April 23, 2018

Tarot goes Pop: Occulture in "The Room" series from Fireproof Games

null element time sanctuary

If you play games on mobile, then chances are excellent that you've heard of "The Room" series developed by Fireproof Games. If not, then you should check it out because the four entries in the series -- The Room, The Room 2, The Room 3, and The Room: Old Sins -- are immersive adventures into puzzle solving, narrative mysteries, and spooky aesthetics. The Room series is also really engaging for folks who enjoy occult-themed topics, because the games are riddled top to bottom, inside out, and front to back with a sinister back-story that's only revealed in pieces -- and thus far, has yet to be revealed in its entirety.

The Room 2 and The Room 3 are particularly interesting for Tarot readers because the second entry in the series includes a puzzle room entirely in the aesthetic of a psychic Tarot parlor, and the third entry in the series prominently features a mechanical Tarot reader a la "Zoltar Speaks," but to make things even more sinister it's implied that the mechanical fortune-teller is actually a kind of prison for the woman who operated the Tarot parlor in The Room 2 -- "Mystical Maggie, trained by the Great Khan!" The whole effect is rather creepy. But you know what's not creepy? Tarot cards! Well, okay -- they can be creepy -- but Fireproof Games featured Tarot cards as plot elements in both The Room 2 and The Room 3, and because "Why not?" decided it would be fun to release the source files so people could print and use the cards for themselves.

So here's how this blog post is gonna go: First, I'm going to show you how I printed the cards, second I'm going to talk about the game lore referenced by the cards, and third I'm going to make an attempt at using them for good-old fashioned fortune-telling. Let's get started!


paper craft fireproof games tarot
There's a lot to love about the Room series but also about these cards, but there are a few things to not love and one of them is that the options for printing the cards aren't terrific. You can choose to download each card image individually, but printing them one by one isn't a good idea for doing a paper-craft. In this case, the better choice is to use the A4 sized JPG's offered by Fireproof and print the entire page to make the most efficient use of space. Unfortunately, A4 is both thinner and taller than US letter-size, which meant for me that my paper-craft turned out smaller than the original. That's not precisely a criticism of the cards, just a frustration, and also something you should know if you decide to do this paper-craft.

If you're clever, you might think to download the individual JPG's and plug them into a print-on-demand service for playing cards in order to get a nicer product with a professional finish that'll last longer, but unfortunately the offered JPG's are completely non-standard for any industry-recognized card size and refuse to be fit into templates for Tarot, bridge, or poker cards... which is just a long way of saying, the only way to do this paper-craft is to print it out yourself.

home made diy tarot deck
Now comes the tedious part: liberate each card with a pair of scissors, or if you're so inclined, an exacto knife or a cutting table. If it were up to me, I'd glue the entire sheets of card stock together front and back and let them dry before I started cutting, but unfortunately even though the faces and backs appear to be identically arranged at five cards per sheet, they're not perfectly aligned and for this reason can't be glued before cutting. If I decide to do this project over again, I would format a perfectly aligned front-and-back 8.5x11 sized piece of card stock so that the fronts already matched the backs, and then cut with a straight-edge paper cutter before laminating. That would have saved a lot of time in this process, but I guess hindsight is 20/20.

tarot card home art project
Congratulations: you've just finished the hardest part of the whole process. Now that all cards are liberated from the original sheet, sort them into two piles: faces and backs. 

weldbond glue playing card diy
When it comes to joining the faces and backs, you've got a few choices. You're welcome to use a glue-stick -- it's the fastest and easiest option, for sure -- but for my preferences I thought it better to use a paint brush to apply liquid glue directly to the inside of the cards. Good old "Elmer's" school-glue is a great choice for joining paper, but when I'm doing crafty stuff I like to use Weldbond partly because it's non-toxic, but mostly because it's got a fast initial set, is holy-shit permanent when it dries, and is both strong but also flexible when fully cured.

When gluing the cards together, be sure to get a thin coat of glue around the inside edges, or the corners will peel up. When pressing the cards together, run your fingers around the edges multiple times to get the edges to stick down, and when finished wipe any excess glue off with your finger or a tea cloth. Finally, place all finished cards together in a stack weighted underneath a few heavy books. This will help to keep the cards uniform while the glue cures. 

major arcana trump tarot fireproof room
After the cards have been pressed for 24 hours, all that remains is to do the finishing work of trimming edges to eliminate any white interior left exposed by faces misaligned to backs. If you're fussy about this sort of thing, then a straight-edged cutting table will be your best friend in eliminating this step, but at this point the paper-craft is basically finished and you're just making it pretty. At this point in the process, you should remember that your cards don't have a protective finish and if you intend to use them for anything more than display pieces in your office you should laminate them.


Now, let it be said that although I've really enjoyed The Room series, I'm not obsessive about it. I haven't memorized trivia or dug into developer notes. What you read here is only what I know from playing the games.

The Room series revolves around the discovery and manipulation of the null element. The null element is treated as a scientific element like what's on the periodic table, but it doesn't exist in perceivable reality. Instead, the null element is described as an dark, alien intelligence that lives within the gaps of known reality and can only be captured using intricately designed devices premised upon occult knowledge. Much like how Mary Shelley declined to describe the methods used by Dr. Frankenstein to create his monster, Fireproof games doesn't go into detail how the technology that brought the null element into waking reality actually works, and that's just as well because it wouldn't do anything to advance the narrative, but would also destroy a big part of the game's mystique.

The null element is implied to be a powerfully destructive force, but also explicitly described as the means by which both time and space can be bent and broken. This quality of warping time and space allows The Room series to create wheels within wheels -- or should I say, puzzles within puzzles -- and in a narrative sense it creates infinite fractals of confusion, despair, and ruination which consume the incapable.

And I say, "the incapable," because as the series' plot develops, it's revealed that there's a secret society of craftsmen who have learned how to capture control this null element -- and evidently are very angry that uninitiated explorers are tampering with their plans and creating messes that they have to contain and clean up.

As for how the Tarot cards factor into this, it's both more and less than you were thinking. The Tarot parlor featured in The Room 2 is spooky and mysterious, and the fortune-telling booth in The Room 3 is deliciously haunting. For what role Tarot has in the Room series, it does it well, but for all the dev team's ingenuity, let's face it: they're not Tarot readers, nor are they trying to be true to Tarot. For this reason, you might immediately notice that the paper-craft Tarot cards available on their website aren't even a full 22 trumps. What you get is 19 cards with inconsistent numbering -- if they go up to 99, where are all the others? -- that still manage to tell a story. I'm not aware if this is a story that the dev team intended to tell, but it's the one I see and for what it's worth I'm hoping you'll enjoy sharing it with me.

tarot cards the room

Null VII is the beginning of the story, and it is a mysterious element which unlocks the ability to control and manipulate Time VIII. In the beginning, Null VII is a novelty which allows the one who manipulates it the power to create a Sanctuary IX in which all manner of hidden Knowledge X may be uncovered. Things are fun in the beginning and the possessor believes he or she can use this knowledge for the dark but controlled fun of Halloween XIII, and for a while this is true -- the Knowledge X gained may be used to access the secret of the Cosmos XV.

tarot cards the room old sins the great khan

The knowledge of the Cosmos XV is vast, but the innocence of Halloween XIII cannot survive the nihilistic realization of one's place in the Cosmos XV. For this reason, the comforting Sanctuary IX becomes a sterile Temple XVII. Having lost the joy of Sanctuary IX but knowing that the Null VII is able to recover it, the possessor sets out on a Voyage XVIII under sunny skies searching for that which is hoped to be just over the horizon, but the bright Voyage XVIII turns into a stormy Voyage XVIII -- yes, there are two cards named Voyage and they're both numbered XVIII -- under dark skies where both friends and ideals are lost or abandoned. This results in the possessor suffering Isolation XIX, and the growing realization that he or she has Imprisoned XXII him or herself in the search for that which was an unstable fantasy from the beginning. Suffering the weight of being Imprisoned XXII by him or herself, the possessor becomes the possessed and realizes that the only way out of his or her confinement is to seek not to control the Null VII, but to join with the Null VII and immerse him or herself into its cthonic essence, or at the very least submitting to its pervasive and dominant will. This submission to the Null VII opens a Gateweay XXIII through which the possessed may gain Illumination XXVI and see the world from the other side of the veil where dwells the Null VII

tarot cards occult mystical maggie the room

Because the possessed's one desire is to return to the pleasures of the world which he or she knew, embracing the power of the Null VII by walking through the Gateway XXIII of its Illumination XXVI can result in only one possible outcome: Release XLVI of the dark Null VII into the bright, vibrant, and ordered world into which the possessed was born but has now lost. In his or her heart, the possessed knows that he or she is damned and must console him or herself not with the hoped for Sanctuary IX and the wonder of the Cosmos XV, but the hollow memory of the power which he or she once possessed. Now, the possessor who has become the possessed must dwell in his or her self-imposed Damnation LXVI from which there is no hope of redemption, searching for meaning in cheap imitations of the abyssal depths of the Null VII. Confronted with the reality that the possessor has become the possessed and is now only a withered shell for the Null VII, an attempt is made to Escape LXVV what was made and retreat into the perceived safety of Reflection XCI. Unfortunately for the possessed, he or she has now nothing left upon which he or she may reflect, and the only possible remaining fate is to become Lost XCIX in the emptiness of infinitely devolving fractals within the Null VII.

As before, I'm not aware if this is a narrative that the dev team intended, but it's a narrative that I see. What else I see in this perceived narrative is the story of Icarus who flew too close to the Sun. In this case, the null element is the Sun. Choices have consequences, and at least as it regards The Room series, very nearly every choice that involves extracting the null element from its shadowy recesses and bringing it into waking reality is a choice that results in the ruination of the mind and the loss of ones body (which isn't necessarily the same as death, but perhaps a fate worse than death.) I'm not prepared to argue for parallels in the actual world in which I live, but at least in the story-world of The Room series there are clearly forces and powers which are better left alone...

... and if you're going to disregard this warning, then judging by the secret society which appears to have successfully harnessed the null element -- or at least learned how to avoid being corrupted by it -- the only way to avoid a terrible fate is to cooperate with others and combine forces in a guarded, secretive, and above all else massively disciplined approach to the possession and application of incredible power. Judging at least by the aesthetics, the dev team was obviously drawing a large degree of inspiration from the Cthulu mythos, but considering the theme of craftsmen and secret societies attempting and sometimes succeeding to control the null element, I also wonder if they weren't drawing inspiration from Acton's Law: "Power tends to corrupt; absolute power corrupts absolutely." Without anything more specific from the dev team about their choice of aesthetics and the themes they worked into the four entries in The Room series, it's impossible to know for sure.


But we can know for sure if the cards are any good at fortune-telling, and me being who I am I think it's an easy question to answer: yes! I'll be the first to say what I've said all along -- I'm an entertainer, not a psychic -- and these cards have a sufficiently stimulating aesthetic and draw on a sufficiently large source narrative that they can be handily used as informative props in the performance of a Tarot reading. There are fortune-tellers who regularly use only the 22 trump cards, so three less isn't a deal-breaker. Because these cards are so different from actual Tarot, I'm going to use them like an oracle deck and read in the fashion of Lenormand: each card is a word, and strung together the words make a sentence. It's not like how I usually read Tarot, but then -- this isn't a Tarot deck is, it? Here're a few fun questions to tease some meaning out of the Tarot of the Room:

tarot card reading

In a search for personal meaning by way of the external measurement of the cards, I'm a person who enjoys the idealism of travel and the idealized method of getting where I want to be. My voyages lead me toward the grandeur of the cosmos and a wonder of the way of the world, yet no matter how far I sail my boat will never depart the oceans upon which it rides nor will I ever achieve the distant lights I see winking at me from the inky distance of the universe. If nothing changes, I have made an empty temple of my life and I would do well to either bring life into it, or abandon my voyage toward the stars in favor of a more fulfilling sanctuary. Evidently, the Tarot of the Room is confrontational and pessimistic, but what did I expect considering the source material from which it was born?

fortune telling fireproof games the room

Fans of the series can expect an extended duration of time to pass during which the hidden symbols on the clock face that can only be seen through the viewing lens of the development team will continue to take shape. To outsiders, it will appear that almost no time at all has passed, but behind the clock face sits a scheming mind which waits to release a new creation onto the world. The next Room game will be more frightening than previous entries and is going to be an attempt to pierce the veil of expectations erected by the previous four entries. Ultimately, the next entry in the Room series will dare to inject questions of morality (what did you do?) and ethics (why did you do it?) into the narrative, and this will challenge players to reflect not just on the message presented by the narrative, but what their choices within the narrative reveal about themselves. Evidently, the Tarot of the Room is kinder to its creator than it is to me!

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