19/365 – Meditation Games #19 – The Cullen Calamity

Developer: John Vanderhoef

Launcher Quote:  “On January 19, 1995,
Helicopter Flight 56 Charlie,

nicknamed Cullen,
disembarked from Aberdeen
on its way to deliver a group of rig workers
to their station aboard
the oil platform at the Brae oilfield.

The routine trip, disrupted
by a maelstrom of rain,
hail and lightning,
did not go as planned.

Struck by lightning,
the Cullen sputtered into
waves curling like toppling walls.

Their radios inoperable
and the Cullen flooding,
the crew inflated the life raft
and abandoned the helicopter.

Aboard the raft, the men waited,
no words of comfort between them
but scowls sent skyward, each
half-frozen and without hope of rescue.”

I wasn’t able to pick up the full launcher quote due to how far it went into the window, but I got the general idea of what John was trying to say with today’s entry. I feel like the majority of games these days, whether they are small and simple titles or large AAA masterpieces, tend to shy away from depicting actual real life events (and if they do, to present them in a way that’s “game-ified” so that it isn’t as real to the player). I don’t blame developers for this – after all, many gamers treat games as escapism, a way to get away from the real world for a little bit and indulge in one that has nothing to do with it. But that doesn’t mean that it can’t be done effectively. This is doubly so for events which have an element of danger and/or tragedy to them. The closest game I can think of that sort of comes close to this for me was Spec Ops: The Line, an underrated game that you all should definitely check out for is somber presentation of the usual military action games out there.

Depicting the plight of the Cullen and its crew, stuck in the middle of the ocean without any hope that they’d be rescued, is certainly no less heavy for being presented with old-school pixels, graphics, and sound. The subtle way that the passage of time, from day into night, was shown to me was certainly something I felt as the stranded workers waited and coped with being out in the ocean, as was the relief when I saw that a ship managed to rescue them.

The thing I felt most of all, however, is the sense of powerlessness to help as I watched from what appeared to be the viewpoint of a ghostly helicopter. We gamers are tempted by nature to try to do something in order to help with or otherwise affect what’s happening on the screen in front of us, so when control is taken away from us and we’re forced to watch, it’s a lot more weighty. Sure, there’s a certain amount of balance to approach this with, of course – if the player feels like they should be able to affect what’s on the screen as a matter of player choice they’re likely to become more frustrated than emotionally affected as intended – but done correctly, as it was here, it can show that what happened was meant to happen, and that we as players are just witness to it. It made my nervousness for the crew of the Cullen that much more stark, but in that respect, it is certainly a fraction of what they must have felt, sitting in a raft in a seemingly endless ocean, wanting to elicit their own rescue but not being able to. Definitely a message that real life doesn’t often operate as smoothly as games do.

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