The Crooked Roots and Tangled Blessings of Cassi Mothwin

Cassi Mothwin was 2023’s Rising Star Designer. In 2024, she’s trying not to burn out.

The Crooked Roots and Tangled Blessings of Cassi Mothwin
Credit: Dave Moore photography

“So it started when I was an emo goth in middle school,” said award winning game designer, writer, illustrator, reviewer, and actual play performer Cassi Mothwin. “Actually, I'm still an emo goth. I'm just not in middle school anymore.” 

A vein of quiet, unsettling horror can be traced through Mothwin’s work from Tangled Blessings—a dark academia twist on the magical boarding school genre—through her most recent game, Carved By The Garden, a solo journaling game documenting a character’s final days in an all-consuming haunted forest. The eerie unexplainable wonder of liminal spaces at the edge of their childhood forest inspired Mothwin’s fascination with folk horror, echoes of which manifest in her design.

“I grew up at the end of a dead-end road in the middle of nowhere in Missouri for a couple of years. There were multiple dead-end roads that ended in the middle of the woods. We were moving a lot, but it was almost always in the woods.” She pauses.” The thing with dead-end roads in the middle of nowhere is it's a great dumping ground. I think one of the most horrifying things I ever found in the woods was this pile of CRT TVs. All of the cords had been cut on the TVs, but they were all in a pile. All the screens were intact, but it was far away from the road, just in the middle of the woods, all these CRT TVs. And I just remember being so freaked out and thinking like, Who's been here? Who's watching? What else is here? There were a lot of discoveries like that and a lot of trying to make sense of the experience.” 

A more rational, adult Mothwin can rationalize the detritus on the edge of civilization as teenagers playing a prank or retailers attempting to avoid the costs of proper disposal of their overstock. “At the time, all of these collective things, in addition to not having the internet, not having access to community or people, it was very interesting to try to struggle and tell a story.” 

“I think that's where I was trying to go with Carved by the Garden. A lot of people are afraid of the woods and rightfully so. We as humanity grew up out of the woods. Now a lot of us, if we were to just go to the woods, are not going to survive. I can build a tent maybe, I can maybe start a fire. I don't know what medicinal herbs to find if I need them though, I don't know what food I can eat, I don't know what's poisonous. And so there's a lot of collective anxiety about the woods, and we're also losing it. We're watching species deteriorate. We're watching our world die before our eyes due to climate change and no one else is ever going to be able to have that dead end road experience. So in a way I was trying to capture that anxiety of ‘I'm afraid of what's in there, but also I'm afraid to lose it.’”