The first time I saw Robin as a work in progress, I was struck almost speechless. A cute little indie game is right up my alley, and a cute little indie game about Chronic Fatigue Syndrome is basically everything I’ve ever wanted. Even better: it’s made by a group of kiwi students who are the sweetest.
Robin’s main mechanic is based off of the Spoon Theory, a common way for chronically ill people to explain their limited energy reserves: as you make Robin perform actions, her energy bar empties until the only option is sleep. It’s simple but effective, and evocative of daily life for someone with Chronic Fatigue. A rapidly depleting energy bar is a part of life for us, not just a game mechanic.
However, though chronically ill people may find their lives reflected in some form in Robin, I suppose we must ask the question: can a game ever actually help able people empathize with those who are chronically ill? Can a game really make someone understand in a way that positively changes their thought patterns?
When you have a chronic illness, it starts to become the core of your being. It becomes hard to not let your illness define you, to actually live a life. It also becomes hard to explain your experiences to your healthy friends and family and I’m somewhat glad that I have friends with similar experiences for support (though I am not thankful they also have to live with these struggles.)
I’m not sure when I first heard about the interactive narrative tool, Twine, but from the start I had a feeling that, as someone who wants to get into game narrative, it was the kind of thing I’d want to experiment with. My first idea was based around chronic illness, and trying to illustrate what life is when you have one.
And so, I created Bloom.
Over the past couple weeks I have consistently come up against walls put up by the biggest challenge of my young life: my illness. It comes and goes in waves, as many of life’s struggles do. One week I might wake up earlier than usual. I won’t get exhausted from showering and dressing and getting generally ready for my day. I’ll be productive, and best of all I’ll be optimistic.
The next week: sleep becomes a struggle, but waking up is like pulling myself from a tar pit. I’ll collapse onto my bed after getting ready and I won’t have the energy to move for another hour. I might have to stop making breakfast halfway through and lie down on the kitchen floor, the world dim and muffled. This, unfortunately, has been the entirety of March for me so far.
Chronic fatigue is balls.