Into the Breach with Billie Eilish’s dont smile at me

Because I had planned poorly, the Vek—burrowing, alien kaiju—came swarming out of the dirt. The war was over, I had lost. With Earth thoroughly doomed, I took my one surviving pilot and abandoned the timeline, jumping through a rift in time and hoping to do better in an alternate universe.

That sequence, on loop, is the fundamental experience of Into the Breach, a remarkable turn-based strategy game released last year to critical acclaim. Rather than bogging itself down with needless narrative or cinematics, Into the Breach is spartan in the best way, straightforwardly presenting its game mechanics—a monsters vs. mechs version of digital chess—and then getting out of the way and letting the player dive in as far as they’re willing to go.

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That seeming simplicity masks the game’s difficulty. Into the Breach is challenging and unforgiving. Failure abounds. As small losses snowball into greater ones, the player will crash into the aforementioned time travel mechanic: At the moment of final defeat, the player is able to take one member of their team and escape so that the game can begin all over again, hoping this time for a better result. In the time I’ve spent with Into the Breach, battling back hordes of Vek and desperately trying to save humanity, well, let’s just say that I’ve created a lot of alternate timelines.

When I first read about Billie Eilish, her success—so diametrically opposed to my continued failures in Breach—seemed like something out of an alternate timeline. How could an artist have a play count in excess of one billion (!!) and yet I’d never even heard of her? The answer, of course, is that I’m old. When I first learned of her music, Eilish was only 16 years old, exactly half my age. (She’s since turned 17.) But art is the best time travel we have at the moment and so I have found myself captivated by the futuristic sounds of Eilish’s dont smile at me, a record made by and for a portion of the populace that has barely ditched their learner’s permits.

From the doom of album opener “COPYCAT” through the delightfully languid “idontwannabeyouanymore” and the bounce of “my boy”, dont smile at me comes out swinging and never quits. The album’s pinnacle is the perfectly dreamy “ocean eyes”, a song that was written by Eilish’s brother and released as a single by Billie when she was all of 14 years old. Eilish doesn’t want people focusing on her age and that’s understandable for a number of reasons—not least of which is that her art is worth plenty of focus on its own—but goddamn it’s impressive that anyone could create such powerful work at any age, let alone such a young one.

In light of her internet fame, absurd play counts and—let’s be honest—age, it’s easy to assume that listening to Eilish would make me feel like I’m integrating into youth culture, as if I’m hopping through a rift and into a different, younger timeline. But the truth is almost exactly the opposite. Listening to Eilish it’s hard not to think that she’s the time traveler, a songwriter with a gift beyond her years sent back from another timeline with the sound of the future, beckoning us to follow her, once more, into the breach.

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