Development, Feminism, Health, Interviews

Blanket Fort Chats: Game Making With Kaitlin Tremblay

Kaitlin Tremblay
[Courtesy of Kaitlin Tremblay.]

Blanket Fort Chats” is a semi-regular column featuring women and nonbinary game makers talking about the craft of making games. In this week’s post, we feature Kaitlin Tremblay, a writer, editor, and game maker whose work focuses on mental illness, horror, and feminism. [Trigger Warning: Discussions of depression, eating disorders, and self-harm.]

Miss N: Can you tell us a little bit about your background?

Kaitlin: I kind of fell sideways into making games. After I finished my Master’s (in English and Film), I wasn’t entirely sure what I wanted to do. Around this time, a friend of mine from my creative writing undergrad was starting up a small website for video game criticism and asked me if I wanted to be involved. From there, I started meeting a lot of really cool people in games and it got me thinking about video games in a way that meant more than being just a distraction.

Miss N: How did you get into making games?

Kaitlin: I moved to Toronto and started doing PR/marketing support work for a small indie video game. I met even more amazing people who not only loved and talked about video games in the same way as I did, but who were really supportive and encouraging of me making my own game. Dames Making Games, a feminist organization, was a huge part of this process for me. DMG was filled with a lot of amazing, talented, and supportive women game makers that making a game didn’t feel so scary and impossible anymore.

Continue reading “Blanket Fort Chats: Game Making With Kaitlin Tremblay”

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Health, Reviews

Point-and-Creep: ‘Fran Bow’ Chapter 3 Sends a Powerful Message to Survivors

Fran Bow
[PART 1] [PART 2] [PART 3]

[Trigger warning: Death, depression, and suicide. The entire game involves gory hallucinations. Or are they?]

In my last review, we followed Fran into a seemingly lovely home situated inside of a well. She finally found Mr. Midnight held hostage by a pair of conjoined twins who needed him for a spell to separate themselves. Fran discovers a hidden spell that eventually eliminated the twins, then they escaped together—only to come across the dark shadow once again. The log bridge beneath them collapsed and instead of falling to her death, Fran found her body missing, as she is now in the form of a tree.

The third chapter is aptly named “Vegetative State.” Fran and Mr. Midnight are graced by the presence of King Ziar of Ithersta, and as she tries to explain her current tree-like state, Ziar tells her that he will easily be able to find the reason by growing a seed from her head. According to the seed, he discovers that she’s a seeker of the truth, apparently a common Bow family trait. He also seems to know her as someone with a passion for life. Is this sequence meant to mimic a near-death experience, and where we go when we fight for dear life? For all we know, she may be unconscious or comatose.

He then tells her that her seed shows a world nobody should see—nobody except for one—and that Fran is not supposed to be here. Could this mean depression or perhaps even delusion? She pleads to go home, but the king says it’s too dangerous to do so. She also wonders if she is now dead. He seems puzzled and does not appear to understand her question. As far as he could tell, she’s very much alive.

Continue reading “Point-and-Creep: ‘Fran Bow’ Chapter 3 Sends a Powerful Message to Survivors”

Health, Reviews

Point-and-Creep: ‘Fran Bow’ Chapter 2 Is Frightfully Suspenseful

Fran Bow

[Part 1] [Part 2] [PART 3]

[Trigger warning: Body horror, death, and murder. The entire game involves gory hallucinations. Or are they?]

The second part of Fran Bow Chapter 2 got me thinking even more about the parallels between universes. When Fran wakes up lying down in a basket wearing a bonnet, she finds herself in an unknown kitchen with a note from a certain Clara and Mia. My Monkey Island instincts got me picking up on any and every clickable item in each room of the house, though I somehow managed to miss one or two items again.

The house was decorated with photos and decorative portraits, and it appeared that there were a pair of conjoined twins living there. Upon investigation, they weren’t always conjoined. The house seemed quite lovely and pleasant at first glance with pink and blue floral wallpaper, colorful desserts on display … but that’s where the loveliness ends, I’m afraid. That is where the creepiness truly began. Our protagonist entered a room where a decapitated corpse was lying with the ghost of a girl standing watch, eyes red and blank. Approaching her would only lead to her disappearing from sight.

I have to say that this level was the scariest one yet. Sure, the prologue had the rain of organs and bleeding animals, but it suffered from what I would call The Evil Within effect: so much gore that one becomes desensitized.

Continue reading “Point-and-Creep: ‘Fran Bow’ Chapter 2 Is Frightfully Suspenseful”

Health, Reviews

Point-and-Creep: ‘Fran Bow’ Is Delightfully Gory

FranBow

[PART 1] [PART 2] [PART 3]

[Trigger warning: Sexual abuse, cutting, suicidal tendencies, rape, and pedophilia. The entire game involves gory hallucinations. Or are they?]

I backed Fran Bow two years ago after seeing a few YouTubers tackle the Alpha Demo. It has been officially released a few days ago, and I am playing it to observe the game from a few angles, as both a feminist as well as someone with a mental illness. Additionally, some other matters may be brought up along the way, depending on what developer and artist Natalia Figueroa decides to throw at us through this quaint point-and-click adventure horror game.

Are you ready? Be warned: SPOILERS ahead!

Chapter 1 shows our protagonist being sent to a children’s asylum after witnessing the morbid murder of her parents. When she initially ran away from the gory scene of the crime with her cat, Mr. Midnight, only to collapse in a forest to be taken in by unknown parties, Mr. Midnight runs off. Upon investigation, you discover that you are being sent here not only against your will, but that your legal guardian, Aunt Grace, appears to have something to tell you.

From exploring the backdrop and observing the style of dress, this probably takes place around the ’50s or so, especially since the concept of institutionalizing people is no longer as widespread as it used to be back then. Fran Bow reminds me of the early Monkey Island games with its puzzles and simplicity. I found that I end up kicking myself when the solutions were right in front of me and I just spent too much time making things more complex than they really were.

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Analysis, Health

Lighting the Bonfire: ‘Dark Souls’ as an Allegory for Depression

Dark Souls

When I first came up with the idea for this article, I was determined that it would be my best work yet. I wanted to be able to tell a story so clear that no questions could be asked, that there could be no doubt in anyone’s mind what I was saying—and that was probably my first mistake. Because when it comes to mental illness and the processes inside people’s minds, there is no real way to simplify what that feels like. There also isn’t a catch-all description that fits everyone’s experiences.

I want there to be.

While working on this article, I thought about what it would be like to have someone who felt the same way that I did and being able to connect with them, only to be paralyzed by a rush of fear. Maybe it was all in my head and maybe my arguments would only sound like a ridiculous jumble of words to anyone who read them. As much fun as video games can be, depression is never a topic that they’ve been able to tackle well.

I can’t say that I blame them. Look at this article that is meant to be centered around depression. It is a mess and I’m only at the fourth paragraph. The problem with depression and video games is that it’s not something that’s fun. Depression also isn’t something that can be conquered as simply as one would complete a level, so it almost feels like that—in order to properly create those depressive feelings—some of the fun must be sacrificed and replaced with something else. Depression as a mental illness is one that is both widespread and consistently underestimated. It is rooted in common feelings that most people experience and because of that, people will equate their brushes with sadness or a single episode of depression with what depression is for other people as well.

So when I say that Dark Souls is the most brilliant allegory for depression that I’ve ever seen in the gaming world, some of you will disagree and you are welcome to.

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Analysis, Health

Be Kind, You Can’t Rewind: Trauma & Mental Illness in ‘Life Is Strange’

Life Is Strange

[Trigger warning for mentions of ableism, suicide, and parental abuse.]

Quick, off the top of your head: who suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder? What kind of person do you think of when I say to describe someone with PTSD? How does it develop? If you described military veterans, particularly veterans from the U.S., you wouldn’t be wrong. Many people who have spent time in combat are diagnosed with PTSD, and our modern understanding of this term is rooted in words like “shell-shocked.” But you’d also be missing entire swaths of people who live with post-traumatic stress disorder every day of their lives and have never so much as glanced at an enlistment form.

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs notes:

“Any life threatening event or event that threatens physical harm can cause PTSD. These events may include:

  • Sexual abuse or violence (does not require threat of harm)
  • Physical abuse
  • Natural or man made disasters, such as fires, hurricanes, or floods
  • Violent crimes such as kidnapping or school shootings
  • Motor vehicle accidents such as automobile and plane crashes”

Elsewhere, they also note that witnessing a friend’s suicide can have the same effect, and that overlapping symptoms between conditions like PTSD and depression, among a score of others, are commonSo let’s talk about what we say when we have a conversation about trauma.

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