Fair warnings here: This article is going to talk a LOT about suicide and it’s going to contain spoilers for the game Adios. How those two are linked is why I’m writing this.
Last warning. This shit is going to get dark, and if we’re friends you may not want to read it.
I interviewed Doc Burford on Titans of Text (the narrative and design interview podcast I ran with a co-host for most of 2019) near the end of the first run of the podcast. I think I found him on twitter off the back of Xalavier Nelson Jr. and by the end of the podcast run I wanted to get non-text-game narrative designers on.
Doc had some smart things to say and he dropped that he was responsible for some of the writing work in the upcoming Shipbreaker game which was a great excuse to ask him on the show. Now, mind you, our “target” for episode length was 45 minutes. I talked with Doc for over 2 hours. Really, Doc mostly talked for 2 hours and I wracked my brain thinking of questions to segue through to keep it going. At some point my co-host Eric had to attend to his child and we just kept it going even after he returned.
We split the episode into 2 parts cause it would have violated the max file size for the platform we were using.You should give them a listen and hopefully ignore the awkward question where i rant about World of Warcraft’s design. The rest is gold, I promise you.
After that interview I knew that Doc was unequivocally one of the smartest and most thoughtful people I had ever met. I think a LOT about game design, but I think of the mechanical designs. I think about how those designs serve the overall experience which includes the narrative but I hardly get to the point I think much about the narrative in anything but broad terms because I’m a hobbyist; I don’t have to finish a game. Here I sat staring at the video conference software we used to record the podcast and listening to someone I felt thought as much about narrative designs as I do about mechanical ones, honestly probably a whole lot more.
Time passed and Doc started talking about this full on project: the team he was putting together, the design elements, the car you tinker with in the game, the textures of the couch in the house. Cut forward to near the game’s release and I decided I wanted to do what I could so I started shilling for it at every opportunity. I negotiated to pay for a bulk of keys that I could give to more popular people (ie, streamers with actual audiences) to give away to increase visibility for the game.
What I ended up doing was paying for twice what I originally planned, then a few for close friends, then you know i had an extra one from getting it on Itch and suddenly I had bought FIFTY FIVE (55) copies of Adios. I kept looking at that number and I thought “why not 69” so I gave 14 more away on twitter by direct steam gifting. So I bought the sex number worth of copies of this game, which at 17.99 retail meant just over $1,200 USD.
What did I even get out of this? This was like my entire stimulus check practically. Well, I got a good feeling supporting someone I believe in.
But then I played the game.
The Author (of this article)
We’re going to backtrack a bit and talk about the last two weeks of my life leading up to the release of Adios.
Since the beginning of March I’ve been trying to come out to my wife. I’m trans femme. I’m 43 years old (by the time you read this) and just figured out what I’ve been missing my entire life last year. It’s been bashing me on the head for a long time. I’m not all that great at listening sometimes.
I’ve failed 4 times. Not just 4 times but over 4 entire days. I know it’s going to be like setting off a nuke in the middle of my single family home. She wont be supportive. She wont be happy. She will insult, degrade and scream at me for the rest of the time I’m in her vicinity. This is why I’ve failed.
In failure I’ve wallowed. Wracked my mind of how to get it done. Of course thinking of how to do something also brings up how to AVOID doing something. One of those ways to avoid it is to stop living.
I’ve thought about suicide quite a bit these past two weeks. How to do it, where, when, how to take care of my affairs first. The whole 9 yards. I’m no stranger to suicidal ideation. I’ve actually attempted it 6 times so far. Obviously I wasn’t successful, but I wasn’t the one that stopped me.
Adios is a game where you occupy a pig farmer. You go through his day, talking to his good friend who happens to be a hitman for some criminal enterprise. You, the farmer, have been disposing of body parts for this enterprise for a long time. You’ve made a lot of money doing it, but now you want out. As the player you DO NOT get to decide to back out. You can not stop this.
In a way, the game is a lot like having decided to commit suicide. The farmer has decided to do something that he knows will absolutely result in his death.
You spend the day taking care of basic things. You spend the day talking about life, your past and future with your friend. You learn a lot about yourself, things you regret and things you don’t.
Then he leaves.
You’re left alone.
You MUST face your regrets to move forward.
You call your son and get chewed out for what is likely the millionth time for abandoning your wife to a nursing home. She had dementia; she was better off there. Your son disagrees. Your extremely estranged son.
You call the neighbor and tell her you’re going to be gone for a while and get her to agree to feed your animals.
You feed the horse one last time and leave the gate open.
You make a last meal.
And then you die.
You have a great deal of control during most of it. It’s a first person perspective game. You can pick things up, inspect them, toss them through the air. You have to cook the meal manually and even get to choose what to put in it.
You set the table.
You sit down.
Then you lose control. You’re just sitting there. No key press or mouse movement will do anything.
You sit. You wait. And you die.
The hitman pulls the trigger ultimately but YOU made this decision. YOU took care of your affairs. YOU sat and waited for it.
It’s a lot like committing suicide.
As soon as I lost control I started sobbing. I started screaming inside. I mashed the keyboard and moved the mouse trying to change the outcome.
I tried to stop it, ME.
I’ve never tried to stop a suicide attempt. It’s always been an external factor. I’ve thought about it and failed to carry out the plans but in the heat of the moment if nothing else had stopped me I would have been dead decades ago.
So what I got out of investing my belief in what Doc Burford could do with a game was learning I don’t actually want to die, finally, in my life, at 43 years of age.
So thanks Doc; thanks to all the team at Mischief that scrolled by in the credits at the end. Maybe you didn’t expect someone to feel this particular emotion but you succeeded at making someone feel something and that’s the ultimate aim of all art.