I find it hard not to be fascinated by creative people. On some level I am always jealous of anyone who can somehow flip a switch in their brain and command the arcane powers of talent and inspiration to come up with something original, whether that be a short story, a one-minute music track or a haiku-length game on Twine. That’s why I’m really enjoying this current trend in gaming of having the player not only inhabit a virtual world, but also meet and in some ways get to know the supposed creators of those worlds. Games like The Vanishing of Ethan Carter or The Beginner’s Guide are great examples of this, exploring certain aspects of how creators relate to their creations, but there is another game which has that question at the very heart of its thematic make-up.

The story of The Talos Principle had many philosophical and religious themes sloshing around, but mostly focused on ideas about consciousness and what it meant to be human. For a deeper crack at creativity we had to wait for Road To Gehenna, the DLC which cast you as the messenger of Elohim, the antagonistic deity of the original game, tasked with freeing the robots banished by him before he realized the error of his ways. In a world first designed to simply be a dump for those who dared defy the one true God, you find a lush landscape and a flourishing community who you now need to convince of the reality of the upcoming apocalypse.


As you puzzle your way through the levels you learn about how the denizens of Gehenna have managed to at least mentally escape their confinement by writing stories, making ASCII art and simply talking to one another on a network of terminals each one has in their cells. The silly stories that read like the worst fanfiction dredged from the bowels of Tumblr, the text adventure games and the rudimentary ‘art’ they share on the Gehenna message board lets them forget the reality of having had their creator abandon them to wait indefinitely in prison cells they have no hope of escaping.

However, it’s not the art itself that gives their lives meaning, but the act of sharing it with others and seeing how they react. After they create a story and release it into the message board of Gehenna their art becomes little more than the seeds of conversation for others to grow. They aren’t really too interested in greatness or legacy and find hope in the way their works bring others together.

As the game unfolds, you also get to discover the story of how the first robot to be exiled to Gehenna designed the network everyone talks on, the appropriately-named Admin turns out to be a creator with a very different relationship to the works of his hands. This prodigy-hacker AI is revealed to have not only rigged the terminal system linking the prison cells to the archive, thus allowing the prisoners to communicate, but to also be responsible for the beautiful world outside. Since all Elohim needed of this world was to incarcerate the un-loyal, he hadn’t bothered with creating anything more than the prison cells, the rest had to be finished up by Admin. Because Admin had only known the environments of Talos Project, Gehenna ended up looking a lot like the world you experience in the main game. This is why the zones in Road To Gehenna conform to the same architectural styles as The Talos Principle and why there are any puzzles outside of the prison cells to begin with.


In a familiar oppressed-becomes-the-oppressor turn of events, when you arrive and start talking about the apocalypse, imploring the denizens of Gehenna to listen to Elohim’s summons and transcend, Admin reveals a side of him he had kept hidden from others. Leaving Gehenna to ruin is something he simply cannot tolerate and he ends up manipulating the forums in shady and illicit ways in order to convince others not to leave. Like a crazed monarch he forgets that the Gehenna he created is simply a shell and the survival of the people is in the end way more important than the survival of his creation.

A similarly obsessed creator is explored in The Magic Circle. Broadly speaking, it tells the story of Ismail Gilder, a legendary game designer who simply cannot finish his game due to misplaced feelings about leaving a grandiose legacy. You step in as a beta tester of his hopeless project and, by seeing his ideas in action, albeit in very unfinished and crude forms, you get to know this developer in whose world you tread. At the start Ishmael seems like a misunderstood, starry-eyed artist who just wants his vision to become reality. As you play further you realize that his games never get finished because he just has no idea how to let them go. He is lost after the unexpected explosive popularity of his first text adventure game, raised on a pedestal as a legendary game designer, and doesn’t want to risk being hurled down from it.


If Road To Gehenna shows a creator who is obsessed with getting more people to see his work, believing that if no one is around to witness it, the work would lose all meaning, The Magic Circle provides the opposite – an artist who does not want the world to see his work. After years of hype around his upcoming project he simply cannot live with the possibility of it being ridiculed after coming out, a thought which cripples his creative process and leaves all of his team’s work in the developer’s wasteland you get to navigate while playing the game.

The mystery of the relationship of creator to their creation is at least as old as the oldest myths on Earth and, having been explored by artists working in other media over the ages it’s really exciting to see this being tackled in games. We can only hope that this will be the medium that finally provides us with the tools to once and for all settle this creativity question to rest.