Mutazione is a very cool adventure game from Die Gute Fabrik. You play a teen girl from “the big city” visiting her dying grandfather, who lives in the titular Mutazione: a small, close-knit island community that broke off from the mainland after a meteor crash years ago. Everyone there (well, mostly everyone!) has mutated as an aftereffect of the blast. Although, the town still seems like a decent place. Mutazione is pretty and kind of funky, with unique flora and fauna and a chill, small-town vibe.
As Kai, you explore the island, talk to all the inhabitants, and spend time with your granddad — who wants to teach you about the unique ecosystem and plant life of Mutazione.
I’m still a couple of hours in (it’s not a long game, as I understand, but I haven’t finished it just yet), but one storyline touched me especially in the opening chapters. Sure, the main story is poignant, with with its teen protagonist coming to terms with family, making connections, and dealing with death (and Kai has already had to grow up a bit, after her father’s death prior to when the game is set). The smaller side-stories are hitting me even harder, though, creating a layered portrait of life in this tiny community. Early on in the first couple of nights, a couple on the island has a barn-burner of a fight in the central bar. It’s the kind of nasty meltdown where just about everyone around them talks about it in the immediate aftermath.
That fight was about moving.
Graubert, a salty sea captain who runs the one and only ship between the mainland and Mutazione, wants to move to the big city. He’s drunk and belligerent in the bar, where he unsuccessfully tries to convince his pregnant partner Ailin they’d be so much better off there, in the excitement of the city, to start a new chapter of their life together.
Ailin, for her part, seems to really enjoy her life in the small community. She runs the spa; she loves her friends. She feels at home and accepted where she is, after all, a mutant lady. Most of the townspeople side with her — or at least they think Graubert was being a huge asshole in how he went about it (and he was). The couple’s core argument has no easy answers, however.
It was also unexpectedly poignant. I was ready for some deep, possibly heart-wrenching material with the grandfather, but this tough, tense, too-real fight between lovers about where they should live — mostly unrelated to the main plot — hit me right in the gut.
On a surface level, the whole big city vs. small town dynamic seems like it creeps into my life more often with every year that passes. I’m not exactly a small town girl, but I grew up in a pretty small city and always longed to live in a much bigger, more queer-friendly place. Now that I live in NYC, I love the vibrancy and diversity and breadth of life here. But I’d be lying if I said that sometimes (say, when the subway breaks down for the third time in a week and makes me an hour late for something), I wonder what life in a smaller community might be like. I think about living in a house with a yard for my dog. Some days I consider fully embracing the stereotype and moving to a farmhouse in New England to adopt another five pets.
I’m joking (mostly). And that’s especially because that stereotype comes with a massive dose of privilege. As much as I love hiking and mountains and life in the great outdoors, I’d more than miss my inclusive jiu jitsu community and the convenience of buying cold brew at 3 a.m. on my block. That’s pretty nice!
This scene also hit me because, well, I’ve done this dance before. I moved across the country to be with two very different partners that I loved dearly. It ultimately didn’t work out with either of them, also for different reasons.
But there’s a terrible, queasy, unstable feeling that comes with dating a partner who wants — or needs — to live a different life. They may love you very much, or believe they love you very much. Maybe they want you to come with, or base some of their own happiness on you picking up everything and uprooting for them. Maybe they love you, but they just don’t know what they want.
It is never easy.
Those partners meant the entire world to me both times. And with both of them, it wasn’t a split-second decision to grab a U-Haul. In each case, I had been dating the person for years. It always looked like the right thing to do.
Who knows? Someday it might be the right thing to do.
What Mutazione does so well is present this classic bit of drama in such a way that it feels very real, even heartbreaking, and in such a matter-of-fact way. Yeah, this is a game about a bunch of mutants that live in their own funky little town. But you encounter the fight through bits of gossip and a drunken conversation with Graubert and bartender Spike after the fact. You don’t watch a dramatic scene go down; you see its aftermath. That’s just as it is so often in real life, when friends or neighbors or family discuss some nasty piece of business between two partners who blew up in public, or when one of them confides in you afterwards about why they were acting so weird one night.
Relationships are never easy — not in the best of times, and never in the turmoil that exists when navigating changes in career and family and community. When one partner needs something the other can’t provide (especially if that’s a different mode of life) sometimes all the love in the world can’t fix the rift. It’s sad and true, and just one thing of many that Mutazione’s deeply empathetic worldview and writing does a great service to.