This is the one hundred seventy-second 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.
Our one hundred seventy-second random selection from the itch.io Bundle for Racial Justice and Equality has just awoken, lying on the grass. It’s down., by Pixelbark, and its tagline in the bundle reads:
A short, somber, narrative experience about depression and anxiety
This isn’t a cheerful one, folks. [EDIT: and it really should have a trigger warning for suicide, as discussed below.]
As down. begins, the player character awakens, and slowly gets up from where they lay on the grass. There are trees around, their branches bare. Everything is cast in oppressive shades of grey, recalling Playdead’s work. The aesthetic meshes the 3D environments of Inside with the greyscale presentation of Limbo, but put through a pixelation filter. And, like those games, the player character is only able to move left or right. She cannot even jump. And actually, there’s nothing to the left, so really all there is to do is trudge to the right, and occasionally read (with the E key) notes that have been left on the ground.
It’s clear pretty quickly that these notes represent the character’s inner thoughts, and they are dark. They’re filled with self-loathing, hurtful comments. The scenery gradually changes as our protagonist keeps slowly shuffling to the right, the trees giving way to urban spaces, but these thoughts remain grim. The audio design is excellent, with occasional distant noises eerily punctuating the lonesome wind or the oppressive rain. This does an excellent job of creating a sense of unease, and I constantly expected something truly horrible to be waiting for the protagonist as she walked ever rightward.
And there is, sort of. I learned some of the reasons for the protagonist’s anguish, and before long I found a chilling ending. I do think there should be some prominent content warnings for down., though, particularly for suicide. Unfortunately there are not, neither in the game nor on its itch.io page, so consider this my warning to any who are considering playing it. Players who are comfortable with games that tackle such topics, however, will find a well-crafted mood piece in down., its visual and audio design evoking the hopelessness that accompanies depression, and its structure emphasizing the spiraling, cyclic nature of the affliction. And it is indeed short, as advertised, taking mere minutes to complete, so those curious about it need not worry about a big time investment. Don’t worry if you missed it in the bundle, either, since down. is offered for any price you wish to pay, including free.
That’s 172 down, and only 1569 to go!