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Behind The Red Dice is a short, vivid enigma about listening to the clay -By Fsk

The back of Red Dice begins with an appeal to the nose. “First, the smell of rotten strawberries…” reads the opening text. “That lets you know you’re not dreaming.” It’s both a suggestive line and distance, even self-defeating: video games are devoid of the olfactory component, despite the fervent efforts of some peripheral makers. And yet, the smell persists. There’s a crimson flash, as if you’ve taken damage, and the screen fades to reveal a drowsy but cheerful-looking woman standing on a bed. On the bed, a “reddish, dry stain”.

Free-to-play in the browser, Behind the Red Dies is a game from Domino Club, a group of anonymous gamejammers who have created some of the most amazing, scariest and distinctive pieces of digital art I’ve ever stumbled upon. . It’s a small, powerful work of curiosity and suspense, visually reminiscent of both Silent Hill and Animal Crossing, which dangles the curious promise of a “void ending.”

A screenshot of the back of the red dice, showing a suggestive phrase from the game along with the options

behind red dice

Moving forward with the arrow keys, you leave the bedroom and explore a series of shadowy backrooms, each with the same garish floral skirting boards and beige paneling. Inlays are spread across the wooden floor, leading you between chambers or disappearing under bookcases. The soundtrack is a mix of slow electronic guitar chords and dialtones that manages to feel at once sad, dreary, and empty. There are a handful of other people in this maze, but they only make dismissive noises when you approach them. Instead, you’ll receive terrifying messages from soil in glass test tubes spread on tables throughout campus.

Some of these messages are sad note-to-self: “Sleep sounds good in this world”; “From this moment on nothing tragic will happen”. Other people seem to have an extraneous purpose of address: “I know you’re all my siblings now. The music goes on…” You’re given the option of “keeping” these messages, which allowing them to be read again, or “passing them”, which causes the screen to flash and the test tube specimen to become non-interactive. While there are some doors that stay locked until you’ve gone through every last room, the choice to keep messages or pass them on is of no practical consequence in the game.

It’s possible that what you’re doing by placing the phrases is reconstructing a backstory, as is a feature of the documents found in many other games. Maybe even an autobiography. The opening scene may be about one’s first experience of menstruation, and is a diary entry about a different child. There may also be an elaborate, mechanical puzzle to solve: in some rooms, you stumble upon dot diagrams with number-letter sequences. You’ll also find plant pots in stages of growth and decline: bare earth, a single twig, leaves, flowers, and scattered soil. I wonder if there’s some other kind of sequence hiding out there just waiting to be dug up.

A screenshot of Behind the Red Dice, showing a piece of paper with a dot diagram and a letter-number sequence.

A screenshot of the back of the red dice, showing a suggestive phrase from the game along with the options

behind red dice

But I’m reluctant to join the dots too keenly, even as those roots draw me irresistibly between rooms and worktables. I think the power of the game comes not from the acts of eventual recombination, but from discovering how retaining or “passing” certain words changes their mood and the space around them – An agenda that decidedly depends on replaying the game, rather than completing it.

One of the more cryptic lines is: “My feet are dancing. I hear this sound blurry.” What conclusion am I drawing when I choose to leave that observation as I found it? Am I suggesting that it belongs in this tired but fascinating world? If I “pay it forward”, am I washing my hands off the feelings expressed, or making an effort to share them? How does keeping it or discarding it affect the reading of my neighboring phrases? And why can I still smell strawberries?