June 13, 2024

For lots of people, indie sport POOLS will lean into horror territory. Whereas the strolling simulator doesn’t have any monsters chasing you down, the liminal design of its surroundings may be very able to unsettling the participant. Lengthy, interconnected rooms of tiling and oddly-shaped our bodies of water sloshing forwards and backwards lead you to imagine that one thing simply isn’t proper throughout the world of POOLS. And but, for me, it evokes a stunning nostalgia for the numerous hours of my life spent round swimming pools.

POOLS is a collection of six mazes to navigate, with little steerage and no actual menace. As a substitute, it presents an architectural uncanny valley influenced by the thought of liminal areas and backrooms. There’s additionally quite a lot of water. However the eerie vacancy of an area designed for multiple solitary particular person evokes the identical feeling of early morning swim practices.

Swimming pools, at the very least giant public swimming pools like those evoked by POOLS, are designed to be communal areas. They’re meant to be locations of life and sound. In actual life and the sport, being alone when exploring a pool and its surrounding amenities can really feel otherworldly. That isn’t essentially an unsettling factor. Whereas that’s fairly explicitly what POOLS is making an attempt to evoke, for me it manages to be nearly meditative.

Picture: Tensori

For almost all of my center and highschool years, I used to be a aggressive swimmer. Like every sport, it was a time-consuming dedication that meant early mornings and late evenings. Mornings are particularly memorable, bundled up in a heat parka sitting alone in entrance of an enormous pool inside a large facility. Earlier than dawn, with the pool solely lit by just a few fluorescent bulbs on the deck, it could possibly make you’re feeling like the one particular person on the planet.

Navigating via the white-tiled structure of POOLS is about exploring one thing new. Every room is exclusive. Every has its personal curves and arduous angles, in addition to its personal utilization of the central water options. Some rooms have beautiful swimming pools that really feel impressed by bathhouses, just a few have colourful waterslides, and others are completely flooded. Many really feel utilitarian in design, easy railings and ladders surrounding rectangular receptacles of water. When touring for competitors, each pool was a brand new place to find. Usually they have been my solely window into no matter metropolis I used to be in—the pool was the entire world.

I wished to memorize every pool’s distinctive components, all the way down to the discrepancies in the way it felt to glide via the water. These reconstructions nonetheless exist in some deep a part of my thoughts. Some are clearer than others, however they’re linked collectively like a thoughts palace of kinds that I can stroll via. They’re all the time empty, apart from the uninteresting buzz of electrical energy from the lights and the sloshing of water.

Two pages of illustrations of different pools

Picture: Blue Rider Press / Leanne Shapton

The perfect visible illustration of this has all the time been, for me, the work of Leanne Shapton. Now an artist and author, Shapton was a aggressive swimmer for almost all of her youth. In her memoir, Swimming Research, Shapton intercuts textual content with varied items of artwork. Essentially the most memorable to me are the pages of easy geometric renderings of various swimming pools the world over that Shapton has visited. The darkish shapes of the swimming pools are contrasted by a stark white surrounding, with nothing else.

Like Shapton’s artwork, POOLS breaks these areas all the way down to the fundamentals of darkish water and muted white environment. However the sport triggers one thing in me a lot nearer to my recollections. It’s a mixture of the visible rendering of the area, the audio of water dripping on tiles, and the power to wander at my very own tempo. There are some rooms in POOLS that really feel nearly instantly lifted from my mind like I’m wandering into recollections. It’s not the unsettling expertise the sport is meant to be for many gamers, however one thing extra private and simply as enthralling.