Snow Quest: a second look

Spoilers abound.  I will pad with text from the game, after which there will be


You can hardly remember how long ago it was you first set out on your quest; it feels like months. Nor can you recall how long it’s been since you last saw another human being; that feels like weeks. Your memories have become so jumbled you find it hard to recall any particular incident at all, but you reckon it’s been nearly two days since the last of your food ran out, and at least three since you lost most of your equipment in a snow-slide, and now you are cold, hungry, and all but totally exhausted. It’s only some grim mixture of habit, determination, and stubborn refusal just to lie down and die that keeps you plodding on mile after mile after mile. But now at last the mountain range is in sight, and there you know your quest will end.

If you’re still uncertain about the title, the deal is that there are two Snow Quests:  one is to climb the mountain, the other is to deliver the package in the storm.  Both are, in a sense, unwinnable.  Presumably there’s yet another, metaphorical “snow quest” going on, that the first two physical snow quests represent.  Let’s look into this.

This is what happens when we interpret it as if it were a dream — at least, according to my style of pseudo-Jungian, post-Ericksonian dream interpretation:

The primary image is of coldness and barrenness.  We are playing an unsexed female protagonist.  (She becomes sexed when the fantasy ends.)  Therefore the primary theme is childlessness and failure to find love.

The ancillary images in the dreams are of a unicorn, a woman in a casket (ourself), a butterfly which we play tennis against, and flying.  In the flashbacks, they are of the father-son descent of knowledge, of knowledge which is crucial yet in a sense forbidden (the book cannot survive sunlight), and of a post-industrial, collapsed civilization — the death of humanity.  In the main story line, they are of the need to make fire, an encounter with a wolf, struggle against the terrain, confrontation with death (the skeleton) and a willingness to make a tool of death, and the useless revelation of incomprehensible forbidden knowledge.

The images of ourself all escape us, until we attempt to fly and crash.  The wolf is threatening but ultimately friendly, until the end, when he becomes Agent Wolf, who is friendly but ultimately threatening.  The circuit board will help some unmet good scientist — the image of Mundle — learn more about the weather and help overcome Global Cooling (or, as I had first thought, control it).

So, the PC is trying to overcome the evil hypnotist’s control by, in this trance which presages future reality, overcoming the fantasy terrain and arriving at the forbidden-but-useless knowledge.

Let’s take a quick look at the images:

UNICORN – a symbol of purity, but also of sexual prowess and potency.

BEAUTY v. DEATH – a medieval commonplace.  Death, of course, wins.  Another manifestation of this is in flowers, which are beautiful but transitory.

BUTTERFLY – a symbol of feminity, especially in its decorative prettiness and fluttering-about-ness.

FLIGHT – freedom; escape.

STORM – trouble.  Especially emotional turmoil.

CAVE – the womb; rebirth.

FIRE – passion; human mastery of the elements.

(If you’re a technogeek and you’ve been neglecting this part of your education — which is easy to do — the best I can do is tell you that symbolic thinking and analogy have to do with recognition — that thing that humans do well and computers can’t.  It’s more complicated than this:  it also has to do with hemispheric specialization.  Anyway, symbolic thinking is as specialized a way of thinking as is logic.  Which doesn’t mean that what follows can’t be argued with; but it ought to be something like this.)

That we’re on a quest for knowledge tells us there’s something here we must learn, which will help us overcome the cold barrenness of our environment and save humankind.  Presumably this salvation would be accomplished through a return to fertility.

We can therefore surmise that the knowledge we seek is an acknowledgement of the need to secure a progeny.  But learning this is useless to us, because meaningless — we cannot understand the book.  It cannot survive the light of day, which is to say coming into the light of consciousness would destroy it.  Similarly, we cannot open the package we are carrying.

The main character represents the “dreamer’s” unconscious — here, our own, or Eric’s (as you please; it’s not important).  The unconscious recognizes the importance of mastering toolmaking (fire), so you have the parallel between making the fire in the first cave and getting the electronics book in the second, both of which are a way to combat the cold, and both of which precede sleep (surrender), because the unconscious surrenders to logical necessity.

The book is incomprehensible because the unconscious considers the logical thinking it requires meaningless.  It uses the image of that meaninglessness both to represent the reasons for the story it must play out — the circuit board is important — *and* as the mirror image of the consciousness’s initial attitude toward securing a progeny, the importance of which the conscious mind does not fathom.

The story is about the attempt of the conscious mind to control the unconscious, and the unconsciousness’s intial duty-driven attitude of loyalty toward this situation, but it’s final mutany against that control.  So the unconscious represents the conscious as an increasingly unfriendly and manipulative hypnotist which must be confronted and disarmed.

Once that is done, the conscious attitude changes.  So the evil hypnotist is replaced by Stephen, who is friendly to the main character’s desires and who she can achieve union and secure a progeny with.

Published in: on November 5, 2009 at 4:44 am  Comments (6)  
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6 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. This is a pretty nifty analysis, but I can’t help but think you’re making a bigger deal of the sex of the PC not immediately being mentioned than you would if the PC had been male.

    Plenty of games with a male PC don’t make this explicit until some random later point – usually because it never occurred to the author that it might be otherwise (great example: Condemned in this very comp, in which you’re just ‘an adolescent’ or ‘a teenager’ until you’re suddenly referred to as ‘Dave’ and ‘disobedient boy’).

    I think this sequence is more about recovering her identity from the hypnotist – and if players have assumed – without reason – that this was a male identity, then that’s their problem. :-P

  2. It’s inevitable that I’ll bring my own presuppositions into any thematic analysis I do, although I *will* say I’ve been at this kind of thinking for a good fifteen years, and I’ve learned a thing or two about looking past them.

    I don’t agree with you in this case, although I’ll contemplate it further. I disagree for two reasons:

    One, the analysis would be the same if the main character were male. The image of cold barrenness is not sexed, nor is the desire to return to fertility — see for example the Fisher King myth, where the king is wounded in the groin, rendering him unable to procreate and making his kingdom barren.

    Two, our self-styled angry feminist reviewer, Yhlee, also assumed that the PC was male until she was told otherwise. The solitary mountain-climer is usually a male figure, as well as the solitary artic explorer. I can’t think of an instance of either trope that’s female, although I admit I’m not especially up on my arctic mountain-climing fiction.

    Your notion that the main character recovers her identity from the evil hypnotist I think is interesting, but I don’t see it in the images provided by the narrative. Would you like to tell us where you see that?


  3. This is quite fascinating. I’d like to see the same thing done for “Duel In The Snow”.

    Personally, I saw the unicorn and the butterfly as symbols of freedom: the unicorn is majestic and untameable, while the butterfly flits from flower to flower without settling down. In that case, it might indicate that there’s a part of the PC’s subconscious that knows it’s in thrall to an outside force (Agent Wolf) and is trying to break free: the PC chases the unicorn and tries to capture the butterfly, failing both times.

    This is if we accept that the first part of the game is a dream, and the latter half is reality. Your analysis makes me think that you are interpreting both parts as dreams.

    Incidentally, have you tried talking to Agent Wolf at the endgame? It seems that his initials are S.N.O.W…. Does that mean that by defeating him, you also conquer the long winter of the PC’s dream…?

  4. “Your notion that the main character recovers her identity from the evil hypnotist I think is interesting, but I don’t see it in the images provided by the narrative. Would you like to tell us where you see that?”

    I’m not saying that I see the gameplay as being about this – either literally or symbolically. But I do see the moment when our ambiguous, vaguley defined mountain climber sees a female pilot and realises that it’s *her* is a moment when she recovers a sense of identity and reality that she’d previously been lacking.

  5. Pacian: “..the moment when our ambiguous, vaguley defined mountain climber sees a female pilot and realises that it’s *her* is a moment when she recovers a sense of identity..”

    Yeah, I support that. I had considered that moment more a confrontation with mortality. But you’re right that the recognition of self is a vital part of it. And I think it’s more strongly related to the following awakening, since the prior confrontation with death (the skeleton) didn’t result in such a revelation.

    Miseri: “It seems that his initials are S.N.O.W.… Does that mean that by defeating him, you also conquer the long winter of the PC’s dream…?”

    Well, sure. As I read it, Agent Wolf represents the …mm, repressive mentality that prevents the need for procreation from being expressed. That repressive mentality is experienced by the dreaming mind as barrenness.

    Interesting thoughts on the dream images: but what seems essential is that they are all images of the self which are pursued and escape capture, which leads to death.

    The priest seems to be the image of Agent Wolf, although I can’t prove that. But the roles have similar functions.


  6. i loved this game and would play future games featuring the protagonist!

    could be a winner for me.

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