Friday, December 9, 2016

Guest Post: Undertale, Emotion, Pain & Love

Nicole Johnson, my sister from another mister, was also a contributor to an Undertale fanzine I solicited for last year. Unfortunately due to circumstances beyond my control, the project folded, but the comic and personal essay to be included were too good to miss out on. So I've been granted permission to reprint them here and share them with you all, gentle readers.


Long story short, I am glad I decided to do this. I am fairly certain that I would -not- have wanted to play out the rest of the game. For one thing, there are some really hard-looking battles. And there’s so much more of it than I expected. Seriously, we were there watching for like 5 hours.
My feelings on Undertale overall now… are that it’s a magnificent work of art. But an experience I can’t really enjoy because the depth of my investment… kind of makes being challenged by what is maybe the most meta, psychological (in an emotional rather than analytical sense) game I’ve ever seen into a harrowing event. I am certain that several spots in the game’s remainder would have elicited similar reactions in me as the fight with Undyne.
There are things I -adore- all throughout the game. There is so much I love. Characters, moments, dialog, sprites, backgrounds, music. Relationships. It is all rich and bountiful and brilliant.
But I still find it ultimately too sad to feel “good” about. It’s great art, but it leaves me in pain. Some great art does that. I don’t regret getting into this game. But it is very sad. It touches me deeply, I relate to so many elements of it so intimately, it cuts right to the bone. And it is rich in sadness.
I wish more people would have emphasized that to me. What people emphasized to me at first was the wonderment of “the game where you don’t have to hurt anyone”. That… sounded so healing, and wonderful. I was in a vulnerable place emotionally, and it sounded like the RPG I’d been waiting for my whole life. The Gentle RPG. Undertale is not gentle.
The other thing people emphasized to me was that the ending was magnificently redeeming and heartwarming. And they were partially right, and partially wrong, about how they thought I’d find it.
The Ending (the True Peaceful Ending, the Full Mega Deluxe Genuine Microsoft Advantage version) was … was very wonderful in some ways. 
I was given so much that I wanted. 
I got the ONE THING I wanted the most from the very beginning. I got to stay with Goat Mom. 
Sheesh, that is all I wanted. 
I seriously tried to see if I could, er, ‘end’ the game at the beginning. I never disobeyed Toriel. Which made the beginning….. kinda long. Well, I never disobeyed her without first trying to comply. As you all know, some of those times you have to do otherwise just to advance. My point is, I didn’t -want- to. The second she showed me my bedroom and touched my hair, I was SOLD. I wanted that life. I wanted the game to end right there. I wanted a mother who loved me.
Despite the wonderfulness of the ending… I am left aching by the tragic underpinnings of the story. The six dead souls. The suffering of the monsters and the war. Asriel. And Asriel once more, for good measure. I am left wounded by the emotional tumult one endures directing one’s fate through this world. So much emotional tumult. That’s practically one of the things the game’s “about”. The difficulty, ambiguity, and struggle that goes with trying to be a good person and fix things and help people/monsters. And care about things. How painful it is to care.
And I guess that…. circuit of mine is ‘hot’. Anything that touches my insecurities concerning those things shorts me out and I go haywire.
I think I am able to appreciate all the things I love about the game (Temmie), but I … do not have the relationship to it of an unambiguous fan. I mean, I am a fan in the sense that I generally promote it and think it’s a great game and should be played. But it was a rough experience. And it… left me with some freshly opened old wounds. And when I tell people about the game, I will tell them: It is magnificent, but if you get emotionally invested in character-driven stories, it is going to cut you. Maybe only a little bit, maybe a lot. But it is not Gentle. Shit, the pacifist route makes Mario RPG look like a playful romp with friends, a diversion by comparison.
It is a game rich with joyous playfulness, humor, redemption, and tender love. But it is also rich with tragedy, and struggle, and pain. I feel this needs to be said more than it was said to me beforehand.
As Dana put it, “Seeing you embark on this game with a full heart, opening yourself to it, and then just getting destroyed by it, was really hard to watch.”
So now I know how it all ends. (and ends. And ends. And then ends for Real. And then for REALLY real.) 
I am not the child who finishes the game out. I never finished the game. I dropped out, and watched the path of another hero for the benefit of knowledge. As an observer. My path was cut short. I know how it all goes down, but…. it feels like an adventure I set out on that ultimately bested me. A Game Over. I am not the child whose destiny unites the worlds, I’m someone who didn’t make it to the end. At least not in the shape I arrived there in.
So now I’m free. I can move on. Hopefully remain able to cherish the things about Undertale that I loved, hopefully, without… stewing and despairing over the things that hurt me emotionally. I feel freed from the responsibility I felt I had to myself, to know the full story. But the story doesn’t feel like ‘mine’. The other options were to try to grind through it myself and probably fuck myself up emotionally, or to not play OR watch and slowly find out all about it from the people around me. I thought this seemed preferable. And I’m really, really glad I got to do it with @cascadiarch right there, holding my hand.

Nicole Johnson is a cartoonist, musician, and costumer whose fondest wish is to publish stories that help weird little kids like she was once. She is definitely not a child masquerading as a voting-age citizen. She lives in California with her bossy big sister, a very helpful seabird, and two stupid cats.

Disclosure: I am a supporter of Johnson's Patreon.

No comments:

Share This Post