Thoughts of suicide are not something I have struggled with personally, and it’s probably why I find it hard to understand how a person would consider the decision to end their life, that whatever hope had kept them going was gone. The game Irritum tries to create this empathy in the player by taking them to that hopeless place. It may sound unsettling but it is hard to have grace for sins you do not struggle with. It’s easy to think of suicidal thoughts as cowardly, even naively selfish when such thoughts are not your own.
Though not a sufferer of depression, Irritum made me feel depressed, hopeless and alone. I suddenly realized I was being given a rare opportunity to understand I struggle I have never had. I was being given a glimpse of life in the shoes of someone suffering depression.
Irritum begins as the game’s protagonist has committed suicide off-screen. The puzzle/platformer takes place in a type of limbo where you must navigate the glowing platforms suspended over nothingness to collect glowing orbs, each which activate a single, fuzzy memory of your former life and the events that lead up to the avatar’s decision to end it.
You are alone in your journey except for two angel/demon beings, both urging you to either give up or question your motives for learning the truth of why you chose to commit suicide.These beings are named Cassus and Sollus, from Latin meaning “empty” and “alone” respectively. The game’s title, Irritum, itself recalls from Latin, “nothingness”.
The demon specters you meet along the way question you, even taunt you on your difficult quest to discover why you chose to give up on life, why you gave into the hopelessness. Yet even in death, playing the game itself is a form of hope, an unspoken assumption that if you can somehow defeat this hell’s challenges and reach the end, things will turn out, you will be brought back to life.
But that is not the case here. Even if you manage to navigate through the perilous twisting platforms suspended in darkness, the game suggests firmly that suicide carries a horrifying finality, there is no coming back.
The oppressive narrative, excruciating difficulty and unhelpful, discouraging “guides” work together to create a picture of living with depression. Some particular “memories” are so devilishly hard to reach, requiring you to balance on a razor’s edge where a millimeter in either direction results in being sent back to a checkpoint. Sometimes after 10, 20 even 30 tries I had to quietly accept defeat, overcome my obsessive compulsion and move on glumly with an incomplete score for that level. And the brutal difficulty of the mechanics is only compounded by the taunts from the demons to give up.
The hope I had after my 22nd attempt, by 30 was utterly gone.
Collecting the memories themselves is interesting, but also unpleasant, do I really want to remember why the main character wanted to end her or his life? Perhaps it mirrors the pain of choosing whether to embrace life’s hard realities or try and forget or ignore them, and focus only on making it through the level to the next, like a depression sufferer devoting all they have on just getting through the day.
I chose to collect as many memories as possible, piecing together a troubled life that could lead to suicidal thoughts, but the overwhelming difficulty often made me question giving up, even as I soldiered on. But as the game only becomes more complicated, more difficult and failure more painful, it took more and more mental power to continuing trying again where I had failed dozens of times.
Quitting the game kept feeling like a more and more viable option, perhaps even a relief.
However, even if you do trudge on and beat the game, you do not come back to life. The decision your avatar made before the game starts is permanent, in the world of Irritum death is final. While playing I have gained more empathy for someone suffering depression, and a reinforced idea that suicide is horrible and final. And with this newfound empathy, maybe I can better understand the pain of depression, and better love those that know this demon all too well.
Here at Gamechurch we believe Jesus loves people who are depressed, who struggle with suicidal thoughts, and want you to know there is hope. It matters which voice you listen to, and that there is a third option, even in though the limbo where Irritum takes place is filled with two voices offering the same despair.
“If you ask me to end this now, I will. Face it; this challenge is too much for you to overcome. Not everyone is created equal,” Cassus says.
Sollus says, “This has to be something you need to finish alone. I am only here to guide you.”
In the end, neither prove to be trustworthy. The challenges you face in your life, in your city, in your situation may be too much for you to overcome, but that’s not because you were created unequal to someone who seems to have it all together.
Cassus was wrong, and so was Sollus, this is not something you need to fight alone. Sometimes we can’t save ourselves.