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Mindlessly Dance Through Cartoon Fantasies in ‘Palmystery’

Designer Paloma Dawkins’ latest work is a ‘surreal horror cartoon video game’ with lots of hands.

Chris Priestman

Chris Priestman

Palmystery is described as a "surreal horror cartoon video game ... about communicating with hands." Upon reading that, you probably made the easy mistake of thinking it's a horror game about speaking with your hands. It's not that.

Hands do feature throughout and take many different forms. Fingers make triangular shapes that act as magical gateways between scenes. Pink hands grow from the ground like sprigs of grass and wave in an imaginary wind. There are big hands, small hands, hands that curl a finger as if to call you over. You'll probably be confused at the sight of all these hands, but scared? Nah.

"This game doesn't have much in it pertaining to palmistry besides the intro castle (the 'art' on the walls represent different aspects of Palmistry)," admits the game's creator Paloma Dawkins in a blog post.

She continues to explain that the game is partially an outpouring of her mind after finding out Trump had been elected as president. "It stirred within me a darker side to my cartoons that I want to explore," Dawkins writes. She smashed together her feelings towards the questionable future, so that Palmystery is at different times surreal, comic, and sinister.

Header and Palmystery screen courtesy of Paloma Dawkins

You'll see her drawings of little monsters running around in panic. A friendly astronaut will wave you onto a spaceship to suddenly end up squirming in outer space as a cartoon sun looks on menacingly. The game takes sudden turns in tone as if you've just tuned in to the shifting, conflicted thoughts that trouble Dawkins's mind—both upbeat and sinister.

While it may be one of the darker games by Dawkins, Palmystery never truly becomes horrific. For the most part, it fits right in with her body of work, including Gardenarium and ALEA. Meaning it's a dreamy journey in vivid pinks and aquamarines across animated gardens and glo-fi sculptures. You're gonna want to shut your mind off and enjoy its lurid energy. Listen to the drum-heavy music and see how it conducts the illustrated canvases you can freely wander.

One thing you should avoid is trying to make sense of anything. Here's why: "[While making the game] I was living with a techno musician that always wanted to be stoned and we would jam in the living room," Dawkins writes. "She would do her 'techno homework' which was basically to listen to techno and I would do visuals for her. A lot of the scenes in Palmystery come from those ideas."

It's a game that wants you to mindlessly dance through its spaces. Until you reach the hypnotic trance installations found right at the end, that is. In the Windows version, you end up on a violet island where a cartoon deer circles between floating gemstones. Stay there and relax as artist Andrea Young helps you sink into a meditative state. The last scene in the Mac version has a poem called "The Garden" read by Aya Avalon to a montage of soft-glow lights. Either way you're gonna leave this game chilled the heck out.