I’m making a game about OCD.
I think I first realised there was something wrong with me when I was a teenager. As kids, we’d play “the Mini game,” where if we saw a Mini, we’d race to be he first person to punch the other one. It was childish, and ridiculous, but we were children, and thus ridiculous. The problem started to become obvious when I would see a Mini while I was out and about and, years after we’d stopped playing the game, I would hit myself, whether I was with other people, or not. It’d be subtle, but if you happened to be looking at me at the time you’d wonder why I’d clench my fist and thump it into my thigh like that.
The truth is I did it because to not do it caused me a lot of anxiety. I know somewhere in my brain that if I don’t give into these compulsions, nothing will happen to me. I know that I will be able to forge forward and continue with my life. But that’s not really how things work. The patterns I follow keep me calm, contented, whole. I no longer feel as stressed out because I’m tapping my fingers in a certain way. Unless I do it wrong, of course, which means I have to start again. This happens often.
My date of birth contains the same number four times. This probably wasn’t the cause of my OCD but it definitely contributed to it. I go through phases, becoming obsessed with a certain number for several years before moving on. I’ll eat my food in a set number of bites, sometimes. Or set the volume on the television to a certain number even if that’s not as loud or as quiet as I really want it to be, because the “else” in this fucked-up “if statement” is anxiety.
Quite frequently people tell me that I worry too much, and I begin to wonder if they actually know a lot about what living with something like this is like. I’ve had to teach myself, over the past however many years, how to behave, at least on the surface, like a normal person. How to realise that a lot of my obsessive behaviour is just that – obsessive behaviour, things most people would not do, things most people would not think about.
If I’ve ever spoken to you there’s a fair chance I’ve analysed everything that’s happened or fixated on one minute detail and had to stop myself repeatedly from asking you about it. You’ll also notice I constantly correct myself while I’m talking, because for some reason it feels very dishonest for me to say sentence A when I was going to say sentence B. So I’ll find a way of saying both. Also, if I’ve ever forgotten what I was going to say to you, you may let it go immediately but it will really get to me, immediately, because it suddenly becomes incredibly important. Same goes for me not hearing something you’ve just said, as saying “never mind” to someone like me just doesn’t really click into place like it should with a normal, carefree person.
The reason I want to make a game about OCD is to give other people an idea of not how sorry to feel for me and anyone else who deals with this, but to help people to understand. To realise that while you might laugh at someone stepping on a bath mat because they feel they have to else they’ll start to freak out, that this is one of the things that keeps them feeling balanced. It’s a really difficult concept to explain and the moment you analyse it it makes no sense at all, but when you’re there, in that moment, tapping your fingers in the right pattern is what unlocks the rest of the day for you.
I was out to dinner with some nice people recently and, when talking to them about the game, one of them remarked that OCD is like being on one of those inflatable running tracks at fairgrounds where you have an elastic cord that will yank you back to the start after you run a set distance. I agreed, and remarked that as you go flying back towards your compulsive behaviour, there’s the sense of shame and failure that goes with it as you give in YET AGAIN to behaviour you know isn’t normal or healthy but you don’t really know what to do as you’ve got no fucking choice in the matter.
Playing games is often difficult for me as a result of all of this shit. Some people like collectibles in games, and I understand why. For me they are a major source of anxiety when I’m playing, because I constantly worry I’m missing things and not getting the full experience. That’s basically what OCD is, really – feeling like everything needs to be finished, or done, despite the fact that nothing is finished, or done, it’s just needless bullshit on top of your life that has no real place in it.
Designing a game around these concepts has been very interesting – working out how to implement compulsions and the anxiety that results from ignoring them has been an exercise in both design and communication. For once I feel like I’m communicating something very specific to the player. I’m not sure I want to tell them what the game is about, because part of me really wants them to just “get” it, but the other part of me is extremely worried they won’t, and again I wonder how much of that is me, and how much of that is my OCD.
That’s the issue I’ve really run into as an adult – working out what bits of my thoughts are the broken/unwell part of me, and what bits of me are the normal, everyday person part. I’m genuinely not sure a lot of the time, but when I’m having a nice conversation or playing a game or watching a film sometimes it all drifts away and I can exist outside my head for a bit, and things become clearer and more happily exciting and colourful and I can forget, for that little period of time.
One of the best compulsions I have, well, the best, really, is honesty. Occasionally little white lies seep out (I say this slightly disappointing bit because I am compelled to, to give you some idea of how this works), but most of the time I am literally incapable of lying to people, as it became an obsession a few years ago. Unfortunately that gets exhausting for people so I’m learning about the idea of keeping things to yourself and not telling someone EVERYTHING EVER, but that’s a difficult process and sometimes I feel like I’m standing slightly to the left of everyone else, that everyone else is stupid and this stuff matters. The world seems extremely dishonest to me, and that makes it feel like a cold and heartless place full of people who are self-serving unconcerned about the smallest impacts. Then I realise that OCD often means you can’t see the fucking forest for the trees, and again I attempt to understand how things work for someone I’d consider more stable.
Hopefully people then like the game and talk to me about it. I would like to show them how things work.
And no, I don’t really fully understand The Number 23. I think it makes even less sense to me than it does to you. Sorry.