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About the Story
there are many things for you to do today
Entrant, Main Festival - Spring Thing 2022
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Number of Reviews: 3
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fix it is a short practice for a psychological grounding exercise. It's earnest and admits in the end that "it isn't always easy." The goal here is toward "self-compassion and tolerance of your own feelings," though that's only said explicitly at the very end of the experience. fix it might be useful in introducing a user to some basic grounding techniques with the right setup and expectations. Perhaps teaching the techniques isn't actually the goal here and it's just like a more personal, reflective work about an experience and that's fine too. I want to be clear at the outset here that despite the amount I'm about to ramble I don't think that fix it is bad, in fact, I think it is even valuable and useful. But I also think that it could just as easily backfire and given the piece is rather short that's what I've decided to focus my blathering on about here. I will briefly note that my going on about it is somewhat based in my work with the Ohio Department of Developmental Disabilities, so again, perhaps a limited context but I would think it's worth considering. The tl;dr here is not "I'm offended! This is bad!" nor do I intend to offer a bad faith take of the text, but mostly fix it kind of rubbed me the wrong way in that it could be read in the context of caregiving in a way that's malicious. Maybe "That's a full-on misread" is perhaps also a valid response to everything I'm about to say, I dunno. I don't think fix it was necessarily intended to be interpreted in that context, but it is there and it is possible, so here I go anyway.
On a quick neither here nor there technical note, I found the opening screen a bit too slow, but I get that I should sit with that feeling and ~6 seconds isn't exactly a major waste of time. That seems appropriate thematically and allows the reader to notice and consider the author's note before jumping into the main experience. OK.
I am otherwise about to run through a set of criticisms of the setup and execution which should not entirely detract from its commendable goal. I don't know what Lily Boughton's relation is to the issues at hand, e.g., whether the author personally deals with OCD or has training as a psychologist. Poems like "Ritual," "You Call Yourself an Artist," or "Bittersweet" (found here) seem to suggest that the author might identify with the subject of fix it and the narration might be a representation of a couple voices of internal monologue, one more helpful than the other. I don't want to presume too much here in my review, but to offer data points from my own reading and from imagined, possible counter-readings (again, fully intended in good faith) that might help better inform it or draw a bigger picture around it as a tool for teaching psychological grounding. My apologies to the author if none of what follows is entirely relevant or helpful.
For starters, one might not read fix it to completion, feeling mocked by the initial scroll of negative responses rather than seen or identified with. The author's note acknowledges this insomuch as it offers that one might quit if they feel uncomfortable. So I feel like some who might have greater need of approaching the subject are already either being shut out or else asked to read it in a controlled setting removed from the sort it's intended to model, if it's to be read to completion. That's fine and doable and indeed one might argue that's the very point of practice, but it does limit its potential audience and playthrough settings in a way not entirely suggested by its open presentation as a general entry in Spring Thing. True, most entries are probably not played in a situation where one is not at least comfortable enough for some extended reading, but fix it also makes a point of both actively triggering its reader and offering clear-cut solutions which is kind of like trying to have your cake and eat it too in a situation that's not a one-size-fits-all sort of deal.
(Spoiler - click to show)A reader might not (as I almost did not) scroll down to see that taking a deep breath was an option during the "fix it! fix it! fix it!" screen. Scrolling isn't really necessary in playing through until the twelfth click of "fix it." Also the option to "take a deep breath" which moves the story forward doesn't appear until after the 16th click of "fix it," so one should have to look for it and know or at least expect that there will be a change or alternative option introduced (or play with the text at about 80% zoom full screen at 1920 x 1080 resolution in order to see its entirety). In some ways the core message of having to sit with one's discomfort already has to've been internalized to reach this point.
(Spoiler - click to show)It can often take a lot more than asking someone to breathe when they're "discomforted" to see a result and could even exacerbate an active issue, much in the way that telling someone to "calm down" is almost certain to only make a person angrier. A binary choice (Spoiler - click to show)between the chance to "continue fighting against your discomfort" or "to make space for that feeling and move on with your day" is easy to make in an interactive fiction with clearly delineated choices played at leisure. The game's inciting event is ambiguous, even trivialized to an extent that could be an issue. It's never even really clarified who exactly thinks the issue-to-be-fixed is an issue; it even seems a bit like it could be that the narrator is projecting an issue onto the reader. Instead of getting the sense internally as the reader that I had a problem to address (I kind of just always felt the goal was to progress through the story but that's because of the context in which I was reading it), I am told there is a problem and "if you would like to be comfortable, you have to fix the problem." ((Spoiler - click to show)Actually a lie that will get you stuck in a loop.) This could be even worse if the reader takes that issue to be an internal one which by the by it is not clarified if the issue-to-be-fixed is internal or external as far as I could tell, i.e., is this an issue with my environment or with who I am? Though well-intentioned, in some cases client-centered language (Spoiler - click to show)like "what you do next is your choice" can be empowering in one context or more sinister in another, especially if these were external problems inflicted upon the reader or if they were internal issues projected onto the reader that might not be truly "fixable," whatever fixing means.
(Spoiler - click to show)The author's note mentions themes of self-harm, but when hands bleed when washed, it is because they are commanded to be washed. I suppose this is a crucial point for some of the other criticisms I had as well and I've already mentioned it a bit, but: not everyone lives in a situation where this command would be read as coming from an internal monologue. Read in a caretaking rather than internal monologue sense, "if you would like to be comfortable, you have to fix the problem" and the grounding exercise could be seen as victim blaming or unhelpful distraction, respectively, or even negligence or abuse. Asking the reader to perform stretches further reinforces that this assumes an able-bodied context.
I've gone on for far too long about a project that ultimately implores us to be kind and gentle and that I actually thought was mostly well-written and effective. Perhaps my spinning my wheels over it might speak a bit to the effectiveness with which it managed to lodge a bit of a thorn in my brain. Should I have just breathed and moved on from these thoughts and feelings? That can be tough to say sometimes. As fix it says, "It isn't always easy." That might be an understatement in some cases, but I guess I'll leave it there.
“Abstract Twine game about mental health issue” is a cliché, but if it produces games as engaging and dare-I-say educational as fix it, that’s no bad thing. I’m a little wary of my response here because I have a fair bit of personal experience of OCD – one of my loved ones has it – and I’m curious what others who don’t come to the game with that context would think of it. Still, I can say that for me it very much works in depicting OCD’s hellish destructive-ritual-and-self-loathing cycle, as well the potential way out.
The game deliberately chooses to leave the inciting incident that sets off the OCD spiral abstract – you’re just told that there’s something making you (who you are is left vague) uncomfortable and standing in the way of the things (also not specified) you want to do. This means there’s not much of a narrative framework for the gameplay loop to hook into, but I think that’s ultimately a good choice. It universalizes the experience and creates the opportunity for more direct player investment, and also avoids the challenge that the stuff that sets off OCD can be so minor – touching a particular part of an article of clothing, fretting about ultra-rare side effects of common medications like Tylenol – or so over-the-top – worrying that somehow you’re secretly a serial killer or child molester, or that you’ll harm others for no reason – that it can seem completely ridiculous from the outside.
The rituals and behaviors you engage in to compensate for the feelings of unease are also left unspecified (though there is an intimation that hand-washing to the point that they bleed is included – this is I think a good example of a detail that’s 100% true to life but I worry could feel unrealistic), with the focus instead put on how you feel after performing each one: it doesn’t work to relieve the feeling of discomfort, but now there’s a healthy dose of self-directed criticism for being weak enough to engage in the ritual, or feeling like it’s made things worse, or that you’re just doing it for attention, so now more talismanic behavior is required to desperately try to set things to right. The writing in these bits of self-reproach is queasily compelling, and I thought did a good job of communicating what I understand is among the worst parts of OCD.
Thankfully, fix it doesn’t trap the player in a forever-static loop, but does eventually provide the possibility of a way out. In contrast to the way the rituals are played, this piece is very specific, and from my understanding lines up pretty exactly with the tools folks suffering from OCD often find successful in managing their intrusive thoughts and behaviors. Getting to this off-ramp definitely felt like a relief, with calm blue coloring on the fonts replacing the angry red of the rest of the game. Again, this is very much not a narrative-driven experience, but it definitely has an arc, and catharsis at the end. It’s a focused experience, but the gameplay elements, visual design and layout, and writing all work well together to provide a compelling and accurate view of OCD from the inside, which I can see being impactful and even useful for all sorts of players.
This is a compact twine game where you attempt to go about your day despite a minor annoyance.
The bulk of the game is a long loop about dealing with the annoyance.
Quite a bit of it reminds me of my friends with sensory processing disorders including certain forms of autism, where they have to go to other rooms to avoid noise or where head-cancelling headphones.
Some of it, though, seems more directly tied to OCD, like repetitive hand-washing behaviors.
Its overall message about how to deal with these things isn't something I can personally vouch for; however, the techniques described do seem related to those I've used to manage depression, so I could see them being valid in this situation.
Overall, I think the structure is interesting, but I feel like it could have been developed a bit more, hit home more.
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