Actual Sunlight gives you feels.
At PAX East this year, I had an opportunity to talk to the creator of Actual Sunlight, Will O’Neill, briefly about his game. I didn’t say I was a writer, and looking back I should have. I was intrigued by his booth, a banner reading “You’re Life is Going Nowhere” written in large letters. He told me a little about the game and that I wouldn’t enjoy playing it but overall the experience would be worthwhile.
Well, I’ll be damned, he was right.
As soon as I got home I bought the game and it was not what I was expecting at all, it was so much more. It is a simple game as far as the graphics go, but aesthetically pleasing and the sprites are harmless and unassuming. The heavy feels come from the text in the game and there is a lot of it to read. Actual Sunlight tells the story of Evan Winter and his struggle with depression. The story is narrated by Evan through his writings. There is even a note authored by creator, Will O’Neill, in the game as well. Unlike other games that have given me “the feels” it had nothing to do with the choices of the game, rather the lack of choice. It is a linear story and you become engrossed in it and robbed of your free will for the hour or so it takes to navigate your way through the game.
The biggest impact this game has is the emotions it makes you feel. It made me question myself, and validated feelings I’ve felt in the past. In a way it normalized that horrific voice that rears its ugly head from time to time and fills my head full of lies. I empathized with Evan Winter in ways I never could have predicted while playing a game.
Typically video games are a form of escapism, exploring a fantastic world, accomplishing grandiose tasks and being the hero. If that’s what you’re looking for Actual Sunlight is not for you. It’s a hard look at what depression is like, written with such brutal honesty that makes you feel uncomfortable at times. It was unsettling yet amazing.
Some people have the misconception that individuals suffering from depression should “snap out of it” or just simply change their lives, because that’s easy, right? Bullshit. Actual Sunlight is a moving story and causes the player to look within themselves, at least it did for me. I think that this game tackles a difficult and delicate subject in a respectful manner. Depression doesn’t discriminate, and it doesn’t look a certain way either. Our society can be self-absorbed and we may not see that someone is suffering because they go to work everyday and seem to be doing alright.
You won’t enjoy Actual Sunlight, but you will appreciate it.