Neverending Nightmares: The personal hell of mental illness - Games Weekly

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Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Neverending Nightmares: The personal hell of mental illness

Everyone has nightmares, but not everyone’s nightmares are quite as terrifying as Matt Gilgenbach’s. Having battled mental illness in the form of obsessive compulsive disorder and depression, the Infitap Games founder and co-founder of 24 Caret Games has taken it upon himself to shine some light on his more hellish experiences through his work-in-progress title Neverending Nightmares.

The game follows main protagonist Adam as he navigates his way through a set of recurring nightmares, challenging the player to sort the real from the imaginary. The pencil-stroke art successfully creates oppressive, dark environments that draw inspiration from legendary illustrator Edward Gorey, but it’s the brutality of the blood red gore that really stands out against the hand-drawn black and white aesthetic. “Many of the disturbing images came from intrusive thoughts that came from my OCD” Gilgenbach reveals in his dev diary, not ashamed to share the truth of his illness. “I suffered a lot, and why did I suffer a lot? Because I was born with mental illness.”

Despite being met with critical acclaim, Retro/Grade (Gilgenbach’s first indie game) was unsuccessful financially, and the shock sent the designer spiraling into depression. “All the memories of when I was at my darkest points came flooding back.” he recalls, “I just wished I could communicate what I was feeling to others but I couldn't find the words.” According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, approximately one million Australians currently suffer from depression, a number that’s believed to be grossly under exaggerated. But Gilgenbach won through, as he turned the situation to his advantage. “I soon realised that this was a great opportunity. I could channel
my experience into a game and recreate the fear, the terror, the anxiety of suffering from OCD and depression.”

To do this, Gilgenbach has put the focus on immersion, avoiding the use of any HUD and UI elements that may distract players or break tension. As a result, the black and white art style has become key, as players will only be able to interact with objects that are in colour. This single handedly negates the desire to spam clicks across a screen, allowing the pace and atmosphere to fully embed themselves in a gamer’s mind.

To make matters even more tense, the game is set to branch out into multiple paths depending on player decisions, with the intention of providing as wide a variety as possible.

A demo of Neverending Nightmares is currently playable online. While only a mere taste of what’s to come, it’s already got hearts racing, but Gilgenbach isn't solely malicious in his drive to dish out scares. ”While drawing on true psychological horrors is a great way to create a terrifying and disturbing game, I feel like this is the opportunity to do so much more,” he says. “I feel like with this game I can help people who are suffering and show them they’re not alone. If I can help people through their struggles… that makes my hellish struggle worthwhile.”

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