(This post is long! It’s also different from any post I’ve ever put up here on Flamingbard. It’s more about what Actual Sunlight made me feel than the game itself, meaning it’s a deeply personal post.)
I was gifted this game twice by a Steam/Twitter buddy and I figured I’d install one and ask him if I could use the other as a giveaway here. Then I played it and I don’t want to do a giveaway for it. I’m going to attempt to explain why and what I thought of the game though, to be honest, I’m still chewing on it.
I did not identify with Evan Winter on any level. I can’t count the number of times I’ve said things like, ‘If you’re depressed, I understand. I get it.’ and now I’m feeling as though I did a huge disservice every single time I uttered (or typed) those words. I don’t get it. I don’t understand that kind of despair and self-loathing, hopelessness, worthlessness. I thought I did but in playing Actual Sunlight I was struck by how uncomfortably angry I was becoming that anyone would write those words about themselves when there’s SO much to live for. I had to stop several times and think, ask myself why I’d ever said “I get it” to anyone. Did they think I was pretending to care and, if so, how dare they!
I can tell you that I’d never say that to anyone if I didn’t care. Maybe my ideals were misguided or misinformed but I don’t ever take the time to reach out if I don’t care.
I should tell you, in the interest of full disclosure, that I absolutely AM that person who has said, many times, that suicide is a selfish act. It’s not that I don’t understand what it’s like to feel like death is your only option. I don’t understand that but what makes me say that is anger. Anger at you for deciding to end your life, anger at you for being arrogant enough to think you knew what was best for everyone left behind. I get that we’re not supposed to say things like that anymore but I do sometimes feel that way.
I was a pre-teen in church one day showing off for a guy I thought was cute. We were in the basement where all the Sunday School rooms were and I tried to impress him by doing a front/back split. Only, I ripped the seam of my jeans out on the way down, right in front of him. I was mortified!! He laughed, held his hand out to me and told me he’d done that before. Then he took his jacket off and told me to tie it around my waist so no one else would know. That’s how we became such good friends, bonding over ridiculously embarrassing acts of teenagerism.
I was married with three kids working at a convenience store. Turn-over rate was horrendous and I’d been working a long string of 16+ hour days, seeing my kids just minutes a day and doing it all over again. If my shifts ran through a night shift then I saw them more because I’d take a 10-15 minute power nap and just stay up with the boys. It was rough and I was exhausted! My friend had been coming in to see me when I worked nights because he needed someone to listen.
He’d always suffered from depression and his life was nothing short of a tremendous series of ‘what were you thinking?!?’ kind of events. He was down, so very down, and I listened each night and tried to make him feel better. It never worked, making him feel better, and I could see him sinking deeper and deeper into that pit he fell into every now and then. He asked me one night if I remembered splitting my pants. We reminisced for an hour or two about all the crazy stuff we’d done over the years before he left but he was so … melancholy about the memories that should have made him laugh. I knew when he left that I had the next night off but I chose not to tell him. I needed a break. I loved my friend dearly but when he was down like that, oof. It was heavy stuff!
We’d (my husband, kids and I) moved that week and I told the guy coming in to work the night shift (so I could work the morning shift the next day) not to tell my friend where or how to find me. My co-worker knew him and the situation and remarked, “I don’t blame you! He’s a lot to deal with sometimes.” I agreed with a nod and then left for the night.
When I got to work the next morning my co-worker from the night before told me my friend had come by to see me but not to worry, he hadn’t told him where we’d moved. I thanked him and clocked in. We had that morning rush-hour hectic slam. We had, as usual, lines at the registers and lines at the pumps. I noticed I was seeing more church members than I usually did when I worked mornings. Some just grabbed my hand and did a slight shrug of the shoulders at me. Others told me they were sorry and for me to call if I needed anything. I was confused but we were so slammed I filed it in the back of my head and kept checking people out. Then a guy from church grabbed both my hands and told me he was sorry. I asked what for and he told me. My friend had broken into the church the night before, gone up on stage in the youth center, put a gun to his head and killed himself.
Years we all thought he was just threatening suicide for attention. Those last few weeks, he cried saying I was the only friend he had left, the only one who’d let him talk without shaming him or judging him. If he’d known where I’d moved to he would have found a way to come by the house so he could talk and I could listen. I knew that. That’s exactly why I hadn’t told him I’d moved yet. I needed a break. I didn’t think he was serious. He needed a reason and I didn’t give him one. I did what everyone else had done and shut him out. I wasn’t there when he needed me.
I didn’t go to his funeral. I didn’t even talk to his mom for years. The guilt was tremendous and heavy. The anger I felt, at him, was all-encompassing for a while, until I realized I was angry at myself for not being the friend he needed. I still think suicide is selfish but I also think that what you’re going through when suicide feels like your only way out must be absolutely unbearable. Unimaginable. Heavy in ways I can’t begin to comprehend.
Actual Sunlight made me angry. At the end of the game you don’t get a choice. Evan Winter is going to jump off the roof. In my playthrough I had Evan buy the video game because, as a gamer, games bring me joy and happiness. They’re my “me time” and I look forward to playing with anticipation. Actual Sunlight says gamers are losers, ‘least, that was how I understood the narrative. That’s how it starts off, the ‘gamers are losers’ bit and I’ll be honest here. That right ticked me off. I felt slighted and unfairly labeled, made fun of even. Given Evan’s stance on gamers, had I not bought the video game for him, would the ending have been different? Is that what caused him to destroy everything and, ultimately, decide to jump?
I didn’t get the option to make it better or to try and save him. That’s what I want to do. Save you. I want to make things better and bright and I arrogantly think I can sometimes. Evan Winter’s depression wasn’t about me, though. It was about Evan Winter. Actual Sunlight questioned my beliefs and my reasoning that, given time, it’ll pass and things will get better. I know this to be true so how can you not? Egotistical? Yes. Actual Sunlight made me think of my friend again and feel that horrible, indescribable loss I felt when the deacon told me he had killed himself. It slammed the guilt hard back on my shoulders, the guilt that’s screaming in my ears as I type that I was a despicable friend. Is this how my friend felt? Wasn’t there something I could have done, years before even, that would have helped alter his path?
I honestly don’t know what I could have done differently other than leave him a note giving him my new address. He’d said he just needed someone to listen and not judge, that that’s what he got from me. Obviously that wasn’t enough to ‘fix it’.
I won’t tell you I get it anymore. It seems so trite, but all I can do is listen and not judge. It doesn’t sound like Evan Winter had anyone to listen and not judge or, if he did, his perception told him differently. I did not like this game. I didn’t like how it made me feel and I didn’t like ‘playing’ a character that I couldn’t identify with, one that I was hoping would find a reason to live soon so I could stop playing the game. I didn’t like the blanket statement that gamers are losers. I didn’t like not getting the option to save Evan.
I’m not sure what I’m going to do with the extra copy of this game but it won’t be January’s giveaway like I’d wanted.