Critic - The Cosmic Wheel Sisterhood

The Cosmic Wheel Sisterhood : Destiny in the Stars

Tarot: the comeback in videogames

In recent years, the incorporation of tarot card motifs into video games has skyrocketed. This trend extends across a diverse range of titles, each bringing its own creative interpretation of the cards. Notable examples include Dragon Age: Inquisition, where they are assigned to different characters, adding a dimension of personality and destiny to each of them. In Cyberpunk 2077, arcana take the form of murals in Night City, creating a mysterious, occult atmosphere in a futuristic world. The Persona series also incorporates tarot cards as character symbols, reinforcing the game’s archetypes and themes. In addition, Final Fantasy XIV features a healing class based entirely on divination cards, where players use cards to summon healing powers. This creative use of cards in video games extends far beyond these examples, with many other works exploring this rich source of inspiration, including the recently released The Cosmic Wheel Sisterhood, which made tarot cards the central element of its gameplay.

Fortuna, heroin of The Cosmic Wheel Sisterhood
Fortuna, heroin of The Cosmic Wheel Sisterhood

Although today associated with divination and the occult, tarot cards actually have a long history as playing instruments. They are made up of 22 major arcana, each with profound symbolic meanings, as well as the suits of swords, staffs, deniers and cups. Originally, these cards were used for games, underscoring the deep historical link between tarot and gambling. It is precisely this rich and versatile history that fuels the contemporary fascination with tarot cards. The resurgence of tarot in recent years is often interpreted as a reaction beyond divination, towards a more introspective and spiritual use. Many people now see tarot card readings as a means of self-exploration, reflection on personal issues and spiritual solace. This more holistic perspective on tarot has also influenced the world of video games, where tarot cards have become a powerful tool for telling stories rich in symbolism, self-exploration and reflection on universal themes. Thus, the growing presence of tarot cards in video games testifies to the enduring importance of this age-old tradition and its adaptability to new forms of creative expression.

The resurgence of the tarot has been a frequent topic of media and online discussion in recent years. This renewed interest in these divinatory cards has been interpreted by some as having more to do with personal well-being than the occult, a perspective that seems entirely legitimate. Instead of seeing tarot cards solely as a means of mystical divination, many of today’s card-readers emphasize their usefulness in shedding light on a variety of subjects and prompting critical reflection on a variety of issues. The themes present in the cards themselves, symbolizing a journey from the innocence of the Fool to the fulfillment of the World, offer welcome comfort and perspective on life’s journey.

This resurgence of the tarot has left its mark on the video game industry, where cards have become powerful elements for telling stories rich in symbolism. Tarot cards carry deep and complex meanings, making them ideal for nuanced approaches to characters and themes in story-driven video games. They enable developers to convey complex ideas with an economy of visual elements, using tarot imagery to enrich narrative depth.

Some tarot illustrations from Cyberpunk 2077
Some tarot illustrations from Cyberpunk 2077

An impressive example of this creative use of tarot cards can be found in Cyberpunk 2077. The game features a captivating side quest entirely linked to the tarot’s major arcana, aptly titled Fool On The Hill. This quest involves tracking down tarot graffiti scattered around Night City, each associated with a specific character or event in the game. For example, the symbol of the Fool, representing potential, is obtained when the main character, V, embarks on his mercenary career, while the meaning of the World, symbolizing the end of a cycle, is revealed at the conclusion of the main story. Each ending of the game is also named after a major arcana, such as the Star, symbolizing wishes and inspiration, for the Aldecaldo ending, or the Sun, symbolizing happiness, for the ultimate achievement of becoming a legendary mercenary. This subtle yet meaningful use of tarot cards adds a profound dimension to the gaming experience, while immersing players in a world rich in symbolism and meaning.

Tarot in The Quarry
Tarot in The Quarry

Many video games also associate their characters with specific tarot cards, reinforcing archetypes and story themes. The House of the Dead series is a classic example, where bosses are typically based on tarot cards such as the Magician, the Moon and the Emperor, adding a symbolic dimension to the confrontations. Dragon Age: Inquisition takes a similar approach, assigning major arcana to its characters, and even evolving arcana symbols according to the player’s choices. For example, the Solas character can change from the Hermit, symbolizing inner guidance, to the Tower, symbolizing chaotic change, depending on the player’s decisions.

Tarot in Dragon Age: Inquisition
Tarot in Dragon Age: Inquisition

Some games go even further, subtly integrating references to the tarot. Fire Emblem: Three Houses is an excellent example of this approach, where the crests, special insignia worn by the characters, are based on the major arcana. For example, Seiros is associated with the High Priestess, symbolizing mystery and intuition, while the Beast is linked to the Devil arcana, adding a layer of symbolism to the story. Even in games with no direct connection to the tarot, creative fans often create tarot cards to represent characters and events, assigning arcana based on different characteristics and character traits, demonstrating the versatility and continuing influence of this age-old tradition in the world of video games.

The growing presence of tarot cards in video games is a trend that looks set to persist and develop into the future. Even those who don’t necessarily have a prior interest in tarot can learn more by playing video games that incorporate these cards. Tarot cards have become versatile symbols and valuable narrative building blocks. Most players have already encountered characters such as the Hermit, the Magician, the Priestess, the Emperor and many others, enriching their understanding of the archetypes and symbolic themes present in tarot.

Abramar, the behemoth that will accompany us on our adventure
Abramar, the behemoth that will accompany us on our adventure

In this resurgence of the tarot, video games have firmly established themselves in this cultural and spiritual trend. Video games have demonstrated their ability to fully exploit the narrative, symbolic and emotional potential of tarot cards, adding an extra layer of immersive experience for players. A compelling example is The Cosmic Wheel Sisterhood, developed by studio Deconstructeam, which fully embraces this vision. The game features gameplay centered on the creation and use of tarot cards, offering players a unique and mystical experience. This creative approach paves the way for new forms of narrative and artistic expression in the world of video games, making the tarot a captivating element of this constantly evolving medium.

A Tale of a Cosmic Witch

The Cosmic Wheel Sisterhood tells the story of Fortuna, an immortal witch exiled for a millennium to a surprisingly cosy asteroid by her clan leader, Aedana, after prophesying catastrophe. At the start of the plot, Fortuna has spent 200 bored years, deprived even of the company of her trusty tarot deck, and has finally had enough. So she casts a forbidden spell to summon Abramar, an otherworldly behemoth with an excessive number of eyes and a mouth that splits disturbingly into a flame-licked rictus. Fortuna enters into a contract with Abramar to regain her freedom and, if desired, revenge on Aedana. One of the story’s central questions revolves around whether her banishment has transformed her into a vengeful, wiser and more forgiving person, or perhaps a combination of both.

By establishing a link with Abramar, Fortuna acquires the ability to create her own divinatory cards, piecing them together from myths, legends and her own troubled memories of the game world. Another aspect of card manipulation is the gradual understanding of the cards’ personal or more general significance. At first, you might think that the main cards are the work of an artist having fun with fantastic tropes and popular clichés, such as iron golems or winding roads into the sunset. However, each card collection has a precise resonance that develops throughout the construction and reconstruction of the deck.

There's a real mystique to card-making
There’s a real mystique to card-making

In addition, divination cards serve as the main means of interaction with the game’s other characters, a lavishly illustrated group of witches. Each of these characters has a delightful musical theme, a distinctive brand of witchcraft and a firm stance on the lively political issues that animate the universe of The Cosmic Wheel Sisterhood. These interactions are richly layered, revealing complex relationships, conflicts and alliances within this vibrant, mystical world. It’s worth noting, for example, that on the soundtrack composed by Fingerspit, each track is named like a tarot card, reinforcing immersion in this universe.

The sumptuous soundtrack is a key element in giving the game a memorable personality. For example, each character is enhanced by musical pieces that reflect their individuality. Jasmine’s appearance is accompanied by a gentle melody, while Dahlia, the fierce-tempered leader of the warrior witches, is accompanied by a punchier rhythm. The music adds a powerful emotional dimension to the gaming experience, strengthening the bonds between players and characters.

While Fortuna remains confined to her asteroid for most of the game, she is soon granted permission to receive visitors, who arrive at her window on broomsticks, flying carpets and the like to discuss old grievances, love affairs and various occult shenanigans, as well as essential trivia such as the virtues of pizza. Most of these conversations end with a card reading, during which you draw one or more of your Major Arcana to answer the questions posed by your guest, choosing from a handful of answers per card.

Choice by card

The fundamental question raised by The Cosmic Wheel Sisterhood concerns the very nature of the choices offered in video games. This raises the question of whether these choices are simply playful, whimsical elements that give the player a sense of urgency and agency, or whether they have a darker potential, allowing the player to transgress moral and ethical boundaries by imposing his will on characters who can’t defend themselves. The game invites us to consider the second option as the driving force behind its plot. As Fortuna, the reasons for this exile become the central pivot of the story. Players are confronted with complex moral choices and potentially troubling consequences.

In this Deconstructeam opus, the question of the impact of player choices on the characters they control is at the heart of the experience. The work raises the question of whether, when the game’s characters submit to the player’s choices, they really retain their free will. The game also raises the question of the legitimacy of the advice given to characters, since this means influencing their destiny and directing them along paths they might not otherwise have taken. This exploration of the relationship between player and virtual characters offers a fascinating perspective on video games as an interactive medium.

Every decision has a price tag that's much higher than you might think
Every decision has a price tag that’s much higher than you might think

At the heart of The Cosmic Wheel Sisterhood’s gameplay is a deck of tarot cards to build, called an Oracle. Players have access to the energies of fire, water, earth and air, which they must manage to create cards based on a variety of emotions. These emotional cards are used to offer answers to the dilemmas and problems faced by Fortuna’s friends. For example, one of Fortuna’s friends, a four-armed witch, dreads revealing her true identity to her human lover, and Fortuna’s tarot cards can help her develop an appropriate course of action, or not. As you create more cards from accumulated energy, you unlock more varied advice options that influence the different narrative paths Fortuna’s friends take, demonstrating a brilliant integration of game mechanics into the plot.

The Cosmic Wheel Sisterhood manages to make the player’s choices truly meaningful. The game repeatedly suggests that the decisions Fortuna makes in conversations will have a “dramatic” impact on her destiny, and this feature is quickly revealed during the course of the game, but also much more cruelly at the end. For example, it is possible to lie to an authority figure charged with verifying Fortuna’s sentence, but unlike many other games where the “lie” option is often the simplest solution, here the lie is immediately detected, in the same way it would be in a real conversation with a member of a parole board. This attention to realism and narrative coherence strengthens the player’s commitment and makes them responsible for their choices, while enriching the gaming experience by making it more immersive and engaging.

In another poignant case, the game confronts players with a heartbreaking decision. Fortuna has the option of destroying her own coven, but this choice is presented before players have had a chance to meet the other coven members. At this stage, the coven appears as a vague, impersonal entity, filled with faceless enemies in the player’s mind. However, it’s only after making this decision that the game reveals to players some of Fortuna’s old friends through a camping flashback. This revelation comes at a time when guilt and regret have already taken root in the player. Conversations with these friends, before the events on the asteroid and at the coven, are both entertaining and authentic, and the information they provide suddenly becomes relevant to the challenges ahead.

Sisterhood is at the heart of the game
Sisterhood is at the heart of the game

A narrative with an economy of words

The writing in The Cosmic Wheel Sisterhood is a treasure trove throughout the adventure. Each text instantly breathes life into characters the player has just met after only a few minutes of play. Every sentence is imbued with character and intent, and every conversation becomes a memorable interaction whose ramifications can profoundly influence the lives of the inhabitants of this cosmic universe.

This game tackles several extremely deep and thoughtful concepts, while remaining rooted in deeply human emotions, matured over time. As Fortuna, the player can indulge in self-mutilation after being imprisoned for centuries in a small house on an asteroid. However, the game also explores the darker, more vulnerable aspects of the human experience, revealing Fortuna’s emotional and psychological scars, such as her tendency to mutilate herself to feel something in her isolation, or her attempts to end her life, albeit physically impossible as an immortal witch.

Although The Cosmic Wheel Sisterhood is a resolutely post-human adventure, it never abandons its sense of humanity. It deftly uses this post-humanization to explore delicate, topical themes, such as the transition of transgender women without the societal pressures and everyday norms we’ve become accustomed to. This emotional depth and ability to tackle mature subjects while preserving the authenticity of human emotions make The Cosmic Wheel Sisterhood a gaming experience that remains engraved in the player’s memory long after the adventure is over.

One scene in the game that touched me personally the most features a transgender woman who joins the Sisterhood, where Fortuna meets her as she tries to adjust to her new life after leaving Earth. The writing in The Cosmic Wheel Sisterhood is distinguished by its respect and empathy for this character. It never indulges in disparagement or divulges the details of this woman’s past life. Instead, the game looks resolutely to the future with a sense of hope, focusing on how she can finally be herself, free from the constraints of a society that doesn’t actively seek to punish her. This delicate yet positive approach offers a refreshing perspective on the transition of transgender women, and serves as a model for respectful, emancipatory representation in interactive media.

A game for the future
A game for the future

The game’s writing tackles a variety of complex topics and emotions, including terminal illness, gender dysphoria and estrangement from family members. Yet it does so with a grace that evokes the image of a caring teacher sitting next to you at a campfire, sharing deep, heartwarming stories while respecting each individual’s sensibilities. This empathetic, caring approach enriches the gaming experience by creating deep emotional connections between players and characters, while encouraging deeper reflection on important real-life issues.

An interior world-building

The world-building is simply masterful, a monumental feat when you consider that most of the game takes place in Fortuna’s home. Each visit from Fortuna’s friends, after 200 years of isolation, is an opportunity to learn more about the state of the Fraternity since her departure. These conversations not only provide details about the world as a whole, but also shed light on the place we, as players, occupy.

We discover what the clan leader, Aedana, has been up to since she ordered Fortuna’s imprisonment. We learn how the Brotherhood guides women leaving Earth to become witches. The game manages to convey the equivalent of an entire world-building novel in only about six hours, and it’s a remarkable feat to maintain the player’s interest while avoiding the pitfalls of excessive exposition. Instead, the game’s universe unfolds progressively and naturally behind the four walls of Fortuna’s house, creating total immersion.

The adventure takes place almost exclusively on the same asteroid.
The adventure takes place almost exclusively on the same asteroid.

Building the cards

Forming a bond with Abramar, Fortuna acquires the fascinating ability to create her own divinatory cards, drawing on myths, legends and her own memories. Another facet of her work with the deck’s cards lies in the progression of her understanding of their meaning, whether personal or more universal. At first, it might seem that the main elements of the cards are simply the product of an artist’s imagination, playing with fantastical clichés and popular tropes, such as iron golems or roads winding into the sunset. However, as the deck is constructed and reconstructed, each set of elements reveals a precise resonance that takes on its full meaning.

These card readings are attractively written. The writing manages to blend a contemporary register with fantastic jargon, creating a mix that intelligently enriches the plot. The act of drawing cards also lends a playful atmosphere to your conversations with other witches and entities, emerging from a foundation of trust and empathy, which proves extremely rewarding. Card readings generate arcane energy that you can spend on designing other cards, each different interpretation producing different elements. It can be tempting to predict the worst possible scenario simply to harvest a few Fire or Earth points to create a more powerful card.

However, it’s worth noting that this tension is gentle: at times, the resource system can steer you towards answers and character dynamics you might otherwise have overlooked. This adds a subtle layer of strategy to the gameplay, encouraging players to weigh the benefits of elemental resources against the narrative and emotional choices they wish to make for Fortuna and the other characters.

The instruction will provide valuable clues for future draws
The instruction will provide valuable clues for future draws

The Cosmic Wheel Sisterhood is characterized by this symbiotic alternation between conversation and card creation, but it also undergoes some surprising formal mutations. Flashbacks to Fortuna’s previous earthly existence are integrated, and some of them contain simple mini-games that add variety to the gameplay. What’s more, you can delve into Fortuna’s library to study historical documents or play a surprisingly varied selection of interactive mini-fictions. These literary diversions earn you a few bonus elemental points while providing clues as to how best to combine cards to influence the unfolding plot.

A feminist and progressive work of art

In the game world, sisterhood, feminism and post-humanism are at the heart of this cosmic tale. The Cosmic Wheel Sisterhood stands out for its unwavering commitment to sisterhood. Although the title includes the word “sisterhood”, it’s surprising how thoroughly the game explores this theme. Here, men are absent, with the exception of the demon Abramar, creating a space where witches are the undisputed heroines. Regardless of their origin, gender identity, skin color or mode of communication, each witch embodies her own personality, asserting her unique identity. The player has the freedom to choose to collaborate with these powerful witches or to oppose them, a decision that highlights the themes of cooperation, community protection, tenderness and communication. Opting for solidarity is rewarded by the love and understanding that result from these interactions.

Inclusive writing plays an essential role in conveying Deconstructeam’s progressive message. By adopting inclusive terminology and narrative, the game reinforces the idea that sisterhood transcends the boundaries of gender identity. Every character is respected in their full expression, whatever their particularities, and this sends a powerful message about the value of each individual within the community. This inclusive writing is not limited to the surface, but is deeply rooted in the game’s story and dialogue, creating an environment where diversity is not only accepted but celebrated. In a highly narrative game, we can only admire this logical choice to convey the game’s message through words.

The work also stands out for its radical, progressive approach. Compared to other representations of femininity, this game adopts an openly queer and intersectional perspective. The game’s dialogues can give rise to stimulating political discussions, with characters such as Dahlia being fervently progressive. Dahlia advocates collective action, opposes imprisonment and supports taxes. She aspires to a future for witches based on true sisterhood rather than oppressive powers. By highlighting these progressive ideals in a profound and engaging way, the game breaks away from the usual stereotypes to offer a refreshing and necessary gaming experience.

Dahlia, a central character in the game
Dahlia, a central character in the game

The Cosmic Wheel Sisterhood takes post-humanism a step further, highlighting how extraordinary characters find the support they need to be themselves. They are freed from the constraints imposed by patriarchal ideals and social expectations. They can love each other freely, develop their individual magical craft and live their lives according to their own desires. The game universe embodies the idea that our multiple identities can coexist harmoniously, helping to create a world where everyone can be authentically themselves.

Deconstructeam’s game is a striking example of how independent games can inspire a broader vision of diversity and inclusion. It encourages reflection on the need to create a better world where everyone has the freedom to be who they really want to be. The game encourages players to consider their own relationships with others and recognize the value of individual differences, while highlighting the power of sisterhood to achieve meaningful change. Ultimately, The Cosmic Wheel Sisterhood is an experience that can inspire action, inspire the desire to work together to create a more inclusive and egalitarian world for all.

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