“For the Records” is an interactive documentary on four young adults who live with the mental health issues Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), Bi-polar Disorder, Eating Disorder (Anorexia Nervosa) and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD).
Whether you experience these issues yourself, know someone who does, or are simply curious, this website has been created to increase understanding of mental health disorders by providing a space for “shared experiences”, promote dialogue and alleviate stigma. It aims to achieve this goal by including interviews, short films, photo essays and experiential games that create a coherent whole, provide context to each other and illuminate complementary aspects of what it is like to live with mental health issues.
To ensure experiential accuracy, people with lived experience of the portrayed disorders have been strongly involved in the creative and production process, took leading roles on the game development teams, and participated in the films.
“For the Records” is an interdisciplinary effort bringing together DePaul’s cinema and game development program as well as the School of Nursing. All media pieces have been produced over the course of roughly one year (from summer 2013 to Spring 2014) with several film and game development student teams working in parallel under faculty supervision to make this project a reality.
What follows is brief descriptions of each part of the project:
Fluctuation is based on the experience of bipolar disorder. Its design is motivated by the wish to communicate incomprehensible behavior of people with bipolar disorder to their friends and families to open up a constructive dialogue about the experience and alleviate alienation from loved ones.
The game consists of three phases that have been modeled after three phrases our subject matter expert used to capture his experience with the different states of the disorder:
Phase I: The onset of mania: “Why can’t they [e.g. friends] keep up?”
This phase is briefly represented by a party intro scene in which the player character starts out as “the heart of the party” who is first imitated by others, but then shoots off through the ceiling into the sky, leaving everyone else behind.
Phase II: Mania: “It feels like architecting a divine plan. Everything is in sync and coming together in perfect unison”.
The player character is catapulted higher and higher up by jumping onto glass platforms that shatter underneath his feet. The shattering glass represents the damage done due to bad decisions made in mania (e.g. irresponsible relations, overspending etc.). Some platforms carry people (e.g. the friends from the party scene). Jumping on those platforms is accompanied by rainbow sparkles, representing the perception of social relations as particularly intense. The gradual loss of (game) control is accompanied by the growing fractal in the background, which represents the feeling of synchronicity and being part of a bigger whole. Mania ends suddenly and without a chance of prolonging it and plunges the player into the last phase of the game.
Phase III: Depression: “It feels like wading through mud, lost in the company of others.”
The player finds herself in the deep, dark ocean of depression, where the broken shards from the manic phase platforms conglomerate to block her path to the surface. The player’s agency is restricted to painfully slow up, left and right movement (like wading through mud). The people positioned to the sides of the screen send out lights that gravitate towards the player character. These lights stand for well-meant but overwhelming questions such as “How can I help you?”. A depth meter shoes how far one is from the surface, but it is unreliable and cannot be trusted. There is no way of knowing when depression will be over. It ends when it ends.
This last phase of the game transitions into an ending cut scene that represents the end of a manic-depressive cycle and return to normality. Each part of the game is timed to decouple it from player skill.
Special Instructions: This game is best played in Google Chrome. Don’t worry about “winning” (any part of) the game. FLUCTuation focuses on capturing salient experiences associated with the phases of bipolar disorder. Just pay attention to how these phases make you feel.
Controls: Move with left, right, up with arrow keys. Press “up” to jump.
Like the short film Ritual, Into Darkness focuses on the obsessive compulsion to perform annoying rituals in order to fend off anxiety related to OCD. In complement to the film experience, the game allows the player to experience salient aspects of the disorder first hand to promote a deeper understanding of “what it’s like”. In Into Darkness, the player explores an ever-growing maze, a metaphorical representation of OCD itself. The player is literally trapped in the disorder. While navigating the game-space, darkness encroaches from all sides accompanied by scary music. Performing the ritual – walking in circles five times by pressing the arrow keys left, up, right, down – staves off the darkness and clears the maze of germs (represented by dark, oily patches on the ground and character’s clothes). While this may provide temporary relief from the anxiety, the ritual is not the way to overcome the issue, leave the maze / disorder behind and “win” the game.
Into Darkness thus models one of the core conflicts of OCD: the desire to escape the compulsion (i.e. exit the maze), but dreading the anxiety that comes with not giving in to it. In the safe space of the game, the player can experiment with performing and stopping to perform the ritual, enduring feelings of discomfort and finding a way to overcome or at least control the compulsion enough to leave the maze and achieve a “win” state.
Special instructions: This game is best played in Google Chrome.
Controls: Arrow keys are all that’s needed to play this game, move around in the maze and perform the ritual. NOTE: to successfully perform the ritual of walking in a circle that pushes back the darkness, press the up, left, down, right arrow keys quickly and in that exact order. You have to be precise when executing this function and do it five times in a row to have an in-game effect.
It’s for the Best is an experiential complement to the short film Add It Up and aims to make the psychological addiction to ADD medication and feelings of self-doubt associated with the disorder emotionally tangible to players. The game does not propose that medication per se is bad, but aims to raise awareness for how the need for medication and the struggle with ADD can make you feel. According to the experience of our subject matter expert for this piece, ADD is usually considered “not a big deal” as far as mental health issues go (at least compared to e.g. depression, psychosis or anorexia). This under-acknowledges the troubling feelings of worthlessness ADD can bring with it. By allowing the player to experience these feelings, the game aims to create empathy and hopes to promote a mindful way of communicating the need for medication to ADD patients.
In It’s for the Best players try to keep up with assignments represented by papers that flutter onto the screen with increasing speed. Clicking on papers makes them disappear. A pill is featured prominently in the middle of the screen. Choosing to click the pill clears the screen of papers and slows down their onslaught, but diminishes the experience of agency and self-reliance. The game is accompanied by unnerving whispers of “you’re not good enough”.
NOTE: this game does not have a win state. It is only a few minutes long and ends when the preset timer runs out. It is meant to be experienced, so don’t worry about whether you are doing it “right”, and just allow yourself to observe, engage and feel.
Special Instructions: This game is best played in Google Chrome and requires a mouse.
Controls: Use the mouse to click on objects in the game. Clicking the papers makes them disappear one by one. Clicking the pill gets rid of the papers much faster and slows down the onslaught for a short time.
Playing with Perceptions of Beauty and Perfection
This is a game about the eating disorder anorexia nervosa, a phenomenon that is often highly incomprehensible to people without first hand experience and freight with misconceptions (e.g. anorexics starve themselves simply to look thinner). Perfection plays with perceptions of beauty and perfection to enable an experiential understanding of why someone would starve themselves. The game’s core metaphor is the body as garden. The game’s main premise is that a perfect garden is devoid of slugs and weeds. To achieve perfection, the player is asked to eliminate these unwanted elements until only the main plant in the middle is left.
The conflict of the game revolves around garden saturation (as indicated by a saturation meter in the bottom left corner of the screen). Watering the garden increases its saturation. The weeds flourish and the numbers of slugs rise. Eliminating slugs by moving the mouse over them in a scrubbing motion decreases saturation, as does parching the garden. Also, de-saturation is the only way to get rid of the weeds.
Three Stages to Perfection
The game is structured in three stages (metaphorical representations of increasingly higher weight-loss goals). “Winning” a stage is accompanied by expanding garden walls, which are prison and perceived protection at the same time. At the end of stage three, when no more weeds and slugs are left, the Perfection ending is reached. This ending, though, raises the question whether it truly represents a win state…
The Alternate Ending: Imperfection
There is another ending hidden in the game that sheds a different light on the game’s assumptions and suggested rules to achieve Perfection. To reach it, players have to question the rules, closely observe all the elements in the game-space and explore different behaviors for a different outcome.
Special Instructions: this game is best played in Google Chrome and requires a mouse. The game does have two endings and can be won. Don’t give up after the “Perfection” ending. Reading the texts on the screens between stages helps. There is a “What it all means” page in the game that explains the metaphorical meaning of all game elements. You might want to read this after having played the game.
Controls: Mouse controls: click the watering can to water the garden. Once a weed has turned brown, you can get rid of it by moving the mouse over it, clicking and holding the left mouse button to grab it and drag and drop it over the garden wall. To scrub away slugs, mouse over them, hold left mouse button and vigorously move over them in an intense scrubbing motion, like removing a stubborn smudge with a sponge.