Always the same dream: dancing across the stone floor of a mountain ruin
Moon for a ceiling
Simulation games tuck themselves neatly into a small corner of the gaming world. With an eye towards the gamification of the mundane, these games have you complete banal tasks while seeking to add to your ever growing collection of stuff. While initially fun, eventually you find yourself in a moment where you’re just pushing the button in our own private Skinner box. That realization is usually followed by the end of the game.
Skulljhabit is billed as a cross between Animal Crossing and Dampe the Grave Digger, from the Zelda series. Porpentine has long showcased her skill at game creation, and Skulljhabit is technically proficient in several regards. Her usage of variables is on point and well crafted, and there were no technical issues to be found in gameplay.
If there is an ending to Skulljhabit, I did not find it. There is certainly enough to do, and enough constraints to keep you playing for long enough to find multiple aspects of the game. A certain amount of work, be it shoveling skulls or breaking bricks, will result in your exhaustion. As the game progresses, you collect more trinkets and tools, like a finer shovel with which to shovel skulls. Accumulate enough money and you just might buy a ticket out of Skull Village. Where Skulljhabit thrives is in the bone crushing weariness of repeated activity. Your character is trapped in Skull Village, and never really interacts with other people. Yes, there are occasionally consumers that come to buy skulls but otherwise you are avoided by your fellow villages and go to sleep alone every night. There doesn’t seem to be a moment of happiness that you’re building to. There’s a cliff you can throw yourself off of, but there doesn’t seem to be a point to that.
I come from a family of coal miners, men who ducked into dusty caves in search of a rich seam, who came out on the other side with a blackened face and lungs. Men who carried the coal dust to their grave. In the strangest way, I’m reminded of them as I play Skulljhabit. Perhaps it’s because of the cyclical nature of mining, the neverending cycle that eats young men whole. Whether through patronizing scrip or back breaking work, you were never leaving that coal town.
Skulljhabit can be explored in however long it takes you to do so, and it’s an interesting read with lots of little pieces to dig into and explore. The game is available for free on Porpentine’s Tumblr, which if you’re not already following you’re doing a disservice to yourself.