Everything is going to be OK takes a serious theme and breaks it down into a strange set of base components: cute critters and dark humour. Made by indie game developer, Nathalie Lawhead, it’s an alternative sort of game (Nathalie has mixed feelings on even calling it a game). With no objectives or win conditions, the game is more like interactive art. It starts with a psychedelic simulation of a desktop where files, each one a numbered page, drift across the screen. Clicking these takes you to strange, interactive animations, which I can only describe as little flashes of suffering wrapped up in palatable adorableness.
The pages can be clicked in any order, but I recommend going chronologically. This may cause some frustration as you hunt for the right page (they move and overlap each other), but a few pages directly lead on to the next. For example, page 1 is a little bunny creature happily falling into a field of spikes while asserting that things are all okay. On page 2, the same character is skewered on a spike and will share with you deep truths… in the form of unhelpful, randomly generated, motivational posters featuring eggs. It’s sometimes nonsense, like ‘Tummy — You can never have enough” but I suppose optimistic advice would sound nonsensical if you happen to be impaled in the chest.
It’s a surreal experience, but I was always excited to click a page, because there was no way to predict what would happen next. As weird as every scenario is, none of them are completely fictional. Everything is taken from Nathalie’s personal experience in dealing with the aftermath of trauma, but this is communicated in such an abstract way that it’s not so hard to find it relatable. For a game about suffering, it’s also pretty funny with the ridiculous optimism of its characters.
Less silly are the stationary ‘Missing Pages’ at the bottom of the desktop. Clicking these do lead to some laughs (one of my favourite parts was finding the sentient ‘Untitled Documents’ in the recycling bin lamenting how they were never named), but the meat of these pages are the essays written by Nathalie sharing her own personal pain. These are without the mitigating weirdness of the other pages and can make for painful reading. It’s a peek behind the curtain to see what made this game.
According to the artist’s statement, Natalie wants to show the strength of survivors. People who struggle with suicidal feelings and mental illnesses are often thought of as weak, but Nathalie reminds us how they battle daily to be here. There’s strength in how they hold on. Put this way, the characters’ optimism don’t seem so ridiculous anymore. One page has two characters sinking into a lava pool. You can keep them alive a little longer with some input, but you can’t save them. Still, the game congratulates them for staying alive for as long as they did, even giving you the number of seconds they survived.
Everything is going to be OK came out in October 2017, but it’s impossible to examine it without looking at the recent context published in Nathalie’s blog post: calling out my rapist. It’s a soul-crushing account of how a famed music composer in the gaming industry, Jeremy Soule, befriended then sexually assaulted her while she was a newcomer. It’s really… disgusting.
While her blog talks about the abuse, co-workers turning a blind eye to inappropriate comments made about her and not being paid for significant amounts of her work during her first two jobs in the industry, this is still not the full extent of the sexism she has suffered. In an interview with the Metro she mentions how toxic fandoms can ‘dox, harass, stalk, threaten and SWAT’ female developers for speaking up about this sort of thing. She has experienced most of these tactics before, and expects to again as a consequence of her post.
Online harassers may question why she came forward years after the incident, however Nathalie says in this follow up post she did try to speak out, but found that she was shut down any time she said anything negative about Soule. A recurring statement in her game is how you don’t seem to matter unless you have ‘cultural value’. Her experiences taught her she did not matter then and almost broken by trauma, she worked hard to become someone who did.
On only mattering if you have cultural value – I don’t want this to be true, but how can I argue when people are only listening now? As a survivor myself, I know what it feels like to not matter enough to have justice. My experience is different, but through reading her posts and playing her game there were so many moments where I had to say to myself, ‘I’ve felt this. I know this.’
For people who have not gone through this, Everything is going to be OK still offers an authentic voice on depression, resilience, falling and surviving. Nathalie has done an astonishing job in delivering her narrative during a time when she could not speak out. Play it for truth and giggles, while we wait for a world where female devs can feel safe in their industry.
Everything is going to be OK can be found here. You can download it for free or pay what you think it’s worth.