6 January 2013

[myGameDev] Apartmental: Stigmatised Property

Back in Summer, I wrote a post about a game I was working on called Apartmental - a horror/adventure game featuring a protagonist fighting against bizarre, surreal entities that were infesting their apartment, and trying to escape a nightmarish labyrinth that has manifested around their home. I also mentioned that there might be a playable prototype by the end of 2012.

Well, it's the start of 2013, so... what gives?

There's a real-estate term, "stigmatised property", that describes houses, homes and buildings that have some kind of unsavoury aspect to them: this can include things like being the scene of a murder, having been a doss-house or squat, or even being rumoured to be haunted. The legal status of stigmatised properties and whether elements of their history must be disclosed is a messy affair, but it ultimately comes down to the fact that the property has been marred in some physical, emotional or spiritual way.

For me, Apartmental is a stigmatised property.

I've mentioned elsewhere that, while I designed Apartmental so that it could be played as a straight supernatural-horror adventure game, there was also a hidden undercurrent to it: the game could also be perceived as though the protagonist was suffering from depression. All of the "enemies" in the game - the 'Infestation Entities' - were aspects of depression. Shattered Face, an entity that manifested in a smashed mirror, represents the shattering of the self-image, the inability to conceive of oneself as whole. Otherworld Window, a entity manifesting as a stained glass window replacing one of the walls of the apartment, represents religion and the hope (or fear) of an afterlife that overhangs suicide. Similarly, all of the Infestation Entities were split into five types, depending on the "zone" of the Disquiet Hallways they manifested in - Body, Sleep, Mood, Self and Death. These five zones correspond to five areas that depression significantly alters in one's life - and, by extension, how my life was affected when I was suffering from depression.

My depression reached a peak (or, well, a pit) after I had dropped out of university and started claiming Jobseeker's Allowance. There had been signs for a long time, even during university itself - the most blatant of which was feeling very uncomfortable during a Psychology tutorial where I had to give a five-minute presentation on the topic of DEPRESSION, but somehow I managed to not pick up on that painfully-obvious sign. It wasn't until I started hiding in my bedroom in my flat, out of university, out of work, out of a relationship, out of friends and out of my mind with focusing on what dire straits I was in but felt totally incapable of changing the course of my life to realise that actually, maybe, possibly, I might be a little bit completely depressed.

I did eventually manage to get a handle on all of it, but the experience stayed with me. The memory of the misery I felt remained, inactive and asleep, except in those times where I'd encounter people who didn't believe in depression, who thought that it was an excuse, a symptom, a punishment - whatever - and then the Black Dog woke up. Bit me hard enough to bring the pain back. There really were people who believed these things, all because they hadn't experienced it for themselves, they hadn't felt the crushing claustrophobia  or the abyssal loneliness that came with depression. So, I thought, why not do something about it? Why not express that feeling? Great artists have used their pain to fuel intense works of art, partially to give them reprieve and partially to reprieve others who may be suffering the same thing. I could do the same thing: I could banish the lingering spirits of my depression through an elaborate exorcism in videogame form.

The problem with that is that dealing with spirits opens you back up to their influence. The only times I could really work on Apartmental was during the summer, where I didn't have three other projects on the go for my current university course. However, for the past few summers in a row, I've ended up having an awful, awful time - combinations of money issues, work issues, health issues or just general issues in some form. In whatever way, I'm not in a safe, secure place - and you really need to be, if you're focusing so heavily on something so heavy as depression. I couldn't give the game the treatment it deserved, I couldn't focus on it, and I certainly couldn't keep a handle on how I felt about it: I love everything about the game, but dealing with the topic was causing me some amount of distress. Every summer, those spirits got summoned back into my life, and it began to feel like I was sinking back into the black hole of depression all over again.

So, after a lot of deliberation, after much consideration and weighing of pros-and-cons, I've decided to stop work on Apartmental for now. It's not out of a dislike of the game (I think it's a winner), and it's not out of neglect ('cause I've put some amount of work into that game) - it's out of a need for my own peace-of-mind.

There are spirits in that apartment, and sometimes the only way to deal with them is to lock the door and walk away. Unfinished business remains, but perhaps some way down the line, I'll see that locked door, then sneak in to wake up the spirits inside and set them free. Hopefully when that day comes, all of you will be there with me, like the crew of Most Haunted jumping at shadows and freaking out at orbs. 'Til then, Apartmental is stigmatised property - Apartmental has been condemned.

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