Escape your psychosis

by Georg Buchrucker

Mental health

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Number of Ratings: 12
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- Cerfeuil (Happy 2024!), January 9, 2024

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Choose-Your-Own- - - Treatment?, January 5, 2024
by JJ McC
Related reviews: IFComp 2023

Adapted from an IFCOMP23 Review

It’s not that CYOA and Twiney choice-select have ever been that far apart. The multi-pane user interface and coding hooks of the link paradigm certainly enable creative variations way beyond physical media which muddy the water a bit. But at its unadorned, most vanilla core, choice-select is CYOA with automated page turning. This PDF work really connects those dots explicitly, not the least of which with its bare “Go to page X” in-text links. It’s an IF missing link - like if Lucy also had carpal tunnel and was found with her wrist-brace.

EYP is a work with super appealing, light, cartoony illustrations in service of very serious themes and situations. That contrast is tried and true (like in Maus!). It serves to smooth reader identification and provide some punch when suddenly confronted with protagonist strapped to a bed! Some choices are seductively amusing. Who WOULDN’T want to solve the ‘formula of the world’?? Other choices capture a broad array of defeating and empowering actions, running the gamut from ‘try to stay with treatment’ to ‘run afoul of official intervention’. The looping nature of the story is deliberate… no matter how hopeful or dire a cycle is, there’s always more behind.

Between the wildly disparate places your choices can lead (not gonna lie the wanna make some money? path sent my heart into palpitations) and the wonderfully evocative illustrations, EYP had constant Sparks.

It is super short. Its message is clear through a few sadly amusing loops and then you are invited to end the game embracing the fact of the loop and mitigations. Made sense! Kind of. Because you get there after a ‘have you cycled three times?’ question, it seems to imply you will naturally get there after ‘sufficient’ spins. I think it would have worked better with an indeterminate ‘are you ready?’ or ‘had enough?’ player initiative kind of question. For me anyway. Ok, let’s wrap up… wait, there’s more?

One more to be precise, a second possible ending. If you go a certain path, you are invited to run away from everything. This ending confounded me a bit. How do I interpret this? A single ending I understand. Author has a tight narrative, player settle in to receive it. A branching narrative requires more work - all of its possible branches should be equally satisfying to a player that hunts them out. Equally true to the narrative. Because there are only two paths (discounting a literally endless loop which rings sadly kind of true, but is impractical for me to attempt.)… because of that this ending takes on a near equal footing as the first. But that can’t be right can it? It seems to imply dropping out ‘solves’ the mental issues but missing family is the downside, and to get them back you need to re-engage your mental troubles. I’m not a doctor, but that can’t be right can it? Wouldn’t you just have the same mental challenges in a new place, eventually? This time without your safety net? I’m kind of unsure of myself here, because the author definitely seems to know what they’re on about, but is that right? If it is, the work should hold the hand of the uninitiated a bit more to get us there.

Its brevity is to its credit. It knows what it wants to say, says it and gets out. Sparks for sure, a great mix of sad, funny, and no-nonsense with endearing illustrations. Mostly seamless other than that one bug. Penalty point for 50% of the endings that did not land for me.

Played: 11/4/23
Playtime: 10min, both endings
Artistic/Technical ratings: Sparks of Joy, Mostly Seamless, penalty point for seeming uncontrolled message
Would Play After Comp?: No, Experience feels complete

Artistic scale: Bouncy, Mechanical, Sparks of Joy, Engaging, Transcendent
Technical scale: Unplayable, Intrusive, Notable (Bugginess), Mostly Seamless, Seamless

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CYOA exploration of experiencing psychosis, January 4, 2024
by Vivienne Dunstan (Dundee, Scotland)

This is a choose your own adventure piece exploring the experience of having a psychotic episode (or more than one …) and how you might deal with it. It’s presented as a PDF with active clickable links. Or it can be printed out and read that way.

It definitely made me think about things in a new way. Each time you experience a psychotic episode in the game it feels like an escalating situation, despite much that you try, where the panic is visceral, and it’s not clear what to do. Ultimately time and experience gives the player perspective, and I was eventually able to break out of the loop and get a better ending. Though I’m very unsure how representative that is of real life generally. I’d also have felt more comfortable if the game’s information was coming from a mental health professional (apologies to the author if I am mis-representing you here).

It’s a quick read anyway, and worth your time, either in the PDF version or printed. And it’s likely to make you want to read more about how you might help someone in this situation. Thanks to the author, and to artist Gina Fringante, whose drawings in the PDF were delightful, and really captured the mood.

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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Choose your own psychotic break, December 26, 2023
by Mike Russo (Los Angeles)
Related reviews: IF Comp 2023

(This is a lightly-edited version of a review I posted to the IntFiction forums during 2023's IFComp).

In my Dysfluent review, I mentioned that there’s a robust subgenre of IF that centers on the experience of living with a particular disability, and at first blush Escape your Psychosis – which is quite literally about trying to escape a repeated series of psychotic episodes – seems to fit squarely among their number. It’s late in the Comp, so forgive me for quoting from myself about the common threads that tend to show up in these games:

they’re most often short, choice-based, and allow the player to engage with the disability via a central game or interface mechanic. I’d also say that much of the time, their focus on the subjective experience of a particular challenge understandably gets prioritized over traditional IF elements like narrative, character development, or gameplay.

All of these get a solid check save the one about having a unique game or interface mechanic that’s thematically tied to the disability at issue – though it does stand out from the rest of the games in the Comp by being presented as a pdf file with internal hyperlinks, I couldn’t find any linkages between this approach and the experience of psychosis. For all these points of similarity, though, there’s something about Escape your Psychosis that felt slightly off to me compared to other games in the subgenre, and once I finished and read the post-script, I realized what it was: whereas all those other games were written by folks who actually live with the conditions they describe, this one was written from the outside. So it’s perhaps unsurprising that there’s some distinct distancing from the protagonist, and a slightly dodgy quality to some of the depictions; the game’s got an educational purpose, and I think it mostly fulfills that remit, but I’m unsure about how well it communicates the subjectivity of psychosis.

One aspect of this is the game’s cartoony presentation. Each page features attractive doodly art that helps make what could be a heavy topic go down more easily. But when it’s juxtaposed against events that are legitimately concerning, I experienced dissonance that sometimes undercut the impact of what the narrative was depicting. And it was uncomfortable to see the somewhat-dehumanized depiction of two homeless characters – they’re treated straightforwardly by the prose, but are drawn with stink-lines emanating from them and other exaggerated characteristics. On its own terms, I actually like the art; it’s cute and well done. But it seems calculated to make the game more approachable rather than to convey how a person experiencing a psychotic episode views the world.

Similarly, the plot takes some rather wacky turns. Structurally, the game is built as a series of interlocking circles, with different choices at the onset of an episode taking you down various semi-overlapping paths as you alarm your friends and neighbors, then possibly attract official attention and get into treatment, before inevitably having another episode recur. The various incidents seem to map with what little I know of psychosis – a few are built around megalomania, many around paranoia – but the focus is very much on what the protagonist is doing, with their emotional state described primarily to explain the behavior, and the consequences of the protagonist’s disturbance are sometimes played for laughs, like when you strip naked and splash around in a fountain in the park.

None of this is ill-intentioned, I don’t think, and the information the game conveys about how to support people undergoing psychotic episodes seems valuable to me (there are one or two things that struck me as odd, especially the way the game suggests that treatment, medication, and regular habits are helpful but can’t prevent backsliding, whereas if you just have three episodes you’ll eventually learn enough about how they go to get to a happy ending where the condition becomes manageable. But I think that’s primarily just a limitation of this very unsophisticated game format). So I guess it’s unfair to criticize Escape your Psychosis for not doing very much to show me what it’s like to live with an awful, highly-stigmatized mental illness. But I was hoping it would do just that, especially since people with the condition are so heavily marginalized; there’d be real value in helping more people better understand, only slightly, what the experience is like. And the success of many other works of IF in a similar vein indicate that such a thing would be possible; maybe someday somewhat will write that game, since I don’t think Escape your Psychosis is the last word on the subject.

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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Small PDF CYOA game about psychosis, November 22, 2023
by MathBrush
Related reviews: less than 15 minutes

This is a choose your own adventure pdf. The last one of these in IFComp I’d heard of was Simon Christiansen’s Trapped in Time, which was a long pdf and included a system for maintaining inventory through loops.

This game is different. It’s a bit shorter, and focuses on a real-life situation: psychosis. It describes different episodes that can happen in the life of someone with psychosis and ways that it can be treated.

It also has very well-done drawings that add significantly to the game.

Overall, I found it small but interesting and would definitely check out future work by this team!

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Loopty-loop until you escape., November 22, 2023
by manonamora
Related reviews: ifcomp

Escape your Psychosis is an illustrated CYOA booklet about escaping the cycle of psychosis by recognising and avoiding the unhealthy choices. The format allows you to click on the option to process through the story. The text is accompanied by whimsical illustrations, relevant to the state of the story. The entry is meant to be educational.

This very short entry is the product of the author’s experience with psychosis in their surroundings, wanting to spread awareness and demystify what it means to fall into a psychosis. Through short snippets of situations, the entry takes a light-hearted, often humourous, approach to the theme. Still, it recognises that this is not a situation-fits-all type of content.

For what it tries to do, I think the game manages to do quite well. It provides enough variety and choices to make it feel believable, but brushes over the more darker elements of going through a psychosis to not make it a bummer (the illustrations* are a big help in this way). However, this can also be seen as what doesn’t work about the entry, with how over-simplistic the game tackles the subject matter, or how it overlooks completely the darker realities, or how too cheerful the entry looks for what it tries to portray. It can feel a bit superficial.
*they reminded me a bit of the Little Inferno game style…

I’d love to see more CYOA entries in a similar format in future comps!

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- nilac, November 20, 2023

- joes, November 20, 2023

- Tabitha / alyshkalia, November 16, 2023

- Edo, November 6, 2023

- Sobol (Russia), October 3, 2023

- Zape, October 1, 2023

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