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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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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.

Screenshot (93)

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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