You aren’t meant to envy You Will (Not) Remain‘s depressed protagonist. Trapped alone in their apartment complex while an eldritch horror overtakes the city outside, there isn’t any contentment to be found in their drastically shrunken, dingily claustrophobic world. Still, I felt a twinge of jealousy as I moved them through their monotonous cycle from bed, to kitchen, to balcony, to bed.
“At least,” I thought, “nobody expects anything from them.”
Created in 48 hours for the 2021 Women Game Jam, Bedtime Phobias’ You Will (Not) Remain is a 2D indie game which examines mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, and isolation. The 30-minute roleplaying game doesn’t have any puzzles to solve, answers to find, or days to save. There are simply days in which to exist, repeating the same patterns over and again with no anticipation that it might ever change.
It’s an experience that is unfortunately familiar in our pandemic-altered world, at least to those of us fortunate enough not to work on the frontlines. Just as You Will (Not) Remain‘s unspeakable abomination keeps its protagonist confined to their building, the COVID-19 pandemic has also kept us indoors while extracting a similar psychological toll. Even the game’s ominous public service announcements are familiar, warning citizens to stay inside and not let anyone in.
The rote rituals carried out in the shadow of inescapable dread and overwhelming depression are easily recognisable. Oh, there’s an all-consuming terror engulfing my city and devouring all that was once joyous or comforting? I guess I’ll water my plant, because at least that’s something to do.
“After facing another lockdown after nearly two years of them, we decided to make a game that explored our collective experiences with isolation from each other and the world,” You Will (Not) Remain‘s narrative designer Gabriella Lowgren told Mashable. Based in Melbourne, Australia, her team had been excited to collaborate in person, but were forced to do so virtually after the city went into lockdown again.
“I felt that writing a story purely about lockdown would be too raw for both us and our audience, so decided the game needed an external reason that could be a stand in for the pandemic,” said Lowgren. “I personally love eldritch horror (as does the rest of the team) and our artist [T-Dog eXtreme] knew that it would be a strong visual motif. Thematically it ended up working, and the strong visuals are a key part of that.”
While You Will (Not) Remain‘s focus is clearly on narrative, the mindlessly simple gameplay is effective in reinforcing its dark themes. Walk to the plant, interact with it. Walk to the coffee cup, interact with it. Walk to the strange monster-dog, interact with it. Run out of things to interact with, go to bed because there is nothing else for you to do. Though an omnipresent Lovecraftian being looms overhead, it is simply set dressing to the horror of stark existence. Is this all there is? Is this all there will be?
You Will (Not) Remain is a timely, relatable snapshot of many of our mental states after countless prolonged pandemic lockdowns. Still, despite how relatable and effective its marriage of themes and gameplay is, it does exclude one element that has made the pandemic experience so distressingly unbearable: the expectation that we still function. The protagonist may be starved of human interaction, but they also weren’t panicking about their productivity after staring blankly at a coffee cup for an hour.
The world seems to be crumbling before our eyes, but food needs to be cooked, jobs need to be performed, the show must go on. We continue because that is what is done, because that is what is left. In some ways these tasks give us a sense of purpose and structure, a way to mark time amidst a homogenous stream of it. But in others, they narrow our existence to routine labour and weigh down our already crushed souls until we forget we were once more than this.
We are dust and to dust we will return. I just kind of thought I’d be dead when it happened.
Lowgren hadn’t considered making You Will (Not) Remain‘s protagonist work from home, but thinks it would have detracted from the sense of solitude they wished to convey.
“I think if they worked from home there would be a clear sign that there was still life in the world, and I wanted them to be completely isolated,” said Lowgren.
As such, there is a strange, almost desirable comfort in the certain uncertainty of You Will (Not) Remain‘s societal collapse. The game’s protagonist has no sense of purpose, trapped in hopeless listlessness. But at the same time there are no demands laid upon them, no thought that they should be upskilling or hustling or continuing as normal in abnormal times. They are allowed to break down with little consequence, a luxury few are afforded. It’s simultaneously suffocating and freeing.
They don’t have a name, but there’s nobody who might call it if they did. It’s likely been months since they last smiled, with no cause to do so even as a facade. Everything is falling apart, and there is no respite on the horizon. Yet all they need to do is quietly water their plant, feed their dog-monster, care for themselves, and wait for a change. It’s far from a good situation. Still, in some respects, it’s enviable.
You Will (Not) Remain is currently free to play on Steam.
If you want to talk to someone or are experiencing suicidal thoughts, Crisis Text Line provides free, confidential support 24/7. Text CRISIS to 741741 to be connected to a crisis counselor. Contact the NAMI HelpLine at 1-800-950-NAMI, Monday through Friday from 10:00 a.m. – 10:00 p.m. ET, or email email@example.com. You can also call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. Here is a list of international resources.