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stepper(C/N – PTSD, Medical error, helplessness)

A few thoughts on the NoJam version of Stepper. I intend to keep working on it in 2017.

In news that surprised and amazed me, I finished a game jam game about PTSD. Now this isn’t big news for most people, most people finish. I usually make a monster project that can’t be done in a weekend. The last one I finished took a month, and the other one I finished in 3 weeks. This one I ‘technically’ did in the span of weekend (A Sunday, and then a Thursday night, so about 16 hours of programming).

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Iron Cat

The first game jam I did was AdHoctober through Dames Making Games in 2014 and I made Iron Cat, which was a game about PTSD that I couldn’t finish because I had PTSD and the game triggered me.  I wanted to come back to this idea of making a game that could articulate the frustration and hopeless I felt. I made a series of maps where if you stepped in the wrong place you were sent back to the beginning. An endless and torturous game of Snakes and Ladders.  This was an analogy I used a lot in therapy. It felt like if I moved that I’d always be sent back the start and my life became about not trying to move and then punishing myself for daring to move or believing that life could be better.  That I was involuntary time traveler that often was taken back to terrible memories.

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Iron Cat – waiting room scene

In Iron Cat, I picked my most triggering memory. The one that set off my PTSD. It is the hardest for people to understand. I was teased in a waiting room in a fertility clinic after having the wrong tests performed on me and told that I’d need multiple surgeries and I might not ever be able to have children. It was devastating that in a vulnerable moment I experienced utter thoughtless cruelty, and humiliation that brought me back to being horribly bullied as teenager.

 

In Iron Cat you are sent back to that waiting room over and over, to hear part of a conversation that makes almost no sense if you have no idea where I am, what I’d just gone through, or that my health had taken a turn for the worst. The words are harmless, but the context makes them insensitive and cruel. I hate talking about this day, so instead I changed the game to talk about the 8 months of living with Heavy Menstrual Bleeding and the lead up to my surgery which I would unfortunately be awake for part of it, all of would weave itself into my PTSD. I know, it’s strange that it’s way easier for me to talk about being awake during surgery, than it is to talk about being bullied. The difference is, people believe physical pain, they don’t believe emotional pain and humiliation. Emotional pain is abstract and is somehow always my own fault.

People rarely ask “Why didn’t you yell at them?” when they heard I was awake during surgery (mostly it’s a stunned silence), but with being bullied I am constantly blamed over and over for running out of the room and crying. “Why didn’t you..?” “You should have!” I was terrified and shocked. I did complain, and all it got me was my medical records appended to make it appear they didn’t do the wrong tests, and that a doctor was there, who wasn’t.  It made me more helpless because it proved that I have no power, because by doing the right thing I was harmed even more. It snowballed into a living hell as my care became about covering several medical professionals’ reputation than about my health and almost died because of that vanity and fear of failure.

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Stepper

Now, I have resolved PTSD, which means my PTSD is manageable and doesn’t infiltrate my everyday life.  I am capable of talking about how I got it and how I felt. I’m still relatively heavy handed, but I still had an urge to make a game to tell my story, and get people to understand how I felt.

Serious illness is not something I was equipped to handle. As an ignorant patient I made a lot of mistakes, which one day I hope to teach other patients how to navigate this invisible labyrinth. Navigating the system felt like wandering through mazes and puzzles were I didn’t understand the rules. I was punished for not understanding or taking too long. When I thought I did get it, the rules would suddenly change and often not in my favour.  I thought I was suppose to honest. I thought healthcare practitioners were suppose to help you. I thought I was suppose to report my symptoms. I was wrong.

At times the puzzle is wandering through a clinic doctor’s circular reasoning “you need to get pregnant” or a cruel nurse’s slut shaming. It’s getting stuck in a maze that’s just so huge and overwhelming that you want to sit down and do nothing, and then find there really is only a single path that you are herded toward. That I couldn’t escape my own body and had to learn how to handle the distress and physical pain without disassociating. In the game,  certain lines of thought or avoiding symptoms send you back the beginning, like how my flash backs made me an involuntary time traveler and how my avoidance of healthcare is damaging my health.

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Stepper

I’d remember  things I didn’t want too. How no matter how hard I tried to not think about it, I always got sucked back into reliving all eight months. To get treated for PTSD, I had to walk to past the clinic that ruined me, and have therapy in the hospital that ignored me and then almost killed me. For twice a week for a year and half I had to worry about running into the people who hurt me.

I did once, and even though he ruined my life, there was no recognition in his face of mine. I literally ran away when I met his eyes. His life went on. I thought, my life was so insignificant that it was barely worth remembering. It was just another Thursday for him. The unfairness of it all weighed on me. How was it fair that one of the persons who ruined my life wasn’t suffering, when I was? Why didn’t he have to go to therapy and change who he was? Why didn’t he have to try to make it better? Where was this accountability I hear of?  I tried to reason out that maybe he already dealt with his guilt, that he had the right to live again,  but I couldn’t shake the feeling that he was a horrible monster that didn’t care for anyone but himself. That he and his colleagues would throw another patient like myself under the bus to protect their career. I can’t know what he thought, I can only know how other people were treated, and that clinic apparently had a bad reputation, the hospital knew this, but they still sent people there. It makes me sick to my stomach to know that they knew I’d likely be harmed, and they didn’t care.

I wanted to make a game that would want to make you give up. That would make you feel helpless and lost. That you could feel some progress, and occasionally have that progress taken away. Invisible, inconsistent and tedious rules that would eventually change. Exactly like my healthcare and the PTSD that came from it. I wanted a narrative like mine, where ‘success’ comes at a price and it isn’t a win.  Stepper is less grueling that Iron Cat, but not by much.  Ultimately, I wanted to make a game that feels unfair and unjust.

I didn’t get justice. I still have damage to my body and mind.  I had to learn how move on and live with those changes.  I had to re-learn how to think and how to be a person again. Some days are better than others, but the moral injury, and the betrayal are wounds that aren’t easily healed.

And that’s the thing. Life isn’t fair. Sometimes you don’t win.  At least in a game, you can quit with no consequences.

 

 

 

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Finished a new game for No Jam via Dames making games. It’s called Stepper, and follows up on some of the ideas I had in Iron Cat. It’s an RPG about my experience in healthcare and the resulting PTSD that came from my symptoms and poor care. It is a rough draft, I’m gonna continue plucking away on it.

I programmed it and wrote it. The music and graphics are all from RPG Maker VX Ace and a few tilesets I bought.

Check it out. I’m working on a longer essay about the game.

It’s appearing as part of GAME/CHANGE & Extraordinary Mind Game Arcade as part of Rendezvous With Madness film festival with Workman Arts on Nov 12 2016

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stepper

 

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2016-09-18For practice and because I wasn’t keeping up with one game a month, Station is taking a lot longer than I thought, I decided to make a quick recreation of Jenny Holzer’s Truisms in twine.

It is random, but will only scroll  one truism until  you refresh. I’ll need to work on my Javascript skills to do make it randomly scroll through all of them continuously. And there’s an invisible sidebar which it seems to wander in to…

hmmm. Maybe I shouldn’t have posted this version. Oh well, it’s on the internet now.  I honestly didn’t notice until I was taking a screenshot.

I used Twine 1.4. At the last minute before my deadline I switched from Responsive to Sugarcane, so that explains the sidebar.  I typically use Twine 2, but 1.4 was considerably easier to import a new font.

Check it out here

 

 

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dontAnother project I’m working on. Yes, the horror game is still in progress.

I’ve been talking Heavy menstrual bleeding for … awhile now. Actually, it’s almost 10 years since the first time I tried talk to a doctor about my unusual period. Apparently, I might be a ‘champion’ of Heavy Menstrual Bleeding and I’m okay with that.

Here’s some sketches for the assets for a game I’ve been thinking about, but really need to make.  I need to work on my tampon and menstrual cup drawing skills. The animated angry uterus will be a fun one to do.

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Screenshot (91)Whatever happened to my July game? I broke my one game a month rule. I could have spent an afternoon and thrown together a quick twine game, but I decided to keep working on this one and not worry about this game a month deadline.  I did get about 40 hours logged into RPGmaker for Station, (according to steam) but it’s not finished. I’m not including hours spent writing and music editing.

Originally I had planned something short, but then it kinda took a life of it’s own and became a little bigger and bigger. I started composing music for it and writing a script.  I found this great font called Lemon Milk. I started work on a branching narrative with Multiple endings…

I am not particularly good at making small things.  I have to laugh at myself, because I do this everytime. “Oh, I have this idea. Wait a second, let’s make every option ever!”

No, I didn’t make the sprites, they are all from the HorrorPop set. I did recently buy a pixel editor, sooo, I may try my hand at sprites for another project.

2016-08-09 (1)The game is a bit stream of consciousness. I drew on inspiration from my experiences with PTSD and sleep paralysis. Unlike Iron Cat, I avoided using things that would trigger me and thus making me avoid completing the game. I reference a bit from Octavia Butler who was the first author I could read without loosing focus when I was deep in the PTSD. Those magic moments when I could read entire chapters and remember the entire thing where amazing. Hence, why I named the main character Edana.

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Station is the story of Edana who finds herself in a world surrounded in fog and entirely populated by shadows. She’s guided by notes and papers left behind by previous inmates of this world.

I should be finished the first draft by September.

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I’m working my way through Udemy’s Blender course. I’m trying to do additional projects on the side so I can get the skills in my head. I also figure the more projects the more progress I will see and then I can use my skills to make things!  I am getting a note book filled with keyboard shortcuts. I know you can get a print out, but writing it down and using the short cuts regularly makes me remember them better.

I’m unfortunately using a very small screen (Surface Pro 3)  and I am debating getting another larger monitor to use when I’m in the countryside.

I finished the bowling alley project. (No, the physics aren’t realistic)

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While taking a break from the Chessboard assignment I went back to my Plague Doctor

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I couldn’t seem to add texture. Not sure why, I followed all the steps. I’ll have to figure out something because I couldn’t seem to add colours and I had no issue around that on the bowling alley assignment.

I did Sneak ahead a while ago and played with sculpt mode. All this stuff has a really high polygon(?) count, so that might cause problems or make me have a few bad habits.

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I use to have this toy medical bag when I was a kid. It had a x-ray kit and I’d put the x-ray in and pop it out. Put it in, pop it out. I’d imagine myself helping so many people by giving them x-rays fixing them with my plastic toys. I could fix any problem with an x-ray. Doctor Poulsen was gonna be a great doctor. The more I played, more I imagined. I told myself a story about my patient dying. I pushed the x-ray in, and pop it out slower. I imagined myself coming out to tell the family their loved one had died. I pushed the x-ray back in and pop it out. People die and it’s hard. Put the x-ray back in and a small voice asked, “And what if it was your fault they died?” I stopped. I couldn’t… It wasn’t a fun game anymore to play doctor.

A strange thing happened. A colleague asked me about my art, and I am so use to talking about other people’s work that didn’t realize they meant my work. I went home and thought about their question: ‘whether there is a level of comfort in my work because I use toys.’ (I am paraphrasing and changing the question a wee bit). On the spot I really didn’t have a good answer, because well, no one really asks me about it.

First of all, if you aren’t overly familiar with me I am art historian, artist, machine lover,  who is also victim of medical error. A lot of my recent work has a lot to do with those experiences as a patient. Some of my work attempts to teach patients how to navigate the system like Gynaecologist…what? (Which I really need to finish). Others are critiques and my attempts to understand what happened.

Why LEGO?

Several reasons. First of all, Surgery 101 uses LEGO to explain medical concepts. When I was dealing with all my health stuff I listened to this blog regularly to educate myself and to re-assure myself that it was possible to get good care. That medicine could be what I thought it was when I was a kid.

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I started using LEGO when I made Hysteria: A Surgical Fantasy because I needed a quick stand-in for graphics. Hysteria was made for DMG‘s Feb Fatale 3, it was a rapid prototype which I made in about a month. Then the LEGO surgeon I used stayed in my purse for over a year. I took it with me everywhere. I’d have conversations with it, show it works of art and culture. It stopped me from having endless conversations with an imaginary version of my real medical team. These conversations are documented in the photographic work Conversations with my Surgeon which I haven’t put online yet just put online today. My version of How to explain pictures to a dead hare.

LEGO is very innocent. With LEGO you are given this promise that you can build and shape the world as you see fit. You are the creator and can make the best version of the world. You can be anything. The world can be anything. It’s an ideal world where things don’t go wrong. And when things go wrong you can smash that world and re-make another one. You can fix the mistake. Other worlds you make or follow the instructions are prized and saved.  They go on a shelf to be shown off. Others become pieces of new projects. There’s a bit of recycling, destruction and preciousness to it.

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I use LEGO and toys in my medical work because that’s how I thought about medicine. I was really naive and had simplistic idealism that you go to the doctor, you can be honest with them and they help you.  That medicine was like a prized LEGO set, it was something to be built and put on a shelf to be displayed. It was suppose to follow the instructions. But that’s not how it worked out for me. I was (am?) so angry I want to smash the model and re-build it. But I can’t. I still have all the same pieces and I can’t seem to order them in a way that feels safe. I try to understand what happened by building, taking apart, and saving the best models but ultimately I can’t change the system or what happened in the past. I am conflicted because I still have that idealism that I can change the thing. That I could build something better, but the problem is so big, that what I do is as trivial as child playing with a toy pretending to be a doctor.

There’s a conflict between hope and hopelessness, and help and helplessness. Wanting to be useful and practical, but also feeling simplistic and useless. Wanting to believe that yes, I could make a difference and at the same time knowing that I probably won’t. Like a child I want to scream, throw it all against the wall, but I know that won’t be heard or taken seriously either. Instead I’ll be shamed for being emotional or still being upset. “Don’t you know how hard it is for that doctor?” People struggle with the things I tell thDSC01402em. They don’t want to know what can happen. Medicine is complex. The story is complex. People are complicated. If I could tell the story and make people a certain level of uncomfortable but safe maybe more of the story would get through. Not too loud, not too quiet. I make horror stories and jokes about it, because the fiction is easier to consume than the truth of the event or how I felt about it.  I smiled and hell, I even said thank you.

The form makes it easier for me to distance myself from it, at the same time it doesn’t. There’s an attraction and repulsion. I stopped working on Bad Blood, because at the time it was too painful. Now it’s less painful, which is why I am a little more productive.

at the hospitalPart of it is also my own fear. My nephews once told me you can’t be afraid of LEGO because you can take it apart. No matter what happens you can always smash it. It’s just a toy, “it’s not real Di-nana.” I carried around that LEGO surgeon with me for a year and took it with me to ER on my birthday.(It was one of my few good hospital experiences).  I couldn’t talk to a real doctor, but I could talk to that little piece of plastic. I could hold it in my hand like a magical totem. I could take it apart. It wasn’t scary. It was the ideal version of a surgeon. It felt safer to pretend it was the real doctor. To imagine I had control, when control is an illusion.  That the plastic might hear me, when the person back then didn’t. To make the story less scary for me, but to also bend and twist something that shouldn’t know such dark secrets.

Lastly, my own belief about how the doctors/staff/etc who hurt me perceive me. Medicine is very paternalistic. I am a child to them. I am to be told what to do. I don’t get a say in my body, because they apparently know better. I am LEGO to doctors. Doctors can take me apart. They can take me apart without consequence. They can take me apart without my consent. They can lose and append my instructions. It doesn’t mean that all doctors do,  but sometimes I want to be reminded of when I blindly believed in good care and before someone went on my shelf, pushed all my LEGO sets off and scattered the pieces everywhere. It doesn’t mean the mess can’t be cleaned up, I found a lot of pieces with the help of a nurse, friends and family, but I don’t want to leave models out for people to break them again.

 

 

 

 

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