When writing doesn’t go well, it’s like having water in one’s lungs. You simply can’t breathe. Even when it seems to be going well, one of the most difficult things about writing is that like any art you have to have some idea of what it is that you want to do before you can begin to do it, but even then it is not uncommon for what you have done, when you are done, to not be exactly what it was that you thought that you were doing.
Writing certainly isn’t going well for Sid, the main character in Frostwood Interactive’s new “cozy narrative game,” Forgotten Fields. Sid, a fantasy writer in his late twenties or early thirties who lives somewhere that resembles developer Armaan Sandhu’s home in Goa, India, is trying to formulate an idea for his second novel. Out of money and ideas, Sid has until midnight to come up with an outline for a new book—one that might win him grant funding and keep the lights on.
It is at precisely this moment, of course, that Sid is summoned back to his childhood home for one last dinner before his mother sells the house and moves away in the morning. As Sid travels home, making his way down the coast to these familiar places, he meets old friends, frets that he will never write again, and starts to find the seeds of a new idea. In between moments of everyday life, Sid imagines a girl who has lost her magical abilities, and must leave her home to find them again.
It cannot be too much of a spoiler to observe that both Sid and the girl he imagines learn over the course of Forgotten Fields that leaving home and returning home—and leaving home in precisely the hope of returning again—are all part of a larger gesture. Forgotten Fields isn’t really about writer’s block, or nostalgia, or the tension between creating for art and creating for money. Part of the wonder of art is that it is possible, sometimes, to create something that isn’t entirely what one might have intended for it to be, and to have done it well, regardless. Forgotten Fields shines less in helping Sid’s imaginary girl find her way into a story, and more in giving the player space to exist with Sid as he drives past the palm trees that separate the highway from the ocean and walks in and out of the homes of his friends and family. If the player encounters these places with a sense of recognition, it is because Forgotten Fields presents them through the eyes of someone who has done the work of looking—and conveying—what they have seen with detail and intimacy.
None of this is to say that Forgotten Fields is without its rough edges. If the game shines in the vibrancy and warmth of its tropical suburbia, it stumbles a bit in other elements. While its interiors feel appropriately cozy, the lack of open space, combined with the angle of its isometric presentation, makes it a bit challenging to get from place to place using WASD controls (Forgotten Fields is expected to offer full controller support in the final release). In a beach scene that asks the player to jump across a series of rocks with a quick time event, Sid’s body sometimes launches into the sky after completing a successful hop.
But these things are not what Forgotten Fields is really about. Instead, it’s about when Sid sets the table for dinner at his childhood home, helps an ex-girlfriend with the dishes afterwards and talks about her life and how the lives of their friends seem to be on the verge of changing forever. Leaving home, getting married, moving to the city, coming home and finding out that your home isn’t the place it used to be—all of these are part and parcel of growing up. Sid, living on his own and with a published novel under his belt, might expect to be largely done with that process, but Forgotten Fields’ greatest insight is that growing up isn’t such a simple thing. It’s not a linear process with clear rites of passage; I’m not sure that it ever really was.
We leave home, and we leave again. We carry lost things with us and recreate them as art. We look around while we can, if we’re wise and lucky. We do the work, and even if that does not mean we can go home again, we can recognise it, and share that recognition as Forgotten Fields does, with words, colour, and light.