“It has not been in the pursuit of pleasure that I have periled life and reputation and reason. It has been the desperate attempt to escape from torturing memories, from a sense of insupportable loneliness and a dread of some strange impending doom.” – Edgar Allan Poe
Developer: Niila Games
Released: 24th August 2020
Price: £4.99 – £6.99
Supported by both The Danish Film Institute and The Danish Art Foundation, Stilstand is a bleak, yet subtly comical interactive novel by Ida Hartmann and Niila Games. The game deals with themes of depression, loneliness and anxiety and has the player clinging to the idea of hope whilst smoking, drinking, dating and conversing with their very own monster.
Players of Stilstand take on the role of a young woman struggling through the heat of a summer in Copenhagen. The narrative themes and vague overarching storyline are heavy, dealing with serious subjects such as mental health, in particular, depression and anxiety. The player must witness and even assist the protagonist as she engages in damaging, self-destructive behaviours such as excessive drinking and smoking, isolating herself, and soliciting sexual encounters whilst under the influence.
The game provides a relatable portrayal of many side effects that can be associated with suffering from mental health problems on a long term basis. It captures the feelings of stagnation and loss of self, acknowledging that it leaves the character with little ability or energy to change their situation as well as the seeming melodrama of certain scenarios. Similarly, the difficulty of forming and maintaining relationships is depicted insightfully; social expectations, perceived and real, fuel the young woman’s anxiety, causing her to neglect existing relationships and come on too strongly when forming new ones, only exacerbating her isolation.
Despite the overall melancholy of the game, there is a lightness and subtle humour to the delivery that cannot be overlooked. The comic timing of the dialogue helps provide contrast and create a more rounded experience that isn’t just wholly miserable. This is further assisted by the upfront nature of the obscure and surreal black blob of a monster, representing a sort of tame inner demon who is vividly expressive and strangely nonchalant.
Stilstand is primarily an interactive graphic novel to be clicked through, however, there are a number of more varied interactions throughout. Although a number of these do feel somewhat superficial, such as lifting the character’s arm to drink coffee early on in the game, they become increasingly poignant as the player must also manually smoke and drink alcohol in excess, inspiring feelings of responsibility and guilt that wouldn’t arise without such interactions.
Additionally, there are a number of simple mini-games within Stilstand that break up the comic book panes, and feature much more eclectic interactions, for example, drunkenly attempting to apply lipstick! There are also anxiety-inducing social situations for the protagonist to overcome, both online and in real life, and the player is required to choose between dialogue options that vary from awkward to inappropriate, feeling all the pain of the responses and repercussions.
Stilstand has a harsh, sketchy, black and white aesthetic and features a plethora of haunting hand-drawn artwork. The unique and expressive visuals perfectly match the themes and narrative design of the game and the only instances of colour in the game are minimal pops of a symbolic blue to indicate interaction.
There are some decent sound effects in the game but these are mostly overshadowed by an emotive and genre-spanning variety of music. Tracks range from melancholy, echoing, lethargic piano tunes to mischievous and bouncy sounds to full-blown dance music. The audio really brings the story to life and helps connect the player to the overall experience.
Stilstand is a short game and can easily be completed in less than two hours. Despite this, and whilst it may be a touch too obvious in its thematic delivery it provides an unashamed and brutally honest look at life with mental health problems and all the pitfalls of trying to manage them.
The game is insightful about conditions such as depression and anxiety without either glorifying or demonising sufferers, an unfortunately common pitfall. Instead, it refreshingly inspires empathy for the protagonist without painting her as a victim, her struggle and efforts are quite apparent but so are her flaws and failures. This, when paired with the originality of the dark visuals and cleverly interwoven soundtrack make it an experience that I highly recommend.
For more articles about games and mental health, why not take a look at :
Five Free Games that Attempt to Tackle Mental Health Issues