[TW: Mentions of suicide.]
A year ago, one of my closest friends from high school died. Even now, after slogging through months of learning to live with it and having years of experience dealing with grieving for other people, there’s something really surreal about being in the middle of washing my hands and suddenly remembering that moment I found out he killed himself. Suicide is a deeply violent thing, and death in young adults or teenagers is something that adults aren’t ever quite prepared to address, so we’re never properly taught how to cope. My brother coped with moving faster and putting their own friendship behind him and throwing himself into other things, because that’s what he does.
I coped with Chroma Squad.
A love letter even in its concept, Chroma Squad playfully parodies the original Power Rangers TV show by telling the tale of a group of stunt performers who leave their stifling studio to create a new, actor-driven series with original scripts and a keen eye on fan engagement. There’s no character customization system, but you can pick from an assortment of (clearly celebrity-inspired) characters to fill your five-person team. My team was full of women, because when games give me that option, I’m always interested to see how it plays out.
Where Chroma Squad got really special for me was its audience see-and-speak system: the success of each ‘episode’ is based upon how many people are watching its broadcast, and you can draw in more audience members by completing special stunts, killing enemies in a certain order, or finishing the turn-based fights before time runs out. At the end of every episode, messages clearly meant to parody Twitter’s format pop up and allow you to gauge what your viewers thought or are actually saying before you head out to make the next episode.
You’ll also get a handful of randomly generated emails from NPCs, or fans of the show, who want to reach out to you and share their thoughts.
In making such a huge difference for the lives of Chroma Squad’s NPCs—emailing a young girl exclusive signed merchandise to thank her for being a fan, playfully responding to another’s messages about which femslash ships our studio officially endorsed, getting thank-you notes from people involved in monster battles after the lines between on-air stunts and off-air reality begin to blur—I started to really care about these fans and wanted to make a show they could turn to for support.
Chroma Squad asks you to do that, I realized. In every fiber of its actors’ choices, they’re always conscious of how to appeal to fans and create a show more organic and helpful than the one they’d left. Earlier episodes talk about why the idea of a woman always being the one helplessly at risk from dangerous monsters is harmful socially, while later ones make it keenly obvious time and again that the team’s strength comes from caring and communicating.
When you’re playing Chroma Squad’s final episode, going up against your last big bad boss, the audience is watching. That’s the final catalyst to encourage your team to stand up and fight one more time after they’ve already been knocked down; that your fans are cheering you on, an entire planet of supporters, relying on you to save the Earth because they can’t do it themselves.
But they trust that you can.
All of Chroma Squad is about love, finding other people who can cherish and support you when you can’t cherish or support yourself. It’s a wholly joyous, unapologetic experience about treasuring friends, family, and community wherever you can make it.
Nobody can go it alone, Chroma Squad asks you to consider, but sometimes all you can do is support someone else’s choices and hope for the best. Sometimes the world will end, and sometimes you’ll give up in the face of things bigger than you think you could ever be.
Even when you do, people who support you will be there, and leaning on them for a while will be fine. It’ll be okay. It’ll be good for you to do, and the fact that those people are there means they want to support you. And sometimes it’ll happen in reverse, where the fact that you’re there for someone else means you’re trying and offering your love in the best way you can—even if it doesn’t seem like it’s going to be enough against things you can’t fix.
Sometimes it won’t be, and there will be times when you can’t be there for everyone you want to, but that’s a part of life, too. Learning how to move on and try again with the support of other people is important, because we’re all so, so loved, even if we don’t have a handy pixelated gauge to let us know how many people care about us and the things we can accomplish.
Breathe, Chroma Squad reminded me. You can always stand up again.