I develop small indie games in my free time and have made well over 20 at this point. This is one of my earliest publicly-released games, and it has received some recognition over the years. Inspired by escort mission games, in which the player escorts a non-playable character (often a child) through a dangerous space, "Escort Yourself Out" asks the player, controlling "me", to help "my childhood self" navigate emotionally-loaded or triggering environments. It has been downloaded over 6,000 times and has a rating of 4.6 out of 5 on Itch.io.
"Escort Yourself Out" was part of my senior honors thesis project at UC Davis. During this project, I looked at practices like art therapy and narrative formation through journaling, as well as the interactive medium of a video game, to ask if creating autobiographical games could be a therapeutic practice. I created two games, "Escort Yourself Out" and a text-based game called "In My Friend Carrie's Car," and looked to game developers like Nina Freeman and Anna Anthropy - both of whom have created well-known autobiographical or semi-autobiographical games. The primary goals of the project were to create autobiographical games about my experiences being mentally ill in hopes of helping myself, and in hopes that those who could see themselves in my games might feel comforted and validated by that, as I have felt comforted and validated by hearing other mentally ill people talk about their experiences.
I often referred to Anna Anthropy's critiques of the concept of empathy games, and analyses of the genre as "lazy allyship" (you cannot wholly understand somebody's lived experiences just by playing through a short autobiographical game they made), and spent a lot of time considering the "target audience" for my games. "Target audience" can feel like a strange thing to consider when making a piece of art that's very personal and largely autobiographical, and this was an interesting exercise that I learned a lot from. What I learned is this: my target audience is other people who have had similar experiences and are looking to hear somebody else talk about those experiences. Something that came up many times for me while working on Escort Yourself Out was the following thought regarding media representation of mental illness: namely, that there is no "universal" representation of mental illness or trauma. These are deeply nuanced and personal things that can manifest any number of ways and are often deeply influenced by our environments, experiences, and identities. Accurate media representation of mental illness, I think, can only be achieved if there is lots of media representation of mental illness, made by mentally ill people, showing all the little nuances unique to each person, so that no one piece of representation is being held up as the pinnacle, but just as one manifestation out of millions of possible manifestations. In short, the only way to represent mental illness accurately, I believe, is to represent it widely and with variety.
After creating 2 games over the course of this 6-month-long thesis, I presented my thoughts and research at UC Davis' Undergraduate Research Conference in spring of 2018. In fall of 2019, I was invited to exhibit "Escort Yourself Out" as an official selection of the Student Game Showcase at Dreamhack ATL.
"Escort Yourself Out" is such a personal piece of media, made at such a specific point in my life, that I have often considered removing it from where it is published online. Many things about how I make games and how I conceptualize some of my own experiences have changed and I don't always feel the game is the most accurate representation of me. The main reason I haven't taken it down is that I've received a number of incredibly kind and heart-felt messages from players over the years who felt touched or affected in some way by the game and what I shared in it. Those messages are incredibly meaningful to me.