For this year’s O2A2 jam I was originally going to write a gothic horror about death. There were two big problems, however: making a gothic horror interactive fiction with just 1000 words turned out to be trickier than I was hoping for; and I already had like 5 other projects about death.
So it ended shifting direction a bit at the end, while still being roughly about death. But there’s more than the literal ceasing to materially exist in this world that a game can cover, right?
There will be spoilers in this article, so you might want to spend a few minutes playing through the game first.
The protagonist in
the sound of rain. is a young person who’s watching the rain from their veranda while raindrops fall over the garden. And they think back on their family, in particular on one point that was especially contentious between them and their older sister: what happens after you die?
The sister tells the protagonist that there’s nothing after death. That ghosts aren’t real. That when one dies, they just disappear, forever. But the protagonist disagrees—they have always disagreed, in fact—that’s certainly not what happens after you die. And they’re determined to prove that to their sister.
Of course, their sister has passed away a long time ago, and what they meant was not that “ghosts are real” or that other supernatural occurrences happen after your death (despite that being a thing in the particular universe this game takes place). What they’re questioning is more what concepts like “life” and “death” mean—and mean to them in particular.
Not a literal “death”
the sound of rain. is a “trans-experience” story within this premise. The quotes around “trans-experience” here come from the fact that, while I was writing from that perspective, there is no such thing as transgender people in the universe this game takes place. Simply because “gender” is not a concept.
That makes some of the translation choices—from this universe’s languages and cultures to English—likewise interesting. The choice of referring to the protagonist with neutral pronouns and the sister with feminine pronouns and adjectives is, here, completely arbitrary. Those ideas don’t exist in the game’s universe. You don’t differentiate siblings by some vague notion of gender because gender isn’t a thing.
When I say it’s a “trans-experience”, what I really mean is that the story is written from the perspective of how outsiders perceive you and try to put you into boxes, rather than listen to you and learn about you from your own perspective. This is not really limited to trans people. You see this when, for example, parents build expectations of what their kids should do and who they should become, completely ignoring that their kids are their own person, with their own wants, likes, and needs.
Just because a parent dreams of their kid becoming a medical professional when they turn 25, and then marry and have two children, that doesn’t mean that this dream is shared by that parent’s kid. And when this disconnect is particularly strong, it’s generally the kid who suffers the worst consequences. The “trans-experience” just puts this situation in a larger group—it’s not just parents forcing these expectations on you.
The story here is entirely situated in this “consequences” camp. The protagonist has been through it, and, in some aspects, they have recovered from it. But you never recover from it fully. You can see hints that their relationship with their “famiglia” is still quite fractured. Even with their sister, the protagonist still holds many regrets. As they mature and learn more about themselves and the world outside of what their “famiglia” force-feeds them, they also notice things in their past that they didn’t handle well.
This is largely why each item you interact with in the attic comes with a small memory. They’re hints at these ideas that you’re supposed to piece together to form a better picture of who the protagonist was back then, and who they are now. And how the people around them helped (or hindered) them grow into the person they are now.
Famiglias, gender, and roles
The protagonist and their sister come from a witch famiglia. In this universe a famiglia is a group of witches that live and practice together. They’re not necessarily related by blood, and blood relations don’t define hierarchies.
Witches are instead bound by “roles”. This is the concept that I chose to translate to “gender” in this story. They’re not really related, but there’s enough overlap in it for this particular story to make sense under that translation. In this universe, when a witch joins a famiglia, the Mother (the head of the house) picks a role for them. The witch is then expected to live up to this role, and dedicate their life to fulfil it. A “role” is closely linked to the idea of “destiny”—the Mother is expected to pick this role based on some sort of divination.
Roles are not things that witches can take lightly, and it’s not something they can change without consequences—and the consequence is often being expelled from the famiglia. In our case, the protagonist had their role divined as an assistant herbalist—a minor witch who primarily uses plants to heal others. And while the protagonist enjoyed spending time among plants and learning about them, as they started growing up that’s not really where their heart was in. They were instead entranced by crafts and other creative endeavours; which, much to Mother’s chagrin, was supported by Nada, an older witch part of the same famiglia, when she gifted the protagonist an old camera.
Just like Nada, this didn’t cause the protagonist to be exactly expelled out of the famiglia. But they weren’t exactly welcomed, either. They were part of it, in name, but not really part of any important gathering or ritual. To outsiders, it’s like they weren’t there. And to members of the famiglia, they were avoided, or branded as “failures”. So, in the end, the protagonist left out of their own volition, to find a place that would accept the person they wanted to be, and the goals they wanted to chase.
Meanwhile, the protagonist’s sister grew to both like and surpass the expectations on her role as a gemologist principal, with popular publications across the witch community of Ligja. She was lauded as one of the greater witches of the Majorie famiglia because of her work, and her treatment both inside and outside their gatherings was likewise far warmer than the protagonist’s.
Still, the two were close friends, who spent a lot of time together and aimed to learn more about each other and support each other, whatever it was that they wanted to do. Though they both soon found out that they were powerless against the structures of the witch system they were a part of, and that had a profound impact on what “support” meant here. It was easy for the protagonist to support their sister’s endeavours, as these aligned with what the famiglia wanted; but whenever their sister would speak highly of the protagonist’s life choices, she’d suffer negative consequences for it.
By the time the protagonist left to live on their own, their sister’s naturally weak constitution was becoming more of a problem. She went from a highly esteemed witch to one that lived in the shadow of her past. From that to being considered a burden, forced to quit the things she enjoyed and move to the city under a new name and “purpose”, under the guise of caring for her health.
The protagonist regrets not being there for her when this was going down, and they don’t fully grasp all of the things that were happening at that point. But they hint at an acknowledgement of this when they say “I don’t think Mother and I mourned the same person.” Sure, both of them were mourning the same Nie Majorie, in name. But what the protagonist is saying is that the person they recognised as “Nie Majorie” was likely not the same; while Mother was looking at the bright witch, whom accomplishments preceeded her name in years past, the protagonist was looking at the friend who derived so much joy from playing with rocks and wanted to help other people experience similar joys.
The aspects of Nie sure overlap, but what determined the person “Nie” wasn’t the same thing for both of them. In Mother’s eyes, “Nie” had died much earlier, by the time she had left the famiglia’s house to undergo treatment in the city—or earlier still, when Mother’s expectations of the role didn’t match what “Nie” could live up to. Just like the protagonist was already dead to Mother, even though we follow their footsteps in this game; even though they still have a material existence.
I had a lot of fun writing and playing around with the concept of “death” as a matter of perception—as a more abstract and subjective concept—rather than the more literal idea. I hope you had fun reading the game and my thoughts on it as well, even if you’ve interpreted the story in a very different light. Which is also okay, of course! It’s fiction, you’re always free to interpret it however you like.