When we for the first time meet Kay, the protagonist of Sea of loneliness, she no longer remembers the last time she saw the sun and no longer recognizes her own reflection. Dark fur covers his limbs and his eyes glow like embers. Consumed by loneliness, she turned into a monstrous caricature of herself. This nightmarish fable from Berlin developer Jo-Mei Games takes place in the deteriorated psyche of a young woman, portrayed as a drowned city populated by manifestations of her inner demons. There’s a giant screaming the monologue of self-loathing through Kay’s head and a serpentine beast lurking beneath the waves, threatening to capsize his rickety boat. Everyone in Kay’s life – her brother, who is being bullied at school; his parents, embroiled in the divorce; and his partner, devoured by clinical depression, have also degenerated into monsters, too trapped in their own cyclical traumas to find a way out.
Kay’s struggle to stay afloat, literally and figuratively, may sound familiar to many who have spent an uncomfortable time locked in their own thoughts over the past year or so. Fittingly, Jo-Mei posted Sea of Solitude: Director’s Cup, a collaboration with the French developer Quantic Dream, exclusively for the Nintendo Switch on March 4. Although Sea of lonelinessThe initial 2019 release with publisher Electronic Arts Originals predates the pandemic, few works seem suited to the claustrophobia and alienation of the world we live in today.
With the director’s cut, “we had the opportunity to refine or change everything we always wanted to do. Sea of loneliness»Says Cornelia Geppert, Creative Director of Jo-Mei. In addition to the gameplay upgrade and the addition of features including a photo mode, Jo-Mei hired author Stephen Bell to rework the script and a team of professional voice actors to read it. Geppert acknowledges that the German-accented dubbing of the original was “distracting” and partly explains why some critics called the game a “missed opportunity”. The revised script takes a “ less is more ” approach, combining dialogue with a clenched fist and allowing atmospheric visuals to do more of the heavy lifting. The result is cleaner, sharper and lets the emotional heart of the game shine through.
Since its initial release, Sea of loneliness had a much wider impact than Geppert ever anticipated. While other games including One night in the woods and Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice, have explored issues related to mental health, few have succeeded in illustrating depression, anxiety and loneliness in such a fascinating way. The seascape, which oscillates between saturated colors and dark, eerie hues depending on Kay’s mood, looks like a children’s book set in motion. Something about the haunting work of art and the archetypal struggles it represents resonated with players. In a matter of months, emails poured in from all over the world.
“Hundreds and hundreds of fans – kids, adults, parents – contacted us and expressed how much it helped them not to feel so lonely,” Geppert says. Parents discussed how discussing the game around the dinner table has helped children and teens open up to their own issues. “Some people have even changed their lives for the better. One person left an abusive ex-husband and they wrote to us a year later telling us they were happy in a new relationship.
While depression and anxiety are common narrative sources for film and television, Geppert believes video games have enormous potential to explore them in a different way. Unlike passive forms of storytelling, a game requires players to assume their free will.
“In the movies, everything is overwhelmed by you,” Geppert says. In Sea of loneliness, the experience is different. “It was interesting hearing from the fans that they were sometimes so scared that they would avoid going forward, but eventually they would realize they had to do it. [You’re] going through history at your own pace, deciding to overcome your own fears. “