(CONTENT WARNING: Graphic depictions of suicide, discussion of suicide, strong themes of self-loathing and depression.)
Down was a hard game to play despite its easy, enticing presentation. There’s no jump scares, no monsters to fight or even any puzzles to contend with. But there is a visceral reflection on one’s baggage and traumatic history, something that Warden admits is inspired by her own struggles with anxiety.
There are themes and locales that will likely read similar to environments in Silent Hill 2, namely the narrow graveyard with foggy autumn weather. Warden successfully executes on the oppressively isolating macabre atmosphere which serves as a backdrop for the narrative’s exploration of self-harm.
Heavy themes of guilt, repression, and resenting yourself for failing to support or protect those closest to us is another motif that finds itself shared between the two titles. These overlapping elements aside, the game takes on a much different tone in how it delivers these themes, never shying away from showing its subject matter.
Down encapsulates the circular nature of internally destructive thoughts, with the game’s start heavily implying that it picks up after the end of its own spiral. It isn’t that the protagonist is in a purgatory-like realm, but that the invasive thoughts that grip their mind act as a personal gauntlet for the character’s psyche. But in spite of this, you find yourself with only one choice: to confront the past and move forward, no matter how difficult or traumatic reliving those experiences may be.
In a sense, the game offers a hopeful perspective through this. While the circular progression may come across to some as especially nihilistic, one can argue that our capacity to incrementally struggle against routines like this and persevere is one of the more remarkable aspects of the human condition.
It may end on a harsh note, but begins on a brighter one that offers a dim, but visible opportunity to break free of the cycle, that maybe one day you can walk away from the things that haunt you and move on once you realize finality is not always the only solution.
Emily Rose is an indie developer who writes for rebind.io and resides in the pacific northwest. She’s often seen in the local VR arcade and developer community participating in pushing the medium’s horizons. You can find her on twitter @caravanmalice