I’m remembering a post I wrote over two and a half years ago. It’s the post that my friend Corvus brings up whenever anyone asks how he met me, as I was responding to his own musings as to why there aren’t very many games that explore themes of isolation by pointing out that, well, several of mine do, and hey, maybe he’d be interested.  Two and a half years later, I’ve just released my biggest project of the intervening time period, where the theme of isolation is not only present, but so prominently centre stage that it’s practically yelling in your face about how it’s so lonely and nobody loves it and won’t you please give the game a hug, already?
I’m sure people who’ve played the game have noticed this theme, both in text and in subtext. Charlotte is a lonely person, but in a way, she brings it upon herself by constantly rationalising her aloneness, in an “it could be worse” sort of way. There’s also the argument that she doesn’t really know how not to be lonely. And then there are the things the game will and will not allow you to do, so you’re essentially stuck in Charlotte’s limited thought patterns, only able to say or do the things that she herself would. I wonder how many people noticed that none of the characters touch one another as they converse — there’s a reason for that beyond the fact that I’m too lazy to animate them doing so. Even in scenes where Charlotte expresses her feelings for who she’s talking to, there’s a certain stilted awkwardness in her delivery.
The game is obviously about me, but it isn’t “based on a true story” so much as “based on real feelings”, up to and including the fact that any solitary creative pursuit is isolating by its very nature, and it takes people of a certain personality type to be able to thrive in that mode of work for extended periods of time. And now that the bulk of said work is done, I find myself wanting to crawl out of my metaphorical cave and experience the outside world again. In a way, as with every game I’ve worked on, I created it with the hope of connecting with other people who share these feelings of isolation, bringing about a sense of “we’re all lonely together, and maybe that’s not such a bad thing after all”. It is, after all, comforting to know it’s not just me.
Still, I can’t deny the fact that the game itself is intended as a single player experience; in the era of so-called social games, this is turning out to be more and more of a rarity, it seems. At PAX, I was asked by at least one person whether I could include social networking features in my game, and my gut reaction was hostile rejection of the idea. I rationalised this because it would dilute the message, though there is also a valid point that maybe I’m afraid to “open” my game worlds to the public, and allow players to be creators and not just observers. Some would call me a control freak. I would rather humbly suggest that designing multiplayer games is a whole other skill set in which I don’t have all that much experience.
That said, it warms the cockles of my heart to hear anecdotes of people playing the game together with their loved ones, interacting with it almost like they would a movie. This effect has been even more amplified when I’ve given demos of the game, watching people yell out suggestions for what things to try next. It’s made me think that in the future, I’d like to do screenings of the full game; I even have ideas for a public art installation featuring scenes from it. So perhaps there is a social element to this game after all; just not the sort that’s “trendy” at the moment.