I’d like to think that if I were to create a video game, it would be similar to The Static Speaks My Name. Perhaps that’s an unintentional insult to the creator, Jesse Berksdale, as I’d likely be unable to pull it off with the style and brevity that he does, but as far as something encompassing the aesthetic mood and themes that I’d want to work with, it’s like looking into a mirror.
The game drops you in the shoes of a man who is ten minutes away from hanging himself. He has boarded his apartment shut and is seemingly obsessed with a painting of two trees. What follows is a very simple but unsettling and often darkly comedic look at a person reaching the edges of sanity. Too often it feels that games based around the idea of depression, or even mental illness in general, try to present them in a way that speaks directly to the player, as if lecturing to an audience unable to sympathize, when the reality is that most people unable or unwilling to understand simply don’t bother to consume it.
You can see this at work if you ever bother to look up Let’s Plays of the game. Most of the results are from your standard Youtube camera-mugging fare, presenting it as nothing more than a “weird” horror game that they’d expect to get some nice jump-scare highlights out of, but often finding themselves unable to fill the air with anything but nervous laughter. The themes and use of metaphor may fly completely over their heads, but they can still recognize it as something dark and deeply personal. One of the most difficult things to deal with in a suicidal mindset is the need to call out, but being unable to know if anyone would listen or understand. The Static Speaks My Name works by both informing that sensation of helplessness directly to the player but also letting you know just how many others have felt the same way, regardless of age or lifestyle or anything else.
As frustrating as it can be, those people on the outside looking in do nothing but reinforce that message for those of us that do get it. It’s why creating these experiences in an interactive field are important. The little agency in the world that we do have is the best way to express that feeling of powerlessness; the dull hum that accompanies what feel like ultimately useless choices, all leading in the same direction.
It’s an important thing to consider, even if you don’t fully understand it, even if you don’t believe anyone you know could possibly feel the same way.
Trust me. You’d be surprised.
The Static Speaks My Name is available on Steam for free and here with an option for donation.