This is a game of messy, but powerful, interpersonal connections
Community can be a fraught thing. Whether by choice or by circumstance, we are surrounded by people who provide comfort, affirmation, and even love. But what happens when that emotional intimacy opens us to harm from within the group? How does a community cope with the fallout of actions, or inactions, that reverberate far beyond the immediate?
This is the foundation for Brujeria At Werk’s latest game, “Don’t Wake the Night”, which is now available on Itch.io. Developed by a self-described “art collective of cursed artists looking to make the next wicked thing”, this short point-and-click adventure positions players as a spirit summoned to cast judgment on a group of witches. What are you judging, exactly? That’s information you must deduce by listening to the eight individuals anxiously gathered at the ritual site.
Though influence over their world is limited, you can shake branches and tip over items that send the witches scurrying into pairs to quietly discuss their predicament. These short vignettes are all the evidence you will have to make your decision. Context? Sorry, spirits from another world aren’t privy to convenient flashbacks or expository dumps.
It’s immediately clear something big pushed a wedge into this group. Every conversation either references this event or the effect it reckoned on their small community. One witch, Gardener, grumbles over hugging it out and whether that would solve everything. Another, Guardian, stalwartly assures everyone that things will turn out okay — even if she must do it herself. You are obviously not the only ghost haunting the grove this night.
Though I won’t spoil anything critical here, one conspicuously missing member, Whisperer, stands at the center of this mystery. Each of the witches enjoy a different relationship with her, ranging from concerned affection to accusatory resentment. Navigating these feelings is key to uncovering an incident that began an entire year ago and led to this night’s pivotal decision.
The subtle narrative work done via the interactions between the witches is one of Don’t Wake the Night’s strengths. Characters don’t just blithely reveal their backstory and place within the community’s role-based structure. Most of that detail comes from understanding their power dynamics, references and moods. Additionally, the game does not gate progress, meaning players can access the conversations in any order. The start of your approach matters less than the attention you pay while the evening unfolds.
Eventually, conversation dries up and you must face the decision. If you are like me, this moment will make you feel a surge of panic as you think, “I don’t know! There wasn’t enough information!” But I believe that’s the whole point.
*Content warning for brief mention of alcoholism and abuse*
The witches in the ritual grove remind me of my own family, a many-branched thing without much geographical distance between us. This makes holidays and reunions a crowded affair. My family also loves to ignore or compartmentalize legitimate issues between members, content to swallow the bile and smile until the evening is done, dislodging the words on the car ride home. This makes holidays and reunions toxic and stressful, a minefield of trauma with well-worn paths around live charges. This doesn’t mean cases of abuse, neglect, alcoholism and manipulation don’t affect them. It’s just someone else’s problem to be handled within that nuclear unit. If they wanted help, after all, they’d ask us.
The witches in Don’t Wake the Night remind me of my family in their deft negotiation of obvious trauma. There’s a real and realistic horror in recognizing one character’s anxiety was most likely caused by extreme codependency with another, or that the leaders of this community have done unspeakable things in the name of the greater peace and are absolutely willing to do so again.
As the night stretches long, the player doesn’t become less sure of who is to blame so much as unsure where to begin assigning it. Under the smiles and concern and talk of hugging it out is a seething mire of guilt, blame, resentment and worry without an obvious source. Even the absent Whisperer has a chance to voice her discontent with her family, though she, too, questions her motivations.
In the end, the choice doesn’t matter as much as the process. These witches did what my family never has and perhaps never will: confronted the trauma threatening to rend their community apart. They hoped exhuming the spirit of that fateful misdeed would provide peace, closure, or at least a beginning to healing. The player, in their one action, embodies the witches’ will to take part in a painful yet necessary process.
Under this lens, their individual personalities read as reactions: Healer is unsure this will help anything; Collector is too caught up in a crush to care; Watcher struggles to understand what is going on because other members have warped her perspective. After finishing Don’t Wake the Night three times (choosing each of its three endings) I still am not sure what choice left the community better than I found it. Was that even my purpose?
If you’ve played Santo Aveiro-Ojeda’s other games, namely 1870: Cyberpunk Forever, this lingering feeling of unease is familiar. They excel at subverting player expectations regarding a broad and pervasive settler-colonial mindset. We will never have enough information to fully understand Don’t Wake the Night’s characters, their troubled history, or the tenuous future following the spirit’s judgment. We shouldn’t assume such intimate knowledge our prerogative.
Brujeria at Werk isn’t trying to create something that slots neatly into our expectations of games. Instead, the invite us to kindly set aside that baggage for an hour to experience a story of imperfect people told imperfectly—on purpose.