DEPRESSING, SLOW, AND KIND OF SWEET
Cahors Sunset is a lean little game made in Adobe Air, a program I didn’t know even existed until I tried to run Cahors Sunset. It caught my eye because it was strange, and almost absurdly French. You control Valentin Puget, a sixty-year-old native resident of Cahors, France, who is entering the twilight of his life. The game is simply a matter of choosing randomly presented decisions for Valentin, to whom the years are not kind. Each month a choice is made on how to allocate Valentin’s time and resources, which is followed by a random event, then memories, then current events.
The choices one makes to help manage Valentin’s life are always ones of sacrifice: helping his mood often comes at the cost of his health, helping his social life almost always hits his bank account. Managing the life of a retiree does not sound glamorous, and indeed it is not. Decisions like “Eat a Good Cheese” and “Stay at Home to Read” are not enlivening in the least, and that is, perhaps, the point.
Set in the ‘60s, Valentin’s own slow struggle to stay afloat is interspersed with news of the French Empire’s own gradual dissolution, and the most interesting parts of the game are often the simple reading of Valentin’s memories, current life, and those of his friends and family. The strange and troubled future of France contrasts with Valentin’s romantic past, and as the two meet closer in the middle, Valentin grows older and weaker, and the reasons that Valentin once had for living fade away.
The game slowly becomes a lingering existential question: how do you really want to live, how important is it to still be there in the morning? Valentin has children, and his children will miss him, but they have their own lives, even their own children. Many of the events and choices in the game blur together and repeat, giving a sense of monotony, all set to the backdrop of yellowed photos of Cahors. If you can keep Valentin alive to the age of seventy, the game runs out of memories to give you, and Valentin no longer cares about current events. In the suddenly frozen monotony of the aging man’s life, left behind by the future and distant from the past, it hardly feels like you’re playing a game anymore; you’re simply left to ask: how long do you want to live?
Cahors Sunset is absolutely not for everyone; it’s slow, existential, a touch maudlin, and French as a baguette in a beret. It has some negative aspects; namely, its difficulty works against the revelation of story and memory, in the risk of Valentin dying before all his memories are retrieved. It is, however, also a thoughtful game—one that asks us to strike a difficult balance between staying alive and staying afloat in a world that has simultaneously slowed and sped up. It’s a game that asks us to give some thought to the later years of life in a medium that has had little of such thought.