From Dust easily fits into the category of “god game,” though ironically you don’t play as a godly being. You’re a supernatural being, certainly. More speifically, you’re The Breath that can control the elements in small quantities—but you’re far from godly, initially.
I make this claim based on how much of the challenge in From Dust stems from dealing with unintended consequences. You must constantly be aware of how your actions can set off a chain of events within the environment: You create a dirt bridge so some villagers can cross a ravine, then the vegetation grows across that bridge, then a volcano erupts, then the lava sets the vegetation on fire, and the fire burns all the way back to the village, and all the while, you’re watching those initial men and women run across the map on their way to create a new village.
I let countless villages burn and their inhabitants drown as I played. I sent my men on suicide runs, hoping they could build a village in the path of lava before the lava engulfed them all. It took quite a few tries (and quite a few charred bodies) before I got the proper timing down on that one. I was a bad god, though obviously a limited one. I obviously wasn’t omniscient and couldn’t be omnipresent, and while I seemed to be a god of nature, able to pick up dirt and water and lava, I still couldn’t stop the natural disasters that constantly threatened my people. But then I started playing for Achievements, or rather for one Achievement in particular.
There’s an Achievement in From Dust called “Safe Journey” that you get for completing the game while losing less than five villages. It seems a daunting task at first since it’s pretty easy to lose more than five villages on a single level, let alone across the whole game. But in practice, it’s quite easy because From Dust is actually more of a puzzle game than a god game, and like all puzzle games, once you know the solution everything becomes a breeze. I knew what was coming and how to best prepare for it because I had seen it all before. During this second playthrough, I was—for all practical purposes—omniscient and omnipresent; I was more godly. From Dust is unique in that when you play a level multiple times, the additional knowledge that you gain from each attempt gives you a significant (and arguably unfair) advantage over the game’s challenges but that unfair knowledge makes you more like the character you’re playing—a supposedly godly being. In other words, cheating is narrativly justified. There’s a strong argument to be made that the only proper playthrough of From Dust is the second playthrough.
But my godly omniscience isn’t always enough to beat the level because I still have to wait on my people to get me my powers. Sometimes villages burn, not because I failed to protect them, but because the man who was supposed to get the repel lava power got lost along the way, doubled back for a bit, and took too long getting the power to save the village.
Even when I know what’s going to happen, I can only do so much. Knowing makes my job easier, but it’s also up to the people (and their A.I. pathfinding) to save themselves. I can control the world around the men, but I can’t control the men; I can only tell them what to do, how they do it is up to them. It turns out that I’m omniscient and omnipresent in the realm of nature, but in the realm of men all I can do is watch, which makes me an inherently less godly character. Concerning the religious paradox of fate versus free will, From Dust argues that free will should win.
Ironically, it’s only after becoming a better god that I realize the limitations of my power as a god over men. This makes From Dust a frustrating puzzle game at times, since success is sometimes out of my control but that also means this is perhaps the most accurate god game ever made.
Or to paraphrase Morpheus from The Matrix: I can only show you the repel lava power, you’re the one that has to get it.
You can follow the Moving Pixels blog on Twitter.
We all know how critical it is to keep independent voices alive and strong on the Internet. Your donation will help PopMatters stay viable through these changing and challenging times.