Depression, Meaphors, and Old-School Gaming: Part II

 

As I mentioned in my previous post, Depression is a disorder that has a lot of metaphors attached to it, but not a lot of cultural understanding. Interestingly, computer games are becoming a useful tool for promoting awareness and empathy for clinical depression. I previously discussed Fixation, a puzzle game with a story built around it; Another game I’ve found striking is Every Day The Same Dream.

 

 (this discussion contains spoilers, click the link above if you want to play first.)

 

This game could best be described as minimalist. The graphics are simple (but beautiful) and there are only three controls: forward, backward, and action. The limited scope works wonderfully, since it revolves around a suicidal man desperately trying to change his life, who has no idea how to do so. There are only a few screens in this game: home, elevator, traffic, and work, with a few others that have to be discovered. The challenge of the game, since there are so few controls, is to discover what it is you can do differently. There are only a handful of changes that can be made, and one of them entails jumping off the roof of your work building. If you discover all of the changes, you get a closing scene where you catch someone who looks a lot like you also jumping to his death.

 

This is controversial, and like Fixation, I would not recommend this game to someone looking for an uplift, but I’m enthusiastic about it myself. The reason for this is the interpretability of this game. It’s non-linear, and the changes can be discovered in any order. This leaves it open for discussion, and creates individual narratives for the player. From my play-through, I took away that this man is struggling and feels alone, and doesn’t realize that someone he sees every day is going through the same thing. In this way, the game makes a powerful argument for the necessity of a more open acknowledgment of depression and suicidal ideation. It wonderfully captures the feeling of isolation and helplessness for someone facing these issues, and addresses the possible result in an emotionally complex manner.

 

 There are a lot of things I could say about this game, but I would prefer if people played it came to their own conclusions. I would love to see a discussion about it below, and will leave this question for anyone who wants to answer it:

 

 Does the shock value of this game (incorporation of suicide) help or hinder dialogues about depression?

 

 

2 Comments

  • January 29, 2014 - 6:35 pm | Permalink

    It took me a while to figure out where all the options were, which really served to reinforce the cyclical pattern of the game. “Every Day the Same Dream”. Nightmare is more like it. It seems like the world offers us so many options for living, but the painful reality is that most of us are stuck in these repeating loops of time and space in which we find ourselves on autopilot doing the exact same things over and over and over again. It reminds me of the character Walenski in the film Dark City when he realizes that his world is an illusion and there’s no way out. Eventually he does figure a way out, but it involves throwing himself in front of an oncoming train.

    When we feel limited in our scope, in our ability to change and improve our lives, we become despondent and start looking for ways out. Suicide is never a rational decision. It’s always an emotional one. It’s the decision to escape pain because it becomes impossible to bear any more. It’s a place I’ve been on numerous occasions in my life, and it’s most definitely a miserable experience I wouldn’t wish on anyone. It’s at these times when we humans are at our most vulnerable and most susceptible to suggestion, and it’s all too easy to fall into even worse situations even if, at the time, they seem appealing in the moment. These are things like escape into drugs or alcohol, cutting the body, winding up in a cult, criminal behavior, whatever. These are the alternatives presented to us to escape the cyclical tedium of our lives.

    We often hope for big change, but I found two screens in the game that turned out to be quite satisfying to me (the first was easy to find and the second, though not quite as obvious to find, turned out to be more rewarding) and those tiny moments got me through my virtual work day in the game. In my own life when I started feeling like I was repeating the same stretch of time over and over again, I began going on bike rides to parts of town I’d never seen before. Though it seemed kind of trivial, these shakeups to my routine helped me to keep going, to keep living.

    As for the end of the game, I’m not sure what to make of it. To me it seemed like the same inevitable conclusion that Walenski reached. Death comes to us all eventually, but for those of us with suicidal ideation, I think to “win” at life is to die in some way other than suicide. So that’s what I’m aiming to do.

    • Jaime Wise
      January 29, 2014 - 11:00 pm | Permalink

      Thanks for the thoughtful response. I took the end as strangely hopeful, that seeing someone a lot like himself jump, showed the man in the game that there were things going on in the lives of those around him that he didn’t see, that he wasn’t really alone in his troubles. It seems hopeful to me, because my issues manifested when I was a kid, and not being old enough to understand what a mental disorder was, I honestly believed for a while that I was the only person like me. While I would never wish depression and suicidal impulses on anyone, it was a major relief to me when I found out there were others who had the same problems.

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