Cultist simulator is a game about starting your own cult, gathering lore and occult treasures, avoiding agents of the Suppression Bureau, summoning monsters and maybe ascending to immortality. Sounds fun, right?
Well, the first time I played, I was a menial laborer at a hospital who gets laid off. I had one scrap of occult knowledge which kept giving me cosmic Dread. I got a new job as an accountant, but my boss kept making me work overtime for no extra money. What tiny money I made was sucked up by illness and buying random books of lore. I died of existential dread.
At no point did I come close to doing anything magical. I was too busy trying to survive. The game has no tutorial and very little in-game help. The lore itself is based on an entirely new mythology created for the game, so any of your own experiences with occult stuff in the real world is useless here. Every part of this game is a damn mystery. It is extremely frustrating.
Yet, I kept trying. On my third play-through, I was given the option of playing a wealthy heir. No longer worried about starving to death or unreasonable bosses, I had some room to experiment. I still had the same “oh shit, I better figure this out quick” mentality from my past games which gave me the discipline to experiment with purpose.
Things started to come together. The lore and mythology made a little more sense. I learned to deal with existential dread. I discovered how to make friends. The game was still mysterious but step by step, I slowly began to make sense of it. Small achievements in retrospect were huge accomplishments at the moment because it was something hard won and bitterly learned.
Which is kind of what dealing with the occult in real life is like. Well played, Cultist Simulator, you have recreated the “What the fuck is all this?” that I felt from the first time I started reading about magic.
On that third game, I ascended to immortality. It wasn’t easy but it was fun. I’m on my fifth game and even though I know a lot more, it is still a fun and exciting challenge.
Part of what makes it so much fun is that mythology I mentioned. The designer created his own gods, magic system and secret histories. You learn tantalizing tidbits from the books your character reads. Piece by piece, the world comes into focus, but the order in which you get the pieces is random.
For example, the book, “the Locksmith’s Dreams, Volume One” reads like this.
The parallells in mystic dreams experienced by carpenters, masons and other artisans, and what they purport to reveal about the architecture of the world. Sometimes mordant, sometimes funny. No-one has ever explained why Galmier devoted herself to this quixotic exploration of artisans dreams.
“‘Time and again we hear of the Wood, which rises from the world’s foundation. All trees reach for light. What does the Wood reach for? Is there a difference between light and Light? I think the key to dreams of the Wood might be one of these – the one that isn’t exactly real.”
Yeah, I eat mysteries like that up.
Cultist Simulator is fun, but the thing I love most about it is that it is full of little inspirations. My brain bubbles when I play this game. Story ideas pop in my head. This is a game that simulates the experience of learning something obscure, but it also creates that fertile space where your brain is creating its own mysteries. A game like that is precious.