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Happy Valentine day. Play a video game about breaking up

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I’m not a statistician, but I guess for as many people who think of their partner this Valentine’s Day, there are just as many who are brooding on an ex. Or maybe even a collection of exes. Or maybe they’re just trying to push back any thoughts of any exes and past Valentine’s Day.

A new game, released today for PC and Mac, argues that we should embrace the ghosts of former lovers instead.

After all, as “Apartment: A Separate Place” makes clear, they haunt us anyway. Here, in an interactive work of fiction developed by Robyn Tong Gray and Richard Emms, our places of residence become at different times a prison or a museum, either a collection of a past life that we wish to forget or walls of more and more claustrophobic. Both fuel depression for our protagonist, who spends his days trying to avoid thoughts triggered by a cup of coffee, an old post-it or even a misplaced TV remote.

These items are reminiscent of fights or better days or simply signs of growth. Those old coffee cups? They once held wine after an early date, before he could afford to buy drink-specific glassware. Consider “Apartment: A Separate Place,” the length of a movie, a sort of play piece that accompanies the Netflix movie “Marriage Story,” and the independently developed genre of game that continues to stretch the very definition of a game.

“Apartment: a separate place” alternates between surreal and realistic moments.

(The Elsewhere Company)

The desire to explore softer, less competitive emotions in games is still a nascent space. If the reaction of those who saw me play “Apartment: A Separated Place” in the Los Angeles Times office is any indication of the general population, many are still bewildered by the idea of ​​stateless winning games. But as anyone who’s survived a relationship can attest, exploring vulnerability also requires a lot of heroism.

‘Apartment: A Separate Place’ gives us a light tale – we piece together the life and relationships of not only the new single protagonist, but also the heartaches experienced by others in the housing complex – but he primarily uses interactivity as a medium. to engage. Although it starts out relatively dark, as our totally average dude is in the grip of depression, he soon takes on more surreal metaphorical qualities.

The actual break at the heart of the game isn’t one of the great dramas. It’s the story of two people who love each other deeply but just walked away. Likewise, many of the cases that we encounter via the homes of our neighbors. If presented as a movie or TV show, “Apartment: A Separated Place” would be relatively untheatrical, perhaps even tedious, but such an approach is particularly suited to interactive fiction – the game gives us space to walk around and get lost.

The more relatable the moments, the easier it is to pause and linger on a hair clip, and wonder what emotions will be evoked, in the form or in a graphic novel like panels, if we click on the item. And the more normal the relationship, the better it is for developers to create magical moments that allow us to reflect on a daily basis rather than seeing it overdone.

Ultimately, this is a game about the move, and we do it by confronting the memories – good and bad – of the characters in the apartment. A game allows us to explore narratives not only from different points of view, but gives us an open space to try to match the emotional space of its characters, sometimes a young girl who dreams of being a princess, and sometimes parents whose extra shifts prevented them from learning exactly when their favorite color changed from pink to blue.

The playfulness comes from discovering these memories, wandering in a forest, for example, and using lightning bugs to highlight objects that recall the past. In another scene we are leading a character through the crowded streets of the city, only in this scene we are walking in someone else’s dream. The thoughts we choose dictate the narrative we follow, and those thoughts come from a partner who wonders what is chasing her lover: is it another suitor? Or are they really absorbed in the work? We choose the direction in which a mind will spiral.

We don’t always get a clear answer on how a relationship ended, but in games we don’t need it. And besides, romance – its excitement, quirks, panic attacks, or the fear it causes – does not itself follow a linear storyline. For those who still think of games in terms of winning or losing, we win here by confronting what can be difficult for our characters.

“Apartment: A Separate Place” is not in itself a painful experience, in an emotional sense. Whether it’s climbing the endless stairs of a twisted mansion – the mind here of a lonely elderly woman – or pressing the keyboard to reveal the words typed by a frustrated novelist, “Apartment: a separate place ‘gradually aims to install the player in something of a dream state.

In doing so, it alleviates the nightmare of grief, at least for a moment.

“Apartment: a separate place”

Video games and immersive entertainment

More coverage of the game from critic Todd Martens



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