Torment Tides of Numenera: Bastard Simulator

M. Joshua found respite in how Torment: Tides of Numenera incentivizes self-destructive play.

Written by M. Joshua Cauller / Published on April 12, 2017

Your creator didn’t love you. He tossed you out like an afterthought—then left you to try to make sense of a very strange and dangerous world by yourself. This is what it means to play as the Last Castoff in Torment: Tides of Numenera. Unlike many RPGs, you’re not a chosen one hand-selected by the gods, but instead discarded by your “daddy” (The Changing God) and told that you’re just one of his countless bastard children.

Fortunately, you inherited your father’s immortality—that is, death has no permanence as long as your head is still attached. Even better, this temporary death comes with benefits: when you die, you gain unrestrained access to all the folks hanging out in your subconsciousness (good and bad). More importantly, you can get a lot of XP by dealing with issues internally (LEVEL UP!).

I can’t understate how much this incentivizes destructive behavior. I found the edge of a particularly attractive cliff, and saw that it was a perfect place to jump to my death.

I came back to life surrounded by articulate cannibals who intended to consume my previously-lifeless corpse. Disappointed to find that I was not in fact dead. They asked if they could still take a teensy nibble out of me, you know, for science. Again, I figured, “Why not?” I was glad I did! While I lost some max HP, I got the sweeter end of the deal: a hefty bag of cushy loot and a plate full of EXP.

“YOLO!”

This disastrous combination—daddy issues paired with rewards for destructive behavior—shouldn’t work as a redemptive meditation, but as I process some very difficult experiences with my real-world dad, Tormentprovides some respite.

I grew up with the best dad. He’s always been there when I’ve been laid off from a job, reeling from a breakup, or drowning in college debt. He’s also been a light of encouragement to me and everyone around me. My neighbor-buddy once said, “I’m so glad your dad is proud of me, even if my parents seem to think I’m a failure.” My dad’s unbridled optimism has been the most consistent thing in my life.

I’m scared for my dad right now. I flew down to see him in the hospital a few weeks ago. It’s affecting how I process most everything.

I’ve been jumping from game to game way more than usual, “enjoying” bourbon more, and praying less. I’m honestly struggling to find words for prayer, and probably struggling more to make time for God right now. I’m certainly not in full-on destructive behavior mode—at least not in real life. When I play Torment, however, I notice that my ‘Tides’ shift far more towards the reckless red.

I found this psychic bar called The Fifth Eye in a remote corner of Torment’sfirst city. Inside, the bartender asked me if I wanted to try some “experimental” drinks, I figured, “Why the hell not?” I opted for the pink sludge, which seized every muscle in my body—including my heart—and killed me. This was fine, because I had some stuff I wanted to explore in my subconscious while I was dead. I spent some good time in my mind’s labyrinth, slew a personal demon or two, leveled up a bit, and came back to life on the bar floor. Business as usual.

"I found the edge of a particularly attractive cliff, and saw that it was a perfect place to jump to my death."
I’m quite reticent to jump into battle in Torment despite my compulsion for self-harm. It just takes too long, and I’d rather get my thrills of risk and reward elsewhere—especially the conversational gambles that might lead to neat successes—or even better, stories that emerge from failure. The best tensions in the game come from risks taken in conversations and one-off encounters through this ‘Effort System’, letting me gamble some of my finite mental, dextrous, or physical energy to tip odds in my favor. I’m far more likely to pull the trigger on trying something dangerous if I know that I’ve got a 90% chance of succeeding. Plus, I just want to keep my companions from harm, and to get in the most fascinating stuff: situational gambles.

This bastard simulator serves as a respite for me. Even now, I’m tempted to go play the game more—make some risky decisions, stop thinking about my dad’s health concerns. In one moment, it serves as a great contrast, reminding me that I have a great dad who didn’t cast me off. And in another, it serves as a welcome—though perhaps gated—escape from the lung-crushing gravity of reality.