Over the course of film history, audiences have become accustomed to the medium tackling difficult issues that aren’t always easily articulated. While mental health/ illness is not yet a fully comfortable subject that media feels confident in tackling maturely, we’ve seen numerous movies made about slavery, racism, homosexuality… the list goes on. Many films have done so successfully. They’ve proved themselves more than just ‘mindless entertainment’.
Video games, as a medium that gives you control, putting you directly into the shoes of a character rather than making you a casual observer, has (I think) even greater potential in this respect. We often don’t hear of games in such a positive light; the prevailing stereotypical image many people still have of them includes teenage boys playing Call of Duty or Fifa, before ‘growing up and learning to live in the real world’. But this medium, when its potential is truly tapped into, may be able to teach us more about real world concepts than anyone could’ve anticipated.
The Town of Light may potentially be that kind of game. It’s set some time in the early-to-mid 1900’s, putting you into the shoes of 16-year old Renee, who suffers from an unspecified mental illness and has spent a portion of her youth in an asylum. Anyone who knows their history will have some idea of how mental illness was viewed back then, and what happened when you went into an asylum. Hint: it wasn’t pretty.
The trailer below specifies that it’s not a game intended for children, as it ‘contains stories that may cause discomfort’. It strikes me as a game that adds its own artistic take on the mental health aspect of the asylum’s inner workings. And that’s absolutely fine. One of my hopes for this industry is that it becomes more confident in formulating creative ideas to tackle mature issues like this, not just linearly through a game’s storyline but in the gameplay mechanics that a player utilises during their journey through the experience. I know firsthand how intimate and personal video games can feel when they’re executed right.
Part of that hope is seeing players support this direction too – as that is, after all, the only thing that’s going to give publishing studios the confidence to pursue such projects.
Having been released around this time last year on Steam, look out for The Town of Light coming soon on PS4.