• Hurry The Sorry Word echoes with a raw deathly blues classic
07.07.14

Hurry The Sorry Word echoes with a raw deathly blues classic

The lyric "[Death will] come to your house and he won't stay long" doesn't resonate as it did when Blind Gary Davis first wrote it. He grew up in South Carolina at the turn of the 20th century. He doubtless saw plenty of deaths in the house he grew up in considering he was the only one of eight children to survive to adulthood. The subsequent grief of his experiences can be sensed in his unrefined yet tunefully raw vocal.

Death goes largely unseen now. It visits nursing homes and hospitals, not our houses—not our beds. The death Davis sings about in "Death Don't Have No Mercy" isn't as known any more. It comes from an era before the war against it had taken off with anti-aging cream and plastic surgery. It was accepted rather than denied back then. The idea of death entering our house—where we're most comfortable—is more of a taboo now than it was in Davis's time.

"Death don't have no mercy in this land" sings Davis as we're funneled into a dead end 

It's this understanding of death's proximity and inevitability that Nate Gallardo has our Dorian Gray mentality fight against in Hurry The Sorry Word. This short videogame is his tribute to Blind Gary Davis and his classic blues song. It's a first-person runner (although you move at a walking pace) that almost verges on qualifying as gallows humor due to its cruel toying of our struggle with mortality.

It starts suddenly, like a nightmare, encouraging us to outrun a plunge into death along a sinking railroad track. Rail spikes unfasten in their masses, ascending like hundreds of ghosts brushing past our face, causing the sleepers underfoot to fall away slowly. Our each step seems to introduce further decay as icons of pre-industrialized America—early telegraph poles, wagons, and wooden fences—break up into abstracted shapes that float away as we pass. Davis's deathly lyrics and the immediacy of his bluesy fingerpicking echo in the distance the whole duration. It's as if it wants to hurry us along to the final resting place at the end of the tracks.

Be it no surprise that the effort is revealed to have been futile all along. "Death don't have no mercy in this land" sings Davis as we're funneled into a dead end, descending into the omnipresent darkness we've been running from. Fittingly, the final moments take place inside a cosy hut that seems to have been waiting for us. The glowing red bed at its center—the only non-grayscale object in the game—matches another of Davis's mournful lyrics: "You look in the bed and somebody will be gone". This time it's you.

Once you've experienced it, the ending seems like it could be the only one that would work to round off this videogame tribute. But it was a point of huge contemplation for Nate as it largely determined how effective Hurry The Sorry Word would be. It didn't come to him immediately when developing the game.

"The [train] track was always the central thing, and I toyed with ideas about where it might lead. A town. A Back To The Future III-style drop over a canyon. An infinite loop. I never really figured out what to do with it, but the idea of pairing it with some music was always there in some form."

capturing Davis's depressing message in a way that may be more relatable to us 

All of these possible endings would still work even if they didn't match "Death Don't Have No Mercy" quite as well the current one does. It would take nine months before Nate eventually discovered what Hurry The Sorry Word needed to be, and what it is today. It came during another phase of listening to a lot of old American folk music.

"Blues, bluegrass, old Appalachian working songs (Harry Smith's Anthology Of American Folk is an awesome intro to this stuff). I renewed my obsession with 'Death Don't Have No Mercy', and its theme resonated with me in a way it hadn't when I'd first heard it (during Jack White's portion of the documentary It Might Get Loud)."

Until this point, Hurry The Sorry Word was just a Unity project that Nate had started immediately after releasing icefishing v, and abandoned nearly as quickly. Davis's song gave it a focal point, allowing him to "trim out all the other bullshit ideas" he'd had, stripping it down to its current finished state. All the elements seemed to fall into place.

According to Nate, it has become a tribute to "Death Don't Have No Mercy" in two ways. Firstly, in that the game's existence is entirely owed to it (somewhat ironically). Secondly, its intention is to serve as a companion to the music. It certainly manages that—capturing Davis's depressing message in a way that may be more relatable to us now than the song might be.

"It was the catalyst for finishing it, and so maybe someone will play the game and get curious about Davis's work," Nate says of his creation.

You can download Hurry The Sorry Word for free over on itch.io.