Who killed Merriam LaPensee? The question looms over Purity & Decay, a visual cyber-noir novel by Achimostawinan Games. But by asking one question, the game’s creators also ask another: What does an Indigenous future look like seven generations from now?
Let’s get this out of the way: Noir, as a genre, is white. The genre’s silver screen sleuths were typically hard-boiled in heady broths of French cynicism, German aesthetics, and American post-war masculinity. Their world-weary individualistic outlooks legitimized themselves through monochromatic monologues afflicted with metaphors and misogyny. Purity & Decay fixes noir’s shortcomings by decolonizing the whodunit.
Private eye Myeengun Hill, bemoaner of soggy bannock and rich girls, is as cynical as they come. He’s hired by Mary LaPensee, a wealthy dame looking for answers into her runaway sister’s grisly demise. Mary is woefully unaware of how people live below — literally below, since in this world of holographic news alerts and hyper-advanced drugs, the elites are sky people, living high above those in the slums.
The noir hallmarks are all there: cryptic clues, sinister forces and broken systems that our Myeengun sidesteps. But while so much detective fiction orbits around what’s wrong with the individual, Purity & Decay examines how personal faults are related to social issues. In this future, colonial trauma is just beginning to heal. Things are improving, but nothing is utopic. Queer relationships are in the game, but so is a drug that makes you straight. Stratification abounds: Mary for one is completely unaware of the the existence of social services like housing assistance.
Developer and Achimostawinan founder Meagan Bryne thus channeled her distress in capitalism and colonialism into the visual novel. She re-frames social issues like homelessness, taking issue with how victims of the housing crisis are usually interpreted a failing individual, not a complex person deserving of compassion.
“We’re used to seeing things through a colonial lens of what’s ok, what’s good,” Bryne says. “I was thinking, what’s a world like with less lateral violence?”
Byrne is Métis and Cree, and the game was illustrated by Tara Miller of Maliseet First Nation. P&D only portrays the creators’ specific nations, a conscious push against cultural appropriation, an open wound that Canada is fond of scratching, with a deep graze done recently by the publisher of this very magazine.
As such, the sacredness of storytelling weighs heavy on Bryne’s creative process. She worries about taking without giving something back. After all, theft isn’t only exploitative. It affects Indigenous youth on the margins and those detached from their communities.
Noir’s typical “I got mine” attitude is not the Cree way, Bryne says. In imagining an Indigenous noir with Purity and Decay, Bryne and her team have also swapped the genre’s self-protective ideology for something kinder and more patient: “I got you.”