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Many years ago, during high school, I accidentally stumbled upon a video game whilst traversing the vast landscape of the Internet. This game was called “Judith”, created by indie game designer Terry Cavanagh. I meekly opened up the game, not exactly sure what to expect. My initial reaction upon seeing the graphical style of the game was “this is the worst DOOM clone I’ve ever seen!”
Judith, at least for me, is a very important game. It was one of the first games I played that opened my eyes to what the medium of video games is truly capable of. I grew up playing Nintendo, and then moved on to MMO’s and FPS’s like everyone else. But after playing Judith, I realized what I had been missing.
I am not saying that Judith is the best example of expression or art in video games ever made. But for me, it was one of my first experiences with a game that was trying to be more than just entertainment. It was trying to be personal. It was trying to be expressive. It was trying to have meaning.
Judith is highly interpretive, but the basic idea is this: A young romantic couple, Emily and Jeff, run off into an abandoned castle of sorts. Emily gets lost, sending the player through a series of flashbacks to the original couple that lived in this place. Their dark and foreboding story unfolds as Jeff explores the castle in the present and Judith explores the castle in the flashbacks. The story ends with a dual ending, one happy, the other depressing and somewhat horrific.
Visually, the game is nothing special. It is just an old-fashioned first-person game, similar in looks to games like “DOOM” or “Wolfenstein 3D”, but I think that is does a great job of removing unnecessary distractions, focusing on the elements of the game that are actually relevant, in this case, the narrative and characters.
Musically, it is quite simplistic. There is a little bit of piano and ambience here and there during key moments, broken by reasonably large sections of relative silence. Sometimes the best music is no music, and Judith proves this fact excellently.
Where Judith really shines, however, is in its story and immersion. The game puts the player in the characters place, and then lets the player become that character. No leveling up, no mindless button-mashing, no massively online multiplayer, no half hour long cutscenes, no in-app purchases. You are Judith. This is your castle. This is your life. Can you change it? No. You must accept it, just as Judith accepts it.
Judith revealed to me how games have the power to become just as meaningful and fulfilling as film, music, literature, poetry, and any other art form. It ignited my desire to discover and play more games like it. It inspired me to pursue a career in video game composition and sound design.
It showed me that games can be art.