This is the sixty-third entry in the Scratching That Itch series, wherein I randomly select and write about one of the 1741 games and game-related things included in the itch.io Bundle for Racial Justice and Equality. The Bundle raised $8,149,829.66 split evenly between the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund and Community Bail Fund, but don’t worry if you missed it. There are plenty of ways you can help support the vital cause of racial justice; try here for a start. Lastly, as always, you may click on images to view larger versions.
a game about trauma, triggers, and self-compassion
Remember to show compassion towards yourself, as well as towards others.
Escort Yourself Out is a student project, a short autobiographical piece about the author’s experiences dealing with trauma and mental illness. These topics are somewhat in vogue in games at the moment, but where most games lean heavily into symbolism and metaphor, and often take a dark and brooding tone, Escort Yourself Out is refreshingly direct. It doesn’t seek to communicate any great truth about trauma or mental illness, and is instead a means of expressing the author’s personal experience. Nothing more. It’s exactly the kind of game that itch.io is known for: small, experimental, personal, and unlike anything you’d find on any other storefront.
There are a slew of content warnings, which anyone considering playing will appreciate, but I found Escort Yourself Out to be very positive overall. Players control the author as her older self, escorting her younger self through various scenes rife with triggers. Scenes use a hand-drawn style with loose pastel coloring that looks striking and distinctive. The triggers themselves are represented pictorially or symbolically, but are not explained or elaborated upon; the author states upfront that she doesn’t want to go into the details. Sometimes the triggers are people or things in the background, and sometimes they are the author’s own thoughts. Either way, passing them hurts both her older and younger selves. But by holding a key, the older self can shield the younger self with compassionate statements, reducing how much both of them are hurt. Or if it all gets to be too much, they can hide instead, trying again later. It’s mechanically simple, but I found it effective in conveying its equally simple message: that self-compassion, learned over time (only the older self knows how to do it) is critical for getting through these experiences. But even then, triggers still take a toll.
These segments are only part of the game. Interspersed at various points are scenes that are closer to a visual novel, featuring a self-portrait of the author as she addresses the player directly. These are open ruminations on the author’s experiences, the game itself and how effective it is at conveying what she wanted to convey, and her thoughts about school and life. The images occasionally change, to show anxieties about discussing certain subjects, and moving the mouse over the image prompts other tangential observations. I enjoyed this direct insight into the author’s thoughts, and her live critique of Escort Yourself Out even as I played it. It only takes a few minutes to play through and has no sound at all, but it’s rare to find a game this personal. I absolutely encourage people to check it out.
I write this a few days after Apple, embroiled in legal proceedings with Epic Games, brought up itch.io in court as a way of attacking Epic. Claiming that itch.io is full of sexually explicit games that are “so offensive we cannot speak about them here”, Apple’s lawyers threw itch.io under the bus as a way to make their point about controlling content on their service. Two giant, absurdly rich mega-corporations are butting heads over who gets to control digital distribution, while itch.io has been quietly hosting all sorts of incredibly creative and weird games. Yes, itch.io hosts adult games too (which can be filtered, for those who don’t want to see them), but that’s not what most of us know the storefront for. We know it for things like Escort Yourself Out, unusual and experimental games that offer insight into other experiences, and which are too weird for any of the other storefronts. I’m particularly annoyed because Apple like to present themselves as a company for creatives and artists, when they really support heavy censorship and have no problem painting the actual place that supports artists and creatives as some sort of den of filth. Apple are jerks, and itch.io is great, is what I’m saying.
If you want an example of what itch.io is really about, check out Escort Yourself Out. If you missed it in the bundle, it’s available for any price you wish to pay (including free), and comes with both Windows and Mac versions, so you can even play it on your Mac to spite Apple if you want.
That’s 63 down, and only 1678 to go!