She got this summery, summery sadness.
“Is it the end of the world? Or is it just me finishing? ”These are some of the first words we read in Stilstand, an interactive graphic novel about mental health. For anyone who has had experiences with anxiety, depression, nihilism and the like, this story will be very relatable right from the start and will be drawn into the deeply personal story of the main character. While the focus is on mental health and the difficulties sufferers must try to overcome, there is hope and I saw this as a great asset to my time at Stilstand.
Stilstand was written and created by Ida Hartmann in collaboration with the Danish independent game studio Niila Games. The following is the story of a nameless woman in Copenhagen in the middle of summer. This woman is full of insecurities, fear and nihilism, which has been bothering her lately. We get an intimate look at her struggles as we watch how she forces herself to go to parties, open up to dating, and try to face and overcome her problems.
From the start, we are also introduced to a shadowy monster that stays with the main character throughout. At first I assumed this new character would have been a physical metaphor for the woman’s negative emotions, but he seemed like the one trying to lift her spirits – an interesting juxtaposition. The shadowy monster feels like an extension of her, the emotions and actions she wants to feel or do, but just can’t. It appears when she is feeling deepest and goes with you in the evening to try to convince her to stay out or to advise her that something may not be a good idea. Your own Jiminy Cricket.
The woman is incredibly self-destructive, and you can’t really prevent that. All you can do is try to guide her as best you can through, or perform this behavior, the various multiple choice text messages that you can send to her friends and guys she matches up with on dating apps Procrastinate to extend. Endlessly smoking cigarettes or scrolling through the channels on your television: all these actions underline your loneliness and loneliness.
It all sounds very dreary, but the story is written with a lot of humor and wit, especially in the conversations with the shadowy monster and the absurd way in which the game shows us the emotions or the current state of the woman. An example of this is in the first chapter where you have to physically drag her across the comic boards like a rag doll to knock her down and avoid various obstacles to symbolize how drunk she got. There are mini-games strewn all over the place that highlight the interactive portion of this graphic novel – some of which include dressing up before your date, navigating a scream through your insides to the tip of your lips, and playing style-standing version of Flappy Bird called “Crazy Cat Lady.” Some of these actions are repeated throughout, but this is effectively used to demonstrate the habits we can fall into when we are depressed and isolated.
The game is incredibly short and takes around 45 minutes to complete the three chapters it has to offer. I was disappointed with the length as I really wanted it to last longer and dive a little deeper into this woman’s summer. I do appreciate the short length and pace of the story, however. What it focuses on is powerful and really pulls you into the problems she is going through.
The art style used seems to be a signature of Ida Hartmann’s own style and appears “rough around the edges” and takes on a sketchbook look. I felt that approach was the tone of the story. It all felt ugly, but it also stayed kind of beautiful. The tone was also perfectly coordinated with the narrative. When the game wanted to show the loneliness and isolation she was feeling, the musical tones became stressed and quiet, with breaks in the silence. When there was hope or fun, the music got livelier and even took over techno beats when it was appropriate – the party music had some Euro house music vibes, and that’s definitely what I’m here for.
Feeling emotionally stuck and perhaps favoring isolation is a common theme that many have identified with over the past 18 months we’ve all experienced. Combine that with that slice of life that you share with us and you have an incredibly well-written and truly unique experience. Stilstand is a short but powerful story that is worth taking your time.