BY DEAN MOSES
Game: Actual Sunlight
Platform: Nintendo Switch, Steam, PlayStation Vita, iOS, and Android
Rating: M for Mature
Entertainment media: comic books, movies, books, and video games can have a heavy impact on a person’s life. This can be due to said person suffering a sorrowful period through which books, movies, or games can help distract and entertain. Yet what about the games that don’t divert from life’s true sensitive material, what about then ones that unapologetically hit them straight on like a horrific car crash?
A Heartbreaking Reality
Year after year we are force-fed the same old franchises, but then, every so often, there are games that are unashamedly themselves, games like Actual Sunlight. Before proceeding, it is important to understand this title contains extremely delicate subject matter, not in terms of violence or gore but instead with its examination of mental illness. You see Actual Sunlight is less of a video game and more of an interactive short story or novella. We control Evan Winter, a 30-something year living—more so just existing—with depression. This man is no hero from some fantastic tall tale, embarking on some epic journey brimming with fight scenes and self-discovery. Evan is a resident of Toronto and works at a dead-end job; he is trapped in the gaping jaws of the mundane, and it is gradually crushing him between its jagged teeth.
Many people define success as one’s income or, perhaps, the achievement of fame. However, it is my personal belief that success should be defined by one’s own happiness, so it is not the ordinary nature of Evan’s life that is disappointing, it is his thought process. As someone who has struggled with depression, it struck me emotionally when Evan battles to get out of bed in the morning. We are shown in heart-breaking detail the reality exhaustion through the mind’s own torment, a symptom I myself and so many others have faced.
Cute Façade, Tormented Heart
Gameplay is as simple as it gets, in some ways harkening back to old-school text adventure games. We primarily see the world from a bird’s eye view, looking down upon 16-bit-esque graphics that will probably evoke memories of classic role-playing Super Nintendo adventures such as Earthbound or Final Fantasy. There are no button combinations to be concerned with, we merely guide Evan in the desired direction where then we must investigate his surroundings, whether that be his apartment, workplace, or even his commute to and from work. An internal monologue is another aspect that sucks us even further into his daily, drab life. When conversing with people or inspecting objects in the world, the screen will fade to black as white text fills our vision. These frequent portions of the experience often contain conversations between a patient and a doctor. Here discussions are had concerning dark topics, such as hopelessness and suicide, yet this is, unbelievably, not the most disturbing part. That comes in the aforementioned conversations. Evan has causal, everyday chats with work colleagues and even strangers. That’s not disturbing I hear you cry out; well it is when beneath this cute graphical façade lies a tormented heart who is having macabre thoughts as he hands change to a homeless man or says hello to a fellow employee. Actual Sunlight forces us to speculate on the possible horrors raging within our friends and family.
In my opinion, Actual Sunlight is more of an educational tool for individuals to gain a better grasp of mental illness. Those who have suffered but are currently in a better state of mind could also find some solace from the experience; however, those in a bad place would do best to avoid it. Likewise, gamers who are not fans of exploring their narratives through giant blocks of text won’t find much pleasure here. With all that being said, this game is a triumph of the medium, using video games—what was once thought of as a child’s plaything—to tell the most grown of up stories.
Last week Nintendo announced that we will be getting a new, limited edition Nintendo Switch console with the launch of the highly anticipated Animal Crossing: New Horizons. This fresh iteration comes packaged with a dock, which is adorned by Tom Nock caricatures and two joy cons colored mint green and sky blue respectively. Perhaps most impressively of all, the back of the console will feature designs from the game that appear to look akin to carvings. This Switch design will be available a few weeks before the game hits store shelves on March 13th.