By Simon Bachelier
“The only link between him and the world was a wave of music, a minor modulation. Not a lament, no cry, yet purest of sounds that ever spoke despair.” – Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, Night Flight (1931)
An oasis is often perceived as a sanctuary, a safe place where life grows out of a ruthless or lifeless environment. OASES is exactly like that, except you are not escaping a peril, surviving the wilderness, or struggling against adversity. You are diving into death, in the last living moments of a pilot’s flight during the Algerian War of Independence.
In OASES, death is not a destination you can reach by choice. There is no way for the player to damage the plane or even crash. You don’t get to decide when to stop the action. The game starts and ends on a rousing soundtrack, “just like a clip,” says Armel Gibson, the lead designer. No matter how much the player enjoys the scenery and would like to explore the surrealist landscapes, the flight will stop at the end of the track. “It’s not purely a trip,” says Armel. “It is death. You can’t fight it. It happens and you can’t do anything about it.”
This death-bound pilot is in fact Armel’s grandfather, whom Armel himself has never met. In collaboration with visual artist Dziff and game composer Calum Bowen, Armel created OASES as a way of coming to terms with the unknown circumstances of his grandfather’s death. A pilot for the French army in 1960, Armel’s grandfather was reported MIA during a recon flight. Almost nobody knew him and there remains no material trace of him, no tangible sign of his existence except for few old pictures. His story is taboo within Armel’s family; even his first-born child never got a chance to meet him. In OASES, you will also not see him in person.
When you don’t have any memory of cherished people, you eventually create them. Although OASES is deeply personal it is also unfamiliar and distant – like a unexplored memory. "This is what I like to imagine happened,” says Armel of his grandfather’s death. Colourful, vibrant, oneiric, rhythmic, expressive, open… Armel’s vision of that final flight feels like a dive into a pleasant dream or a sweet and harmless drug trip. “The story has evolved by itself since my childhood and I wanted the game to offer different sceneries and environments each time one plays it,” says Armel. There is nothing cold or ominous about death here. Like El Día de los Muertos in Mexico, where death is celebrated with music, food, and gatherings, death here is real and present, pictured with a lot of living colors.
Ultimately, the game is an opportunity to interpret and perform a different ritual around death. There is nothing sad or hurtful in this story. This is not a tragedy. Armel doesn’t want you to mourn his grandfather or recall your dead ones. OASES is an answer that provides a personal story fragment to a question-filled family episode that no one has any tangible memory or knowledge of. It is at the same time a form of individual therapy and its very expression. For its creator, OASES is a unique way of making sense of death, without pain, sadness, and isolation, but with creativity, imagination, and in collaboration with people he loves.
You can download and play OASES on Armel Gibson’s itch.io page: http://armelgibson.itch.io/OASES