‘Take a walk on the thin line between hope and despair in Actual Sunlight: A short interactive story about love, depression and the corporation.’ Created using RPG Maker, Will O’Neil’s Actual Sunlight is the gaming world’s answer to Literary Fiction.
‘I guess it was the first time that I realised that you could just get dealt a shitty hand. That there could be something wrong with you, and that no matter what, you would never be able to do anything about it.’
Will O’Neil – Actual Sunlight
I had intended, when I first began to play Actual Sunlight, to join in that crowd who will proclaim, on internet forums unread save for the same few pairs of eyes over and over again until they all end up staring at each other around one of their number’s grave, that this is not a game. I had intended to call it a treatise on something beautiful, on the terrible reality of humanity. The very first text I saw was ‘Why Kill Yourself Today, When You Can Masturbate Tomorrow’ and I knew then exactly what this programme was.
I had barely played for ten minutes when I came to the realisation, as I did with The Stanley Parable and Gone Home; that at no point was I really playing a game. And then the writer, Will O’Neil, left a message in one of the faceless characters on the street:
‘This game is not a game: It’s a portrait.’
‘I’ve created it to document something that I think is human and beautiful and real, and if you appreciate that, great – that’s what art is.’
I came to dread, very quickly, whenever the screen went black and that white text spit across the screen in jarring episodes, each one brought on by my own application of pressure to the Enter key. I dreaded it, with the obscure fascination one applies to honesty. I dreaded it like one doesn’t want to know what happens on the next page of 1984, the threat of discovery a consistent trend throughout the narrative. I dreaded it as though the very text I was reading was seditious, that it spoke out against a system we all knew to exist, and yet had refused to realise.
It has captured the loneliness of the modern man, the ageing, overweight business man that seems to form the core of civilisation. It takes the pretentiousness of writers dealing with topics that they cannot begin to wrap their minds around, though they might believe they do. It provides arguments against itself, often says how lucky Evan Winter is to have this life, providing examples of immigrants and crippled old men working for minimum wage, whilst he has shelter, food, warmth and entertainment. In a way, it says that this is the beauty of humanity, if not one of our major attributes; that we can be jealous of those who have less, that we can consider any life to be better than the one within which we live, that we, alone of all evolution, have the ability to hate ourselves with such fervent apathy, with such dull passion.
The project is littered with paragraphs and phrases that could easily be attributed to some great literary mind of the past, Albert Camus, George Orwell or Alain Robbe-Grillet, if any of them were thrust into the modern era and experienced a lifetime in a few condensed moments. It is obvious that this is the product of a mastermind, though I cannot offer the pretence of understanding the creator, simply from this project.
This is the game I wish Always Sometimes Monsters had been. Occasionally, of course, if one could get past the cast of irritating characters, capitalist obsession with money and irrelevant activities you endure along the way, ASM had glimpses of this game. It focused, less on making the player uncomfortable, with knowledge of their own worthlessness, but instead on the fact that ‘none of this is your fault’, that the character was that way because of extenuating circumstances, because he helped his friends and dealt with bastards. Evan Winter is, instead, who he is because that is who he is. He is, as the project describes in its final moments, an Impossible Man.
The only way I could accurately relate to you the skill involved in the creation of this program, the style of language used in every black-screened celebration of life, if not its misery, would be to make some poor attempt to recreate the entire experience myself, using Will O’Neil writing. If you only ever read one modern book, one example of literary fiction originating in what we understand as the modern world, then abandon the pages of Anne Rice and J.K. Rowling, ignore the drivel of E.L. James and John Green and, instead, turn to the innate honesty of Actual Sunlight.