There’s something uncanny about dancing in video games. It’s a fun activity, but once it’s put in an unexpected context, things start getting weird. The dancing village in Elden Ring is one example of that, but there are also real-world events like the dancing plague of 1518 (a thing you should read about) that are even stranger than fiction. Uncanny dancing is at the center of Silenus, the short, experimental demo for the new narrative-focused game from Norco developer Geography of Robots. In less than an hour, the experiential album masquerading as a typical game demo delivers an uncomfortable commentary on the rot of capitalism.

Silenus is something of a peculiarity—one-part game demo and one-part album release. That’s because the demo, officially titled the Umbilical Pre-Release demo, is made in partnership with Baton Rouge-based metal band Thou, who composed the music for Norco. The band is releasing its next album, Umbilical, on May 31, and the Silenus demo acts as a special early release for fans of the band. By exploring the demo, players can unlock all ten of the album’s tracks and listen to them through an in-game media player.

The gameplay aspect of Silenus sets you on an eerie adventure in an oil refinery recently acquired by a mysterious corporation with goals of automating labor and forcing the remaining human workers into unexplained dance routines dictated by a giant floating hologram. It’s a setting and tone that will be familiar to those who played Norco, which also touched on the struggle of the working class and a Louisiana-inspired setting steeped in the business of oil.

A giant hologram figure says "All level 1 personnel are required to dance."

Image: Geography of Robots

Silenus’ demo, while short, gets straight to the point (as a result, it’s sometimes a little heavy-handed. You can find emails and notes from workers questioning if they will face random layoffs, and discover a clear lack of communication from the refinery’s new owners who seem to care little about workers while striving to maximize profits. The full version of Silenus is set to release sometime later this year and is described by Geography of Robots as a “micro-adventure” that won’t take longer than three hours to complete when finished.

What makes the game’s mechanics all the more fascinating is how it ties in the reward of tracks from Umbilical. As protagonist Titian, your job is never an altruistic one, beyond the immediate payoff of the player getting access to tracks. In fact, you have to do a lot of shitty stuff if you want to listen to the entire album. One particularly memorable task involves reporting a coworker to your manager, something that leads to them getting murdered for not following protocol. But you need their keycard to progress the demo, so the dead man is just a means to an end for you to get what you want. It’s a pretty effective allegory for how the in-game company that bought the oil refinery sees its workers, and how real-world private equity seems to do nothing but destroy the things it touches.

A worker overlooks a dead body and text reads "The technician is dead."

Image: Geography of Robots

That does seem to be the explicit point of this playable album drop. Thou has long been a politically minded band, which is why the collaboration with Geography of Robots on Norco works so well. That continues here but in reverse. In Norco, Thou’s music was in service of Geography of Robots’ game. In the Silenus demo, Geography of Robots’ game design is in service of Thou’s latest album.

“[T]his record is most especially for the weaklings and malingerers,” says Thou, “burdened by capricious indulgence, hunched by the deep wounds of compromise, shuffling in limp approximation, desperately reaching back towards integrity and conviction.” To reach the end of the Silenus demo, the player needs to be a compromised weakling. Congrats on getting that full album access, hope you don’t feel like a shitty person with all that blood on your hands.


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