Fair warning–this is a column not an article. This is written from my perspective, my thoughts; it is not meant to be the be all end all of this event in games, rather what I have felt. If you don’t want to read sensitive information, controversial information, or an opinion-based article, I advise you to read some of the other well-written and amazing articles on this site.
Eight hard years of being a walking and talking zombie–alive, but not living.
Recently I’ve been charged with wednesday night streaming for Rectify Gaming where I decided I was going to do an ‘indie hour’ (even though my time slot is four hours long). I started with a game of comedy and choice, somewhat based philosophically but made for fools, not for the wise. It puts a loose premise on existentialism and free will, one that is done nicely. The first night I streamed it I came to an option for going through a red or blue door. I chose the red door because the narrator told me to and because I had just ventured into the blue door, so I needn’t go through there as there wasn’t another choice for me to make. So I lumbered on into the red door area where I was greeted by a round platform and swirling lights. Thinking that might be an end to the game, I quickly darted to an odd drywalled hallway, which brought me to a room with a large flight of stairs going four stories high. The door behind me shut, and I went up the stairs. As I was going up, the narrator was mentioning things along the lines of, “No, Stanley, don’t,” and I was confused as to what he was talking about.
As I reached the top of the stairs, I realized.
At the top of the stairs was a small platform–no doors, with an opening.
I was to walk off the edge and kill myself.
The narrator started showing emotion and it sucked a bit, because his voice acting was actually really good and believable, and he was begging Stanley for his life. I promptly walked off the edge–and survived. Several times I had to walk up the stairs and listen as the heartbroken narrator watched me repeatedly try to end my life, as I was stuck here in this room; no way out. I think it was the fifth or fourth time that the game allowed me to succeed in my goal. What the game also did, was bring up a painful wave of memories, of which I had to hide on-stream via low-blow comedy and remedial comments.
I’ve been through these situations–the first time I ever tried taking my life I was 10, and there were other attempts over that. I tried counseling tried different forms of therapy tried some good things, and some bad things, but nothing could ever rid me of the poison that was my mental state.
Recently, only recently (a few months ago) have I successfully combatted my emotions. Eight hard years of being a walking and talking zombie–alive, but not living.
I channelled my emotions into writing, whether it was journals articles here, songs and raps, or my short story series. But writing helped me cope with my issues as I could see what I was feeling through what I wrote, whether it was blatantly there or subtle in imagery. Understanding myself was the key to defeating my demons.
But having to manually walk my character up these stairs some spare seconds that felt like hours, more than once, more than twice, more than three times, hearing the narrator cry and beg for me to save my life–no.
There’s times in videogames where the suicide of my character does not bother me. Hell, it never does. Whether it’s making yourself ‘pop’ in Little Big Planet or holding X to ‘Coward’s Way Out’ in Call of Duty, none of it has ever remotely made me fettered by my actions. But this made suicide feel real. Not that I thought I was the character–but because the narrator’s voice is exactly what you hear in your brain as you ponder in what could be your last moments. You hear your loved ones, you hear even the people you think despise you the most you can hear sometimes.
You try, again and again, thinking the next time will be the time you bring yourself to do it, but it’s not.
So there is alot of things I could mention about suicide in games today. Maybe they’ve just made us accustomed to it, so we don’t feel as much. Maybe it’s that it’s never in a realistic circumstance. I don’t know, but since that day of having to relive some of my experience, I haven’t looked at suicide in games the same way. I shudder at the thought.
Today I streamed that same area in the game, exploring to see if there was an ending on that round, light-embraced platform.
If a player had gone through the red door, they are forced to do the stairs.
I apologized to the stream and said “This brings up bad memories for me, I’m sorry, but I can’t do the rest of this ending,” and I began the game from the pause menu.
All that to say, no person should have to go through these events, nonetheless should a game make one of these events forced–at least make it so the player dies on the first try. I might look at the game differently then.
So is it alright to have in games? Ya. You know what, like I said before, it’s never bothered me until that day, and the events that bring a character to that point are never really emotional or realistic, so the fourth wall doesn’t get broken both on purpose or incidentally. But The Stanley Parable broke the fourth wall unintentionally, and it hurt.
But how on earth can I possibly bring myself to say that suicide in games is ‘okay’? Look. I understand this is the 21st century, and so in some unwritten rule we have to take offense from everything, even if it didn’t offend us personally but offended someone else and is therefore offensive which means it is an offense, but that doesn’t mean that everything that is controversial is offensive, although most if not all offensive things are controversial. Is suicide in games controversial? Yes. Does it need to be? Yes! But if you are to include it into a game, I beg of you to follow these simple rules:
-Don’t do it to a character we grow to love. I beg of you this because it brings hurt people like me back to a past we have outright denied (it still plagues us, but we are warriors, fighting the evil).
-Don’t make it emotional or happen slowly. It just stirs up the feels in people like me. If it happens, make it happen. Don’t make us walk up stairs slowly well hearing someone beg for our life.’
-Make it unrealistic, or dress it up. Little Big Planet does this nicely, by making it a little more playful by holding a button to make your character constipated and eventually burst with a cracker sound.
-If at all else fails, warn us. Again and again, I’ve seen it in games but have been undeterred. But warn us. Pop something on the screen. Tell us explicitly: WARNING: SUICIDE. SKIP?
I’m sure I could write a whole four page essay on the issue with countless more examples, but the point of this article is to make you think in what you are consuming. When you see your favourite youtuber (yes favourite, not favorite, I’m canadian) go through this part in Stanley Parable, are you going to laugh? Are they going to laugh?