Cecile didn't hesitate when we asked what the game was about. "It's about moving," they said, "more specifically about moving a lot in your childhood, and how it caused me to feel very alienated, lonely, and strange." Anyone who's played Continental Drift would agree that the opening moments of the game are confronting. Everything happens all at once: you meet four blank walls, the model home you're in is ablaze, and then you're suddenly whisked away.
You go from home to vehicle to another unfamiliar home, over and over. You don't really get any breathing room, and you start to see these grid-like floor plans as houses and not homes. They're spaces that you inhabit temporarily, and there's the distinct feeling of reinvention that accompanies each new floor plan that you see. They're effective vehicles for tension, and each was meticulously crafted by Cecile from either the halls of their memory or by researching old floor plans for places that they'd lived in.
"I'd even look on Google Earth and spin it just to get a feel for how each place was designed," they said of the architecture in Continental Drift, "Trying to remember where stuff was spatially and having to reacquaint myself with those environments made me remember, in a way." Anyone who's spent some time moving around as a child will probably feel a kinship with this admission about how mutable memory can be.
Why? Homes feature so prominently in tales about belonging perhaps because they're an anchor - a thing that isn't meant to change, at least not for years. Those of us who have had to relocate repeatedly are robbed of that surety. "It's a struggle that you have - to reinvent yourself every time you move- to introduce yourself when you don't really know where you come from," Cecile is frank, and that same openness is seeded in the core of their game; it's about their relationship with the act of movement, and also with identity.
"These are tough questions to ask," Cecile laughs, but presses on when the topic loops back around to whether or not the claustrophobia invoked by the various levels was intentional. Working with Bitsy definitely presented its own challenges, but they were firm that being forced to think inside the box lent itself to Continental Drift's overall presentation. "When I was writing the game and thinking about the environments, the square mirrored how I felt being boxed in," is the explanation for the design ethos underpinning everything.
This ethos is most effectively realized when experience how the game strips away your ability to fully inhabit your spaces and to fully become acquainted with them until the very end. Your narrow world, four walls and obstacles, suddenly becomes impossibly open. You get to leave your confines, and it's particularly poignant because you're finally given the agency.
Being able to fly the coop feels momentous, and the tentative steps that you take outside when text flashes across the screen telling you that you belong are celebratory. The music by Nicky Flowers' project The Smynths with its looping synths and its bittersweet tone lends also itself well to conveying a certain hopefulness throughout despite your inability to act.
"I deliberately designed it so that you couldn't walk through the houses, but so that you could only go through time," Cecile noted, "I wanted to give people a bit of hope at the end, and it was also about the first, truly important choice that I made for myself." They're referring to their cross-continent move to Melbourne, a choice that they say was a selfish one, but one that they were pleased that they made for themselves.
Making the game was cathartic for them, not only because they had been thinking about it for years while embedded in the online zine scene, but also because of the almost autobiographical nature of the work. "I wish someone had told me these things before when I was young," Cecile says of the message behind the game, "but maybe I can be that person to someone else."
When I shared how much their work had affected me, a kid who had moved across the globe much like the silent protagonist of the game, it felt like taking those first steps again but this time with someone who understood. To me, Continental Drift felt like coming to terms with a lot of things about my childhood. "I felt like I was thinking for myself when I moved away from my family," I confess. "Yeah," they agreed, "I thought about what I wanted most instead of being influenced," though they were quick to mention that all interpretations of the game were welcome. That's the beauty of it, really. Continental Drift is a game about moving, but for its initial fixations, it's not really how it describes the action itself that sticks with you when it loops: it's the narrative you create within its spaces that will really feel worthwhile.