The ruins you visit have not been abandoned because something happened, but because their function shifted. That you are in them at all implies something new about them. What was once a settlement is now a place to explore or a home for beetles. A crashed ship is not a ruined machine, but a living piece of your history which you can touch and learn from. It wants you to be there, and to gain something from the experience.

Sable’s world is not a broken machine, it’s doing fine. You’re not on some grand quest to save it, or return the planet to its former glory. You’re just a girl growing up in this place, and growing up means choosing a new mask.

There are a lot of video games about masks, and a lot of them are, similarly, about identity. In Persona 5, you tear off your mask to reveal your true self, manifested as a minor god or demon. In The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask, your body warps when the mask meets your face. You scream and writhe as your bones contort to fill their new shapes. The mask is necessary, but violent.

Sable slides down a hill, kicking up sand in her wake. The mountains in the distance are purple, and the scene is awash in red.
Shhhhhwwwwwwwwww that’s the sound the sand makes.
Screenshot: Shedworks

This is often the way that neurodivergent people talk about fitting into society. You mask your true self, hiding it away to fit into a social system that was not built for you. The mask becomes prisonlike and destructive. Identity is a thing forced upon you, not a thing you choose.

Sable imagines something different, and gentler. It imagines masks as objects which communicate to other people who you are, and how you can help them. You can find the machinist in any city, or the cartographer in any bar. These identities are not the only part of the person, of course, but they do express how they relate to other people. And I think that, at its best, that’s what identity is all about.

I have seen other young queer people online talking about how there are hundreds of genders, and that gender is a deeply individual thing. I think this is, in some ways, true. Your personal expression will usually be unique to you, at least to some degree. However, I think there is a tendency to make gender synonymous with aesthetics and self-conception. It is a very “I think, therefore I am,” approach to identity, where the individual is centered above all else.

Sable’s masks present another option. Identity not as self-conception, but social function. You wear your machinist’s mask, and people come to you when they need a machinist. I perform the social function of lesbian, and that affects how people interact with me. Identity expresses a way of relating to other people, not just the way you see yourself.

In a nomadic culture that is deeply invested in change, you can shift your social function with time. Most people, after their Gliding, settle with one mask. They embrace that role for the rest of their lives. There is another option though: You can just do it again. Just like a town can become a ruin, which can then become a place for children to learn about their place in the world, so too can a child become a Machinist, who then becomes a Cartographer.

Sable imagines identity and growth as playful, joyous, and nearly impossible to fail. It promises you that changing your mind is okay. You wanted to be an Innkeeper, and now you don’t. It encourages you to become something else then, without rejecting or hating the person you’re leaving behind.

There are no deadnames in Sable. Just people and places who have become something new.