"expression is the need of my soul
i was once a vers libre bard
but i died and my soul went into the body of a cockroach
it has given me a new outlook upon life
i see things from the under side now
thank you for the apple peelings in the wastepaper basket
but your paste is getting so stale i cant eat it"

-- "the coming of archy," by Don Marquis

I know you. You are like me, in that you have always wondered what it means to be a cockroach, and are simulataneously disgusted by their lives, and fascinated by the horror of what they must see and feel.

Why are cockroaches so awful to hominids? I can think of seven distinct reasons:

1) We occupy the same evolutionary niche. Namely, human houses. And we eat the same food there: human food. Creatures in the same niche with the same tastes are invariably at war.

2) Roaches are awkward. They scramble, they fall, they bang up against things. Humans are the only creatures that ought to be allowed to be awkward.

3) Roaches feel fear, and this is disgusting. Any low creature whose fear we can taste and smell disgusts us, whether roach, dog, or junkie.

4) Invariably, roaches are the most pressing and obvious signs of poverty and decay. You got roaches? You got problems.

5) Other insects don't even seem to like roaches. You can't imagine cockroaches and grasshoppers hanging out and shooting the shit. Roaches are friends to no one.

6) Surprise! Roaches on your toothbrush! Roaches in your cereal! Roaches in your asscrack, tickling like a lover! Too intimate! Too intimate!

7) Roaches can never think higher thoughts than struggle, hunger, and fucking. They are parodies of the human experience, and they persist and adapt despite every form of impotent pesticide we can throw at them.

Strangely enough, these are also the same seven reasons people don't like the homeless, the handicapped, the downtrodden, and the addicted.

So it is with great approval and happiness that I submit to you -- for your artistic approval -- the computer game "Bad Mojo," which is essentially a cockroach simulation with mystical overtones (and undertones) whose purpose seems to be to create sympathy for cockroaches, and for people who live cockroach-like lives.

The game examines all seven of these complaints, and aspires to teach people that not only can a roach be a noble moral agent, but a roach may be a desperate human being's only friend and contact with life and God.

By taking a roach's perspective and seeing the way people live from below, from inside, from trash and forgotten dreams, lessons can be learned and fear can be mastered.

There are maggots on the countertop, and there are roaches in the walls, but they are all just trying to get by -- same as you, same as I.


In this game from the early nineties, you play Dr. Roger Samms (an "Amerika"-nized" name, perhaps), a man who has gone insane. Samms is an entomologist who has been hired by the bug companies to develop a way to finally kill off cockroaches forever, and the pressure has made him snap.

He cuts out the eyes of women and men and pins them to his walls along with roaches he finds, and he is neither a very pleasant person nor a very good one. As Samms, you are an orphan who was raised by malicious nuns, and maybe that is your excuse. You live in hell: an apartment above a condemned bar in San Francisco and under a bridge where it is always dark.

After defrauding the company who has financed your research, but before you can flee to Mexico, you are zapped by an old locket belonging to your mother and your soul is transmigrated into the body of a nearby cockroach.

And you were so close to leaving forever; to escaping your awful life! Why has this happened? To what end?

Now you are a roach in a two-story apartment building and you are alone among the filth of existence. You must explore the fragments of Roger Samms' life without being killed by rats, cats, roach traps, fires, and feet.


The genius of this game lies in the way it tells its story, the way in which it uses the human impulse to spy, to explore, and to dig around inside the guts of things in the service of its non-linear narrative.

The plot of this game is what you make of it. To read things, you must crawl over them. To see what is inside a shoebox beneath a bed, you must crawl inside it. To know what to do next, you must think like an architect and behave like a roach, while considering all the possible permutations of your meagre available actions.

The designers took a two story apartment building and mapped it out with perfect three-dimensional consistency and logic. If you can get high enough, you can see where to go next. If you can get low enough, you can cause chain reactions that affect your environment in strange and surprising ways.

A roach cannot do very much. You will only use the arrow keys. But with the right timing and the right attitude, even a roach may succeed in making a difference in the lives of the people around it.

Consider the following puzzle. At one point in the game, you can see that in order to progress you will need to drop a spoon into the garbage disposal in order to fuck it up so that you can crawl into the plumbing. But you are too light to cause the spoon to topple!

The oracle who guides you has told you that in order to move forward, you must become more empathetic and ignore your own concerns and obsessions.

After trying everything else, you may notice that another roach has become stuck somewhere in currents of nacho cheese. You may realize that you have the power to rescue this other roach. You may realize that you need to help, without knowing why, and damned if this silly act of virtual kindness doesn't allow you to pass on to deeper levels of the game.

Fantastic! The game has taught you to give up on your own struggles and to focus instead on the problems of those around you. A difficult lesson for any medium to take on. Does the fact that the empathy is directed toward a cockroach make it gross? Perhaps. But only superficially. The act itself is beautiful.


The GAME is also fucking beautiful, like Goya paintings or Burroughs prose. The color palate is rich and exciting, and if you have a sense of the grotesque, then you will find yourself mesmerized by the rotting food, the detritus behind walls, and the dusty eaves that conceal dead vermin inside documents that reveal truths and consequences.

The story IS the game, and that's something that doesn't happen very often. You are a creature who exists beneath the lives of the people you are trying to help. "Bad Mojo" is probably the game that comes closest to how it must feel to be an angel or benevolent ghost.

Not only must you remain invisible at peril of your own life, but every step you take must be a step down, until you find yourself at the crux of it all -- the center from which you can push and pivot.

Will there ever be a sequel or anything like it? I hope so. I enjoy solving the puzzle of people's lives by digging through their trash and seeing the things they have chosen to hide. I like the satisfying feeling of crawling along unseen -- my own problems immediate and blunt -- while helping in some way to teach those who are far above me, and who would faint and shiver and puke if they knew that I was the only one on their side.

You may see your own life from a new perspective after playing this game; an unflattering angle that may make you re-evaluate the things you would otherwise take for granted.

As you crawl over spoiled food, burn up aggressive spiders, and play inside the cross-sections of elaborate mechanical appliances, you may realize that the only difference between you and a roach are class distinctions, and that, at bottom, we all have the same impulses and desires.

A game for humanitarians and cynics alike, "Bad Mojo" has a thesis that will make some people uncomfortable, and that will make others flat-out reach for the soap.


As far as the creators of this game go, I can only tip my hat to them for making a game that surely must have been a con and a gamble and an awful problem at every stage of development.

To what lengths do you go for your art? I bet these guys went further.

Condemn video games as minor entertainment if you must (I often do), but first check this out, and consider the implications:

"Bad Mojo," everyone. A lot of blood and guts and life went into this game, and not all of it was human. Yet, all of it, perhaps, was divine.


Posted by miracle on Wed, 30 Apr 2008 06:53:31 -0400 -- permanent link

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