PopMatters is moving to WordPress. We will publish a few essays daily while we develop the new site. We hope the beta will be up sometime late next week.

Esoterica America Episode I: The Entered Apprentice

The Tim and Eric's Awesome Show Great Job of occult games.

Esoterica America Episode I: The Entered Apprentice

Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios
Rated: NR
Players: 1
Price: $3.00
Platforms: XBox 360
Developer: V7 Entertainment
Release date: 2011-06

Like a lot of teenagers, I developed an interest in paganism as a girl. I believed that by burning incense and wearing special braided bracelets I could tap into the wisdom of the cosmos. Eventually I discovered I was about as psychic as a rock and, well, there went that business.

Esoterica America is very much the spitting image of those adolescent dabblings in the occult; it's a laughable mish-mash of hokey pseudo-science, New Age spiritualism, and self-help book platitudes. I daresay there is no better word for it in the world than "juvenile."

The premise of the game, roughly speaking, is of following 21-year-old Sam Collins's road trip around mystical Washington D.C., enlightening the leaders of various secret societies and lodges with his prodigal gifts. In the course of this trek, he meditates, fights off distractions by making chanting sounds, and solves a few easy puzzles, curing people of their stutters and homophobia.

Such a game could easily be tons of fun and campy as all get-out, but more than anything else, Esoterica America feels like it's trying too hard and attempting to be minimalist at the same time -- not a particularly good combination. Were the game simply not tasteful, that would be one thing. This, however, is amateurish drudgery combined with the worst sort of childish entitlement seen spouted from positions of ignorance. And, yes, by that I do indeed mean the in-game encyclopedia entry on how mystics need to "take back" the swastika and the pointed white hood for the good of all mankind. This was about when I was sorely tempted to just shut the game off. But by that point, I'd already given the developers my 240 Microsoft points and, gratefully short as it is, I decided I may as well muster through to the end.

Thankfully, while I still don't believe the game was worth the time spent playing it, it did indeed turn into a vaguely interesting thing to see through. Maybe it's the black and white ink portraits (easily my favorite part of the art design -- very "student film"), maybe it's the excruciatingly bad voice acting, maybe it's the idea of representing meditation as a shoot-em-up without the projectiles, but Esoterica America devolves from simply awful into delicious Ed Wood territory in fairly short order. This is the sort of Adult Swim trashiness of Tim and Eric's Awesome Show Great Job, played too straight to be clever satire but played far too loose to get up in arms about. For all the grievances I might hold for its pseudo-science, its bastardization of Carl Sagan quotes to suit some bricolage spiritualist tripe, or its corny misappropriation of Hubble telescope images, the game still remains too aware of its own absurdity to hate it. There's even a little Rastafarian redneck version of Duck Hunt hidden in one of the first rooms.

Granted there are other dreadful things about Esoterica America, namely that it's poorly animated, buggy, uneven, short, pointless, lazy and horrifically unfunny. A proper takedown of Illuminati, Freemasons, and New Age spiritualism I could stand to see in a game -- heck, can you imagine a game mocking Scientology? I'd pay to see that -- but this remains simply cartoonish. Were this the work of an early teenager, I might find it endearing. Unfortunately, Esoterica America suffers from the same afflictions of creator vanity as Sequence, and I'm forced to confront the reality that this game was produced, designed and sold by men over the age of 18, against all odds and decency.

It's as if I need to compile a guide on what not to do as an indie game developer. It isn't that independent games cannot be personal (Jason Rohrer's Passage is more than testament to this), but there is an absurd level of prattishness that comes with this degree of narcissism. Oh, and the pretentiousness. When you choose to namedrop Baudrillard, dear designers, and then proceed to feature an Xbox 360 in your character's house and have him pick up a book which shares the title of your game, it isn't actually that clever.

Throw in a little more scatological humor and meandering tangents and I might be tempted to call Esoterica America Episode I a neat little sophomoric comedy for the college crowd. Unfortunately, I seriously doubt a game like this will be winning anyone's affection -- even of the ironic Plan 9 from Outer Space type -- any time soon.


Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology and hosting provider that we have less than a month, until November 6, to move PopMatters off their service or we will be shut down. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to save the site.





Laura Veirs Talks to Herself on 'My Echo'

The thematic connections between these 10 Laura Veirs songs and our current situation are somewhat coincidental, or maybe just the result of kismet or karmic or something in the zeitgeist.


15 Classic Horror Films That Just Won't Die

Those lucky enough to be warped by these 15 classic horror films, now available on Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection and Kino Lorber, never got over them.


Sixteen Years Later Wayne Payne Follows Up His Debut

Waylon Payne details a journey from addiction to redemption on Blue Eyes, The Harlot, The Queer, The Pusher & Me, his first album since his 2004 debut.


Every Song on the Phoenix Foundation's 'Friend Ship' Is a Stand-Out

Friend Ship is the Phoenix Foundation's most personal work and also their most engaging since their 2010 classic, Buffalo.


Kevin Morby Gets Back to Basics on 'Sundowner'

On Sundowner, Kevin Morby sings of valleys, broken stars, pale nights, and the midwestern American sun. Most of the time, he's alone with his guitar and a haunting mellotron.


Lydia Loveless Creates Her Most Personal Album with 'Daughter'

Given the turmoil of the era, you might expect Lydia Loveless to lean into the anger, amplifying the electric guitar side of her cowpunk. Instead, she created a personal record with a full range of moods, still full of her typical wit.


Flowers for Hermes: An Interview with Performing Activist André De Shields

From creating the title role in The Wiz to winning an Emmy for Ain't Misbehavin', André De Shields reflects on his roles in more than four decades of iconic musicals, including the GRAMMY and Tony Award-winning Hadestown.


The 13 Greatest Horror Directors of All Time

In honor of Halloween, here are 13 fascinating fright mavens who've made scary movies that much more meaningful.


British Jazz and Soul Artists Interpret the Classics on '​Blue Note Re:imagined'

Blue Note Re:imagined provides an entrance for new audiences to hear what's going on in British jazz today as well as to go back to the past and enjoy old glories.


Bill Murray and Rashida Jones Add Another Shot to 'On the Rocks'

Sofia Coppola's domestic malaise comedy On the Rocks doesn't drown in its sorrows -- it simply pours another round, to which we raise our glass.


​Patrick Cowley Remade Funk and Disco on 'Some Funkettes'

Patrick Cowley's Some Funkettes sports instrumental renditions from between 1975-1977 of songs previously made popular by Donna Summer, Herbie Hancock, the Temptations, and others.


The Top 10 Definitive Breakup Albums

When you feel bombarded with overpriced consumerism disguised as love, here are ten albums that look at love's hangover.


Dustin Laurenzi's Natural Language Digs Deep Into the Jazz Quartet Format with 'A Time and a Place'

Restless tenor saxophonist Dustin Laurenzi runs his four-piece combo through some thrilling jazz excursions on a fascinating new album, A Time and a Place.


How 'Watchmen' and 'The Boys' Deconstruct American Fascism

Superhero media has a history of critiquing the dark side of power, hero worship, and vigilantism, but none have done so as radically as Watchmen and The Boys.


Floodlights' 'From a View' Is Classicist Antipodal Indie Guitar Pop

Aussie indie rockers, Floodlights' debut From a View is a very cleanly, crisply-produced and mixed collection of shambolic, do-it-yourself indie guitar music.


CF Watkins Embraces a Cool, Sophisticated Twang on 'Babygirl'

CF Watkins has pulled off the unique trick of creating an album that is imbued with the warmth of the American South as well as the urban sophistication of New York.


Helena Deland Suggests Imagination Is More Rewarding Than Reality on 'Something New'

Canadian singer-songwriter Helena Deland's first full-length release Someone New reveals her considerable creative talents.


While the Sun Shines: An Interview with Composer Joe Wong

Joe Wong, the composer behind Netflix's Russian Doll and Master of None, articulates personal grief and grappling with artistic fulfillment into a sweeping debut album.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.