’ most cheerful miracles, somewhat reminiscent of The Bible Retold: Following a Star. Anachronistic jokes reference everything from the Rime of the Ancient Mariner to Famous Amos brand cookies, which initially reinforces the impression that “Cana” isn’t trying for anything more serious than a lighthearted review of a well-known story. The design is tighter than that of “The Bible Retold”, however, and the writing slyer. The implementation is highly competent — Rev. Stephen Dawson is obviously a pseudonym, and I am pretty sure it stands for an established author — and built-in hints supply enough guidance to get the player past a few points of more challenging puzzle logic.

But it’s not just a honey-and-locust-flavored puzzle game. “Cana” gradually reveals an interest in the humanity of Biblical figures, and the humane meaning of the Bible in general. The characters who appear are nuanced and flawed. John the Baptist comes across as sullen about his fate, but theologically brilliant; Mary of Bethany an obsessive listener whose need to hear and understand verges on the pathological; Mary the mother of Jesus, as a bit disturbed about the whole business of her exceptional son; Lazarus as a sickly fellow tired of being bullied by his well-meaning sisters even before his death. Even Jesus/Joshua comes off more as a somewhat difficult young man than like a divine figure, though the degrees shift somewhat over the course of the story.

Here and there interaction rewards the player’s knowledge of what’s to come:

>ask john about salome
“Who?” John shudders involuntarily, but clearly has no idea whom you mean.

At the core of the story are questions about loyalty and betrayal, and about the letter and the spirit of the law: whether it’s better to take instructions exactly as they were given, or whether some room is allowed for context and the application of common sense. The player is allowed to choose a course of action on each of these points, but it’s fair to say that “Cana” comes down firmly and clearly on a specific side.

In this sense, it’s not a game about moral choice in the same way that “Fate” or “The Baron” are — that is, it’s not so much trying to be a mechanism by which the player can explore the limits of his own moral belief structure — and more a story about divine mercy. The point of the moral crisis moments is that it’s possible to choose wrong and still win.

Overall, I enjoyed “Cana” and I thought the structural design — multiple flavors of winning ending that simply reflect how much redemption the player needs before the end — an interesting use of the form. I’d call this one of the better Christian propaganda pieces I’ve played (admittedly not a category I typically care for), except that I’m not sure it’s trying to evangelize at all. “Cana” is so heavily laden with Biblical in-jokes and liturgical symbolism that it felt targeted to people who are either believing Christians or are at the least very familiar with the essential stories. In particular, I’m not sure how much the ending at Emmaus would resound for anyone who didn’t already have some strong emotional associations with the sacrament of communion.

Perhaps it’s more apposite to look at this piece as a meditation for believers, intended not so much to convince as to remind the player of the human and accessible component within the divine order of things.

One small structural niggle follows spoiler space.









The most interesting path through the game, to my mind, is the betrayal ending, where the player has betrayed John the Baptist but subsequently has the opportunity to show some mercy to Judas Iscariot, and in return receives mercy for his own sins. The more successful path, in which you’ve both saved Anna and tricked the soldiers, is the one I found first, but it feels a little flat for an initial experience; the scene at Emmaus seems like a strange thing to tack on to a story that otherwise seems concluded. It’s not until the player knows about his potential disgrace and failure that the happier ending seems to belong to the story.

So I kind of wish that I’d seen the endings in the other order, but I felt like the game so clearly telegraphed that I shouldn’t betray John the Baptist that there wasn’t much risk of my falling into the bad ending by accident.

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