The Wild Eight game: Yakutia as the basis of gameplay
Igor Pernikov
In 2016, the Yakut indie game studio Fntastic launched a fundraiser on Kickstarter to create The Wild Eight game, combining elements of the action-adventure and survival simulator genres. The project gained the $60,000 very quickly which was needed for their development, and in February 2017, early access to the beta version of The Wild Eight was granted in the Steam digital store, after which the publisher HypeTrain Digital bought the rights of the game. The final version of The Wild Eight was released on October 3, 2019. At the same time, if in the beta version players were attracted mainly by the gameplay, which is a kind of isometric version of The Long Dark - a sensational survival simulator with a first-person view from Hinterland Studio Inc, which takes place in a very similar setting to The Wild Child area — somewhere on the snowy Pacific coast of Canada, then by the time of release in October 2019, the game also had an exciting fantastic plot with several endings and extraordinary narrative solutions.

Carousel with screenshots of the game The Long Dark: link (screenshots are taken from the official video from the old man of the game on Steam)

The gameplay of The Wild Eight is indeed somewhat reminiscent of The Long Dark, but I would like to immediately note one very important feature of The Wild Eight, namely its regional context. So, even though the action of the game takes place somewhere on the ice-covered wreckage of conditional Alaska, lost in space and time, the developers themselves, brothers Eduard and Aisen Gotovtsev, admit that the starting point when creating the game was not so much the sensational survival simulator, as their own experience of living in their native Yakutia: "As a team, we live in one of the strangest and coldest places on planet Earth. It’s name is Yakutia. Here people eat bear meat for breakfast, develop cool games for lunch and chop wood for dinner so as not to freeze at night. We really know what survival is here," YASIA quotes them as saying.

This fact makes it particularly interesting to try to analyze exactly how the experience of developers is reflected in their game, that is, in a work of art that, due to its cultural and intellectual context, cannot but be connected with the intellectual history of ideas and other works of art. To do this, you need to take a closer look at the plot of The Wild Eight. The game begins with a plane crash that occurred somewhere over ice-covered Alaska, in which only eight people survive (actually, the name of the game directly indicates this group of people - The Wild Eight), each of which has its own unique features. Later, the player learns that the plane crash occurred due to the experiments of scientists with antimatter, which tore the space-time continuum and turned the inhabitants of scientific laboratories and animals into demonic monsters. All this, as already noted, takes place in an extremely unfriendly and tough place, where in addition to the constant threat from otherworldly creatures, the player is constantly haunted by the need to keep warm and look for food.

From a culturological point of view, in this case it is tempting to turn to the national Yakut mythology and correlate people and animals transformed under the influence of antimatter with Yakut evil spirits, however, obviously, this would be a mistake dictated by the same colonial optics, forcing to see exotic national features in any local artistic statement. Instead, the most correct tactic for considering the specifics of the plot seems to be the transition from the particular to the general, in order to pay tribute to each of the cultures in this way. The key to understanding the game's key concept of survival in the icy desert can be found paradoxically in the Tuareg culture of North Africa with their understanding of the desert as a kind of no-place - the flip side of existence, where evil spirits and otherworldly beings live. The identification of the connection between the extreme conditions of the Far North and the discourse of the fantastic can be manifested through the history of the relations of European science of the XIX century with the art of its time.


As the Libyan writer and ethnic Tuareg Ibrahim al-Kuni notes, survival is philosophically related to the peculiarities of a person's stay in an area in which it is impossible to satisfy one or more conditions of human existence. Simply put, survival is a person's stay in a place that denies human existence itself; in a place where a lack of water, food or heat forms a special shortage situation, which at the same time completely redefines the usual conceptual framework of space-time:


"The problem of the desert is, first of all, an existential problem. In fact, the desert is not just a desert. It is a symbol of human existence. <...>. In reality, the desert is not a place. The place must have prerequisites, the most important of which is the availability of water. It is impossible to settle there without water. And in this sense, the desert becomes a transcendent place, a place that is, in fact, only a shadow of a place. And this is puzzling," al-Kuni notes in an interview with the channel of the Danish Museum of Louisiana.
Actually, the place of action of The Wild Eight is such a transcendent non-place, and in the literal sense, namely, a fragment of an ice-covered territory lost in space-time, hovering over purple antimatter - a kind of hallucinating radical nothingness that, when it comes into contact with it, transforms everything that exists in a bizarre way. The gameplay is largely based on the satisfaction of the prerequisites indicated by al-Kuni, which in the case of The Wild Eight is the level of heat and the availability of food.


It is curious that in the works of al-Kuni, as in The Wild Eight, such a non-place is necessarily inhabited by otherworldly beings, the comprehension of the peculiarities of each of which is a serious philosophical problem and a challenge to colonial logocentric thinking. In addition, after passing The Wild Eight, it becomes clear that the plot of the game is looped, which can be considered as the looped time of the myth, also characteristic of the works of al-Kuni, which, in turn, brings us not only to the philosophical understanding of space, but also time:


"If there are doubts about the existence of the desert as a place, then naturally we can doubt the presence of time in the desert. Therefore, my readers feel that time in the desert is a mythical time. Closed time. Because in a place where there are no relations, there is no type of conflict peculiar to the city, where there are no prerequisites of the place, it is natural that time also disappears. Therefore, time in the desert is not the time in traditional sense. Time stood still in the desert... It is eternal. It has no properties, no prospects. The past, present and future exist simultaneously," al-Kuni also notes.
Screenshots of letsplays from YouTube: yandex.disk
However, it is important to note that if in the case of al-Kuni such a conceptual framework expresses primarily the ethnic optics of the indigenous inhabitants of the desert, then in the case of The Wild Eight, the terrain features are still manifested in the conditions of a man-made disaster. Thus, we can highlight some hybridity of The Wild Eight optics, combining the features of living in a particular place - harsh Yakutia, which the developers do not hide, and the European discourse of the fantastic, which since the beginning of the XIX century formulates a stable connection between the endless ice of the icy deserts and science. It is curious that a similar impression of the loss of a sense of space and time, with all the differences in gameplay, can be found in the recently released game Sable, where players are invited to travel through the endless desert on a single-seat aircraft. At the same time, Sable's gameplay is meditative and monotonous, while The Wild Eight's is intense and dynamic, but with all the differences, it is noteworthy that Sable carries the same hybrid optics as The Wild Eight, combining the features of a certain specific area and a man-made disaster.
Gallery of images from Shelley, Lovecraft, etc.: link
To clarify this connection, let us turn to the British historian of science Sarah Dry, who in her book "The Waters of the World: how the mysteries of the oceans, atmosphere, glaciers and climate of our planet were solved" notes the influence on literature and fine art of the first scientific expeditions to the glaciers of Greenland at the beginning of the XIX century. For the first time, this is reflected in the work of Mary Shelley, who framed her key work "Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus'' with a narrative about the exploration of the Arctic. Subsequently, this trend developed more and more - up to the "Ridges of Madness" by Howard Phillips Lovecraft, written a century later. Anyway, in all these works, as a rule, there were three unchanging components: scientists, ice and monsters, now forced by the will of the historical process to exist in an unchanging bundle. Thus, there is some parallelism: just as Mary Shelley once framed the book