Uncritically, I consider myself a bit of an amalgamation of all the people I’ve ever met. Having reached my own ever-evolving conclusions on a wide range of topics and active hazards and impending dooms, never once did I reach those conclusions completely on my own. Still, there’s this big amorphous gulf between theory and praxis. No one’s doing this on their own. Who does the actual work of theory is always the biggest question to me. Who, when the endgame is change, enacts that change, by any means necessary? If it’s not me, then who is it, and what happens to them, and what can I do? What happens when the work to do the change seems constantly outpaced by the problem?

Take climate change, for example. It’s huge! There are so many cyclical components to it, consequences that impair future efforts, modes of discourse that absolutely bedevil and depress the shit out of newer generations. When I was a kid and in that phase of elementary school where we learned about social contracts and our responsibility as human beings, we mostly talked about helping to preserve the balance of our ecosystem in terms of pollution and recycling and orca whales. It seems daunting, when you think about emissions, microplastics, garbage, chemical and nuclear waste, and other material threats ad nauseam.       

WASTE EATER by cain asks the question: what if we just fuckin’ eat it? 

And honestly, I find that a natural and effective pivot point. Though the inciting incident of WASTE EATER is a “global revolution [that] dealt a final death blow to the world’s crumbling industries” the outcome reflects our own reality to a heightened degree. In this vaguely solarpunk setting, the residue of waste from these industries polluting the environment is such that the best solution was the one that was most direct: turn into creatures that could just eat it all away. It’s about 10-15 minutes and you, the player, click through the final reflective thoughts of the last of these waste eaters as they wait to die. 

Of course, it’s less about the eating and more about the transformative sacrifice. This waste eater talks to a bird – a sign of returning life – in bits and pieces about their hopes and regrets, life before becoming a waste eater, other people they knew and lost, their drift away from humanity, shedding just the barest of light on a world we’re not familiar with. And isn’t that the point? Sometimes we bloody our hands so our future generations won’t have to, and ideally they won’t have to fathom what it took to get here. The unknowing, the struggle to empathize, as well as the peace, should be the reward. Therein lies the resentment. “I should be happy,” the character says. “The next generation of kids will grow up on a beautiful planet, all thanks to us waste-eating freaks.”   

On the flipside is a kind of resignation – they should be angry, to save the world and then be tossed aside, but they aren’t angry, not at all. The waste eater’s predicament is part of the reward as well: having eaten away all of the waste in the world, now they creep toward inevitable starvation. 

They mention the irony of being perceived as monstrous by the very people they became a monster to save, and getting removed from a dirigible. We see this in real people all the time: survivors of upheaval, some upheaval that precedes great change. Survivors of imprisonment, revolution, genocide, civil war, sometimes the surviving is the act that enables change, and sometimes it changes people in ways that makes the passersby uncomfortable. Not truly monstrous, but othered or radical or strange. 

WASTE EATER is a compassionate and uncomplicated microcosm of that kind of paradox. It doesn’t always happen with those who engage in that praxis – that direct action – but there may always be that element of potential resentment – that’s a cost. We are always changed by the efforts to change the future, and the result may be to stumble into a future in which we are outsiders. The hope remains – and is validated again and again – that people recognize and understand. When all we have is each other, acting in defiance to the systems that hold us down, the metric by which we measure worthiness in each other becomes much more abstract and forgiving. Toward the end, the character mentions offhand that they could have stayed on the dirigible, rallied by the few people on it who came to their defense. Now, it’s too late. 

Back to that question: who does the action? It takes all kinds: who hits the streets, who plants the trees, who protests, who riots, who [redacted] the [redacted], who throws the first brick, who pulls the trigger? Who changes themselves irrevocably, so that those who come after can live more fully? 

In WASTE EATER, it’s survivors of that global revolution, the revolutionaries and the researchers who biologically engineer themselves capable of eating waste until the world is healed. It’s noble and indulgent, that the continued work is not laid down for the next generation, albeit in ruins, but taken up by the same people. In the same way that WASTE EATER concentrates the acts of sacrifice and transformation in the unambiguous form of simply eating away the problem and mutating farther away from humanity as a result, so too does it idealize the actors. It’s good and cathartic.   

For as short as it is, WASTE EATER is strong in its core: the hope for a better future is worth fighting for. That even in the collective reshaping of that better future, there will always be one left to witness the reaping of what that reshaping has actualized. And we, as the player, take part in the reaping as well, sitting at the conclusion of this character’s sacrifice. And also in turn, we witness. The ending of this text introspective is a small ironic twist that should be experienced first-hand, so I won’t say anything about it here.     

My city has remarkably low tree coverage even for an urban area, the lowest out of all cities in this part of Washington. The trees that we do have are concentrated in areas like parks and wealthier neighborhoods, which leaves everyone else more vulnerable to the heat of our summers that have, on average, gotten hotter year after year. So, a remarkable effort has been underway to plant more trees, especially in those areas that have been left to be blasted openly by the sun. Someday, the people who live there will live more comfortably than the people who live there now. 

Those trees still have to grow, but therein lies the truth: big and small efforts for change often sacrifice us to the reward – we need to keep planting the trees that aren’t going to cover us.  

About Franny

Hey there, I’m Franny!

She/they, from Seattle, been playing games and writing since I could hold things. I love games that give me the option to be mean, even though I always end up choosing to be nice.

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