Escaping into The Unfinished Swan

When I started gaming, back in August of 2014, after a 30-odd year hiatus, the last thing I ever expected was that they’d help me in any way. I mean, they’re video games, what more could they do than be a fun way to waste some time?

I started out with games like Forza Horizon 2 and Dragon Age Inquisition, huge games that give you endless opportunities to do the things you may secretly wish you could do in real life, like take a shortcut through somebody’s yard to avoid traffic or try to romance every character in Haven. The more I played, though, the more I felt myself escaping the thing that’s followed me around like a monster on my back since I was a teenager. I’m schizophrenic, have been since I was 17 or so, and for most of my adult life I’ve dealt with it with various antipsychotic drugs and hid it to the best of my ability. I tend to isolate myself from most people outside of my family because I never know if I can trust my mind with new people, but in games, I found that I don’t have to do that. I could become the Inquisitor and maintain relationships through choices that I had the time to stop and think about. And if I made the wrong choice, nothing happened except the game took a different direction and that had never been my experience in my own life.

I grew to let myself rely on games helping me to feel sane when I really felt anything but. There isn’t always a person I trust around to help me when I’m stuck on an irrational thought, but I can always turn on my Xbox and lose myself in a game. There’s always somebody to run into battle with when I turn on Elder Scrolls Online and more often than not, when I’m struggling with killing an enemy, another player shows up to come to my aid.

I got The Unfinished Swan the other day and it’s hard to really put into words, but within the first couple of minutes, the game felt like home. The endless white and having no idea what would turn up when you threw some paint ahead, that was the most succinct description of what it felt like for me to live with schizophrenia. I never know what to expect from myself from day to day and I never know how my day is going to end up when I leave my house in the morning. I know that’s true for everyone, such is life, but being schizophrenic, the most startling surprises in life come from within my own mind.

In the game, you can find yourself throwing too much paint and everything going from unidentifiable white to unidentifiable black, leaving you just as lost as you were before, but with the right balance, you can throw paint to reveal a stunning world that has taken shape in some amazing ways because you found balance between too much and not enough. For many schizophrenics, myself included, living well with it is all about finding that balance and trying to maintain it so you don’t end up with the unidentifiable white of uncontrolled schizophrenia or the unidentifiable black of too much medication. You “throw paint” just right and you can learn to live with the mess in your head.

Games help me quiet my head, they let me escape my own messed up version of reality (which is sometimes not reality at all) and be in control of a person who can control the world around them and if they mess up, you get a fresh start. Games let me take the time to think about my choices and my actions in ways that my mental illness often keeps me from doing in real life, because there isn’t the sense of urgency to protect myself from the unknown in games, especially those like The Unfinished Swan. On a larger level, being successful in games, being able to forge and maintain relationships that allow me to do well and fulfill the purpose of the game, and being able to paint the world into becoming whatever kind of reality I want, gives me a bit more confidence in my ability to do that in life, despite my mental illness.

If you haven’t checked out The Unfinished Swan and are the type that digs relaxing, meditative games, I can’t say enough about how great a game it is. And if you’re in need of a dose of being able to paint your own reality, this is definitely a game that’s worth a try.