As a person who has been diagnosed with mild depression, I was very interested in playing “Actual Sunlight”. Although I’m doing much better, I still think of gaming as my “other world”, where I go to relax and not think about reality.
“Actual Sunlight” turns that on its head and becomes the unavoidable, unmistakable, ugly elephant in the room. It is not a “game”. It uses the video game medium to tell a (rather short) story with a tremendously important message.
The gameplay is rather simple: a very basic top down adventure game where you interact with NPCs to advance the story. The game doesn’t look particularly good, or sound that great. This is not a game about graphics, pushing the hardware envelope, or any of the usual industry nonsense.
“Actual Sunlight” is about the story: Evan wants to kill himself.
You play as Evan, a middle-aged guy with a gut much bigger than his self-steem. He’s in a job where he’s under-appreciated, without any meaningful relationships.
He can’t seem to find a reason to keep on existing. He finds himself at a point in his life where that life isn’t really all that great.
Sadly, this is a crossroads that a lot of people find themselves at every day. However, it’s rarely been touched on within videogames before this decade.
As I researched the way videogames have been helping people battle depression and other mental health issues, “Actual Sunlight” and interviews with developer Will O’Neill popped up everywhere. I have spoken to him about doing an interview, too, and even though the game was first released in 2012, he is just as enthusiastic about spreading the message as he seems to have been a couple of years ago.
I find it difficult to be objective about this game, because it touches on something that matters to me a lot. And that’s the point: it’s not the prettiest game; it’s really, really short; there’s barely any sound. But it matters. This is a game that transcends the medium to become something much more than itself or the industry within which it was created.
Funny thing is, I don’t think I’m alone in this. As I keep doing research about the game for my upcoming interview with Will, I’m happily surprised by the fact that people react to “Actual Sunlight” like I did: gone are the discussions about framerates, HD graphics, next-gen wars and all the other day-to-day bull.
All people seem to want to do is help each other. Talk about real issues, real people.
So call me a softy, but I don’t really care that this game isn’t all that great at being a game. This game is a very important piece of art; a very real representation of the human condition.
As a game, “Actual Sunlight” is undoubtedly flawed. As an experience, I think there are very few games that even come close to being this relevant.
I, for one, can live with that.
AUTHOR’S NOTE: If you’re battling with mental health issues like depression, or know someone who is, please visit the following links. You’re not alone. Not by a long shot.
- I’m alive – 24hr suicide prevention chat support: https://www.imalive.org/ (international)
- Suicide Prevention Chatline: http://www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org/gethelp/lifelinechat.aspx (US)
- Get Connected (helpline): http://www.getconnected.org.uk/get-help/harming-yourself/suicide/ (UK)
- Title: Actual Sunlight
- Publisher: WZO Games
- Developer: WZO Games
- System: PS Vita
- Format: Digital Download
- Cross Buy: No
- Cross Play: No
- Local Multiplayer: No
- Online Multiplayer: No
- PlayStation TV Compatible: No
- Memory Card Space Needed: 72Mb