Feelings are hard to explain sometimes, especially when they’re related to mental illness. So often people find it difficult to engage on an empathic level with pain they can’t see and have never experienced and there’s something about anxiety in particular that many are frustratingly inclined to dismiss as nothing more than sensitivity. Often, explaining how distressing anxiety and anxiety attacks can be to someone who just can’t take it seriously because of a lack of understanding seems to trigger nothing more than shallow advice, rather than the understanding and friendly ear that’s needed. Because of this you find yourself pretending everything is okay because it’s easier to hide these feelings than to try to explain them.
That’s why the game Anxiety Attacks is so interesting. From developer Alessandro Salvati, the game could easily slot into the horror genre, but it doesn’t rely on jumpscares or gory monsters to scare, it simply attempts to make the player feel the loss of control and struggle that comes with anxiety.
The game starts in a calm, relaxing and bright environment; a forest filled with greenery and sunlight. You play in a first person perspective, given only a few simple commands: find a safe zone and control your breathing.
As the game progresses and you get further into the woods your goal become difficult to achieve. Your breath becomes shallow and the sound of your struggling to take in air drowns out all external noise; the world becomes darker; it becomes harder to see clearly as messages pop up on screen saying things like “Am I crazy?” “I’m dying” and “I’m suffocating” block out your view of your way forward.
In the game’s Steam Greenlight description developer Salvati says he used his own first hand experiences with anxiety to design the game: “Everything has been carefully studied to let you achieve anxiety while you play. The playtime as well has been tailored to reflect anxiety, long enough to deliver you the feeling and the message, without trying to overdo.”
The game shows incredibly well how anxiety locks you inside your own head, how difficult it is to do something that on the surface seems simple and you know is essential (find a safe space and control your breathing) when suffering an anxiety attack. It also shows how even seemingly calm and harmless environments can very quickly turn against someone suffering from anxiety.
The game is not recommended for people with photosensitive epilepsy, depression, anxiety, panic attacks and Salvati warns people to play at their own risk.
Anxiety Attacks in an interesting experiment in how gaming as a personal experience could have the power to raise awareness about mental health issues. Sometimes when you watch someone swimming underwater for a long time on television, struggling to hold their breath, you find yourself holding your own breath, drawing in air with a gasp of relief with them when they finally break the surface. I imagine Anxiety Attacks plays on these kind of tendencies of the human mind, to create what is an immersive and frankly distressing experience.
If you’d like to learn a bit more about the experience of anxiety, you can download Anxiety Attacks for windows from here for around £1.40.
Main Image via Steam