Learning about choice from an interactive game

Last night I played straight through a game. It’s an interactive novel called Creatures Such As We. I was searching for a game that wasn’t a shooter or an endless runner or a puzzle but a story. I also wanted a game where women were actually people and not just props to be killed or prizes for the winner.

Creatures Such As We promises that is inclusive, set in a beautiful environment, and philosophical. It also offers a choice of playing for free with ads or paying to play without ads. That was my first clue that game creator Linnea Glasser built in choice from the very beginning. I love to support artists and I hate ads so I chose to pay.

I was a bit surprised that the game was entirely text based. That’s probably because I only play inclusive philosophical games and there are not all that many of those. There’s Tengami and Monument where the fantasticly beautiful landscape is the point, but they’re puzzle games and I don’t enjoy solving puzzles, instead I find a walkthrough so I can get to the next unfolding box.

Looking for an interactive novel with a visual element I found a page that let me sort by “female protagonists”. Even though I’ve seen every one of Anita Sarkeesian’s videos I was quickly appalled at what counted as a female point of view character: a child or teen, silly or waiflike or buxom, who cooks or designs clothes or sells things on the street. I rapidly decided I could do without images.

Back to Creatures Such As We. When I dove into the story I was completely hooked and played straight through. Each time I was offered a choice it included a choice I could make. I could pick my age – and one age was close to retirement! I could pick my race and one choice was multiracial. I could pick my gender and one choice was other. In the game-within-a-game I fought monsters but could use talk as my weapon, so there was a non-violent path through the maze. Although the game falls into the category of dating simulator there is an option to just be friends. At the end of the game I could choose a different ending. Since there were so many choices I thought about replaying but I decided not to do it. The other choices were not as right for me as the ones I made. When the game was done I was done.

This was such a satisfying experience. I want a lot more experiences like that! I want experiences that let me play with being a different age and race and gender. I want to be immersed in a fantastic environment. I want my choices to steer the story. I want to feel like I don’t just live someone else’s story, I get to live my own.

It struck me that the choices offered in this game are the exact choices I look for in magic. I don’t want to have to step into the “Female” box and find my role limited to “Intuitive Priestess Of The Moon Mother Gate of Life”. I don’t want to have to step into the “Male” box and be “Intellectual Priest Of The Sun Striving To Be Worthy Of My Father”. I don’t want to have to be “white/light/good/educated” or “black/dark/evil/ignorant”. I don’t want to have to be constantly striving for renewal of my youth.

When you think about it, why should magic ever take away choices? Shouldn’t magic done properly open up choices? Make us more free, more whole, more able to steer the stories of our lives in a way that satisfies our deepest needs?

I am working to articulate a magic which uses most of the symbol set of the Western Magical Tradition, the elements and planets, while freeing them from the symbol sets of gender and race that put people into limited boxes. I want to construct a magic that lets us map the story of our lives as elegantly as Linnea Glasser mapped an interactive dating game.

If you play the game let me know if you liked it! Let Linnea know too.

Essential reading for the modern sacred prostitute

From Wikimedia

Are you a Qedishtu, a sacred prostitute? Deena Metzger wrote about them thirty years ago. As far as I know she was the first person to use the term in the context of contemporary practice. Because we are quick to forget the contributions of women I want to draw attention to her work.

Here is the opening paragraph of Re-Vamping the World: On the Return of the Holy Prostitute:

Once upon a time, in Sumeria, in Mesopotamia, in Egypt, in Greece, there were no whorehouses, no brothels. In that time, in those countries, there were instead the Temples of the Sacred Prostitutes. In these temples, men were cleansed, not sullied; morality was restored, not desecrated; sexuality was not perverted, but divine.

In the essay Metzger calls on women to take up the calling of the sacred prostitute as the gateway to the divine. This work, she says, redeems those who have lost connection with the divine. “The contemporary Holy Prostitute must be willing to try to bring the sacred to the one who is defiled; she must be the one to take in ‘the other’ – the one who makes love with ‘the other’ in order for him to be reconnected with community.”

When I first read this essay I had both historic and feminist critiques of these ideas. I understood that Canaanite priestesses were called prostitutes by Israelite prophets as a condemnation, not an accurate description; that Greek temple brothels were staffed with slaves; that there were never temple prostitutes in Egypt at all. I objected to the idea that women’s sexuality existed to serve men, even in the cause of bringing men to the divine.

On the other hand, I know from revealed experience that Metzger is speaking about something real. Shortly after I discovered the goddess Qadesh in the pages of academic texts she appeared to me in a dream. She told me she was the daughter of Asherah. She showed me a stone room painted gold with an altar on which burned incense as an offering to the goddess. She told me I should bring the men to this room and tell them about the goddess.

Thirty years later I see Metzger’s work differently. I recognize her poetic evocation of temples of prostitution as mythic history, creating an authorization for the work she was called to explore. Her subsequent work led her in different directions; since she wrote the essay she has worked as a speaker, writer, counselor, advocating for nature and animals, balancing solitude and community. She’s 81 now and you can find her work here, at deenametzger.net.

Although called by Qadesh, I haven’t used the term “qedishtu” to describe my work. In Ecstatic Ritual, Practical Sex Magic I use the Greek term “hetaera” to describe the sex magician, imagining both men and women embodying deity for one another in sacred touch. Also as an ordained priestess of Ecclesia Gnostica Catholica I regularly perform the Gnostic Mass which frames sexuality as a sacred path to the divine.

All my magical life I’ve resisted the equation of woman with feminine with passive and so Metzger’s celebration of receptivity doesn’t speak to me, but I find common ground with her when she talks about spirit. “If we become the world through love, then love is essentially a political act. If we become world reaching to the gods, then love is essentially a spiritual act that redeems the world.” We reach the gods when we recognize them in each other through the lens of love.

If you are interested in the path of the Qedishtu as a student or practitioner, Metzger’s foundational work deserves a look. You can find her essay in the anthology To be a Woman edited by Connie Zweig.