(Content Warning: Domestic Disputes, Childhood Trauma)
A colorful rubber ball bounces past, immediately drawing your focus and illustrating the short lived nature of your fledgling autonomy against your newly formed limbic system. Play, at this point, is far more important than any budding sense of self-awareness.. such a vivid color, so squishy… it even bounces… You could toy with it for hours on end and never lose any satisfacti- Is that Mister Caterpillar? He’s so green…
Lurching towards the plastic green structure adorned with egg-shell colored “eyes” to provide animistic illusion, you fumble and fall over… you’re still getting the hang of this walking thing after all, that’s what mum keeps telling you at least.
A distant figure by the back yard gate catches your vision, an animal like silhouette announced with an audibly heavy breathing sound… is this a new friend you wonder. But before you can investigate this character, mum calls out to come inside to get ready for snacks, and the good child that you are you head in paying no mind to the mysterious new friend.
Bonbon is a short bottle piece set in the middle of the UK during the late cold war era of the 80s, a period known for great economic turbulence and ever-shifting social landscape. For the first time in the post-war period, the long-term viability of the nuclear family was put to the test without the bulwark of financial stability, thanks in part to the newly implemented policies of Thatcherism.
Experienced through the eyes of a small child, Bonbon is an exploration of the fraying threads of a british family and the ways economic anxiety shapes the subconscious, even of the most innocent among us. The gameplay is charmingly swaddled in cludgy controls that simulate a lack of motor-skill finesse and frequently disrupts player agency for short scripted sequences. One of these moments is an exceptionally tense sequence involving your newly acquired rodent neighbor learning some manners at the dinner table. While some may find these brief sequences off-putting, ultimately they add a texture of authenticity to the atmosphere- after all, you are small and vulnerable, utterly at the behest of anything larger than you which, at this point in life is everything.
There is something deeply melancholic in replaying memories of a house shattered by domestic toxicity, it’s something that kicks off a deep seated ennui in those who have been forced to witness disputes among family. We often find ourselves succumbing to binary narratives of parental good-vs-evil , but the truth is far more messy in it’s web of complicity and mutual self-deception. Bonbon‘s rich presentation is in part owed to its measured portrayal of post-marital distress, showcasing the ways in which familial relationships of a household flatten under the weight of interpersonal enmeshment.
One of the most terrifying facets of Bonbon is how through demonstrating the folly of our mothers and fathers, we realize how their faults embed within our young flesh like so much shrapnel, our wounds healing over the shards with scar tissue, forcing us to visibly bear our damage to the world later in life. To know your parents sins is to know a failed version of yourself, to encounter all of your potential shortcomings at a fork in the road to hell paved with good intentions, to feel the gravity of despair and fear as it pulls you towards psychological insecurity.
But as real as this childhood nightmare may feel, Bonbon is the story of simmering strife giving way to humble beginnings, to rise against your imprint, to recognize the monster within yourself and to struggle against it. We may inherit many things from our parents but our thoughts, spirit and willpower are ours alone, our ability to self-actualize is never truly out of reach.
It is up to us to say no, to refuse to be like our forebears, and to shed yesterday’s expectations in exchange for the mantle of tomorrow’s promise. After all, we must all grow up one day.
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