When Broken Expectations Cut the Nerve
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It yet remained to be seen if I had lost my identity beyond redemption and must flee before daylight from a house that was no longer mine; and hurrying back to my cabinet, I once more prepared and drank the cup, once more suffered the pangs of dissolution, and came to myself once more with the character, the stature and the face of Henry Jekyll.

- Henry Jekyll, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

When you play a video game for story, you tell yourself you want your world shook. You want to walk out anew, unfamiliar with the fellow you were before you began. You want to walk out of Superliminal, or Outer Wilds, or Not Tonight, and have a profound satisfaction come over you. You want the developer to portray your own preconceptions and views in a carnival mirror, and calmly talk through what you can gain through this. "Why do you think like this, and how else could you?"

But you don't really want your world shook. It's not as awe-inspiring as you think. Instead, you settle on a truce between yourself and the developer. A comforting mid-point where the developer has conveyed themselves and their message, and you don't have to change substantially.

I have a distorted recollection of myself in your position two years ago. Every morning, I would stand in front of my bathroom mirror with a vague sense of satisfaction. My deep, General Australian voice commanded a refined authority, my budding 'stache offered a filling confidence, and my thick leg hair granted me warmth. Regardless of my thinned biceps and blemished cheek, I counted myself lucky for being able to present exactly as I envisioned. I'm a creature of my own mind's eye.

In late January of 2021, I received - among other things - fifty dollars for my birthday. I'd heard good things about a certain story-based platformer, and deduced I should make the purchase. Like you, I incorrectly told myself I love story-based games. In reality, you and I both love nestling in the comforting mid-point it offers.

The game was Celeste, and I fell in love with it. Its level design was tuned to perfection, its music tapped my foot and entranced me, its character showed depth and humour, and underneath it all at the games literal and metaphorical summit, I found a comforting story. From my comforting mid-point, I looked upon the whole and was close enough to relate, yet far enough to remain relatively the same. It was obviously a game about overcoming depression, a condition I've never had. Nonetheless, I learned about a small sliver of myself.

I could've stopped. I could've accepted the game at base value as a retelling of a journey I'd heard retold by others. But, as with basically every other artform, the audience feels a need to mingle and communicate about the piece. If I enjoyed what I could glean from the game, imagine what I would find from other people's perspective. Some retold their experiences with mental health in relation to the piece. Others analysed the game irrespective of its message.

But one - at least for me - pulled me too far from my expectations. He - or, she now - told me that, "Depression is merely one interpretation. Perhaps Madeleine is dissatisfied with her mental health, or perhaps she is dissatisfied with her identity. If you relate so heavily with her, are you too dissatisfied with your identity?"

And, obviously, I can't be. I mentioned that from quiff to leg hair, I'm completely satisfied with myself.

I turned to the mirror to prove it to myself, until I started to picture things about myself. What if my hair went down to my shoulders? What if I had smooth legs? Could I do with softer voice? Does my chest push out far enough? Should I use a more androgynous name? What does lipstick feel like? Do I want that? Is that me?

Looking myself all over, overlaying myself with an unobtainable facsimile, I finally found a concrete part of my real self. The terror in my eyes. I had misstepped into a terrifying crevice of fictitious storytelling and found myself grasping at a carefree visage of myself.

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