Extremely personal and sad games

I started futzing about in TADS3 and quickly thought of a very personal game idea.


An (ideally highly simulated) mechanical device that, when dismantled, triggers vignettes depicting me falling out of love with one of my IRL partners for an extremely painful and triggering reason. Based off a poem I already wrote called “Obsolescence” about the topic.

I know that pretty personal pieces are often made in choice-based stuff like Twine (I’ve made one of my own, with Reflecting My Face in the Mirror for the Neo-Twiny jam), and there’s a few I know of in parsers too.

But usually there’s some layer of abstraction, some “this is happening to a fictional character who might have similar experiences but is not me” (ex: Will Not Let Me Go (I think)), meanings filtered through analagous metaphors of magic and the like (ex: Of Their Shadows Deep), or just being general enough that it’s relatable in broader contexts (ex: my aforementioned Reflecting piece).

If there’s no abstraction of the personal events tho – if it’s just me and my actual experiences, negative and unfun as they were, is that a “good idea”?

By “good idea” I mean both in writing it (regarding my emotional health – I realize only I can know this for sure, but I’m wondering what other people’s personal experiences with this are, if any) and getting people to play it (regarding whether anyone actually want to play this when they know it’s both depressing and directly about the author).

Before anyone says, “well you can make it and don’t have to show it to anyone”, that isn’t how or why I make art. I make art to show people and have them resonate* with it. Would extremely personal games even resonate in that way?

If not, how should I approach conveying an experience like it in a cathartic but actually enjoyable to players way?

*I remember the keynote for this Narrascope was “make it anyway and at least some people will resonate with it” but the topics she used as examples weren’t actively miserable.


Having just written a VERY personal yet fictionalized game (although at the ending a Drew Cook appears and explains to the protagonist how the story is different from his own), I liked having the power to arrange events into a traditional narrative structure. Life seldom falls into such ready-made shapes. I guess what I’m saying is that my fictionalization was intended to make the story literary rather than to insulate myself and my privacy.

There’s all of these loose ends in real life.

As far as my mental health goes: there were times when I was uncomfortable with the amount that I was saying about myself and my life. (e: and I’ll admit that it was hard to revisit some things) Ultimately, though, I was happy that I could transform those experiences into something that felt like art to me. I think applying craft to it gave me a sense of control over it. It felt like transcendence at times.

That’s not to say that a straight memoir wouldn’t give those same feelings to you as a writer. I really don’t know, but I did what felt right to me.

Of course you want to show things to people, that’s such a natural impulse. I think that many authors, more than anything, want to be seen and understood, and I get that. I’m like that.


The author Bez has two games that are direct essays about past life experiences. His profile is here:

The two games are ‘A single ourobourus scale: a postmortem’ and ‘Queer in Public: A brief essay’.

I found both interesting to read. The writing was strong. They were just straight up ‘here is my life and my experience’.

It sounds like you might be asking about mechanics in addition to other stuff. Bez didn’t use gameplay-style mechanics; both essays are just linear with chapters. That makes sense, to me, because branching and weighty choices don’t make much sense for real-life experiences. It’s just like the problem of adapting pre-existing stories to IF; to have meaningful choices you’d have to invent new material.

So you could either make it linear and rely on the strength of your writing, or maybe you could add little tangents, or footnotes, that people could explore.

You could also mix personal and fictional things. SCP-3999 is one of the most popular SCPs, and its a compelling fictional narrative that contains within it some personal accounts. It’s something to consider.


I wonder… how will people know that there’s no layer of fictionalisation? And it they don’t or can’t know, or if it makes no difference to their experience, then I don’t think you need to worry about the reader. (You may or may not need to worry about writing! I’m not sure.)

You can give the protagonist your name and say that it’s all true, but those are still moves in a literary work. Speaking for myself, I’m not sure it would make any difference for me. Or are there specific things that you think would be different about your game when compared to a game with a layer of fiction between the reader and the author?

To approach the question from a completely different direction: autobiography is wildly popular. Many popular novels are written in an autobiographical mode. I don’t think you need to fear that people won’t be interested!


This is what a lot of my personal pieces are powered by! This is just a particularly painful one and I don’t wanna retraumatize myself. But in this light it may be cathartic.

I guess I fear the messiness and often miserableness of real life and its lack of neat answers or resolution would make people shy away… I know that autobio/memoirs are popular, but this one, well, I guess I wasn’t sure how it’d be received by an IF crowd? I suppose I haven’t played enough autobio/personal games to say-- it makes me want to check out Repeat the Ending tho given how well it was received in Spring Thing!

My idea would be it’s a minimally branching linear parser with light puzzles (the memoir parts would be triggered only by successfully doing the puzzle). After the Accident is a game I’m thinking about for inspo (and I see Amanda is typing now!)


I don’t know whether you’d like it or not, but I can tell you that I attempt to deal with a lot of the questions you’ve asked here.


Writing OTSD helped me a little. Not a lot, but a little. But it wasn’t personal in the way a breakup is. I had no part in what happened to my mother; I’m a bystander processing the fallout.

Did writing the poem help? If so, then writing the game might not be bad for you. Or did writing the poem trigger more bad feelings? I mean, I had a lot of painful breakups and I wrote a lot of poetry about them and talked endlessly about them and mostly it wasn’t good for me, but you could not have stopped me because human. That’s how we’re built.

Memoir/memoir poetry is a thing because many people DO like painful stories. People do them all the time. Look at Sharon Olds. I mean, you simply cannot tell people more about your body, mind, and life than that woman did, and she won a Pulitzer Prize. It is perfectly acceptable to tell your story as long as you don’t doxx people in the process (not that you would). Sharon probably doesn’t worry a whole lot about whether other people want to read about her vagina, and I don’t think you should worry about whether your story will be enjoyable to others. Like the keynote in Narrascope said, there are people who want to read stuff like that and people who don’t, so make what you want. People DO like miserable stories. I worried no one would play OTSD because it is miserably sad, and indeed a lot of people won’t play. If it will hurt people, they absolutely should not play it. That’s what CWs are for. But a lot of people did play, and some of them contacted me to tell me that it helped them. It’s not going to be the next Counterfeit Monkey, but it might be the next Sharon Olds.


I guess part of the solution is getting over my anxiety that this is a unique problem no one else has attempted or been successful at :sweat_smile: demonstrably false


Mike’s game Sting comes to mind. It’s still one of my favourite games ever, even if the sailing portion is pulled straight from the devil’s own book of tricks.

Most of the works that have stayed with me have trended towards being deeply personal, and often saddening or discomforting. It comes with the territory of enjoying horror, I think, especially gothic horror.


Not much to add to what folks have shared above except to say that I have done pretty much this exact thing – 100% memoir, with some liberties taken to condense action and clean up exposition but otherwise played completely straight, and with some fairly depressing subject matter to boot (though there are a fair number of jokes along the way) – and despite my trepidation about how folks would receive it, and leaning hard into being as specific as possible, I got pretty much uniformly positive feedback (well, with the exception of one intentionally-frustrating bit of gameplay frustrating people, but I walked right into that one) and lots of folks saying it resonated with them.

Here’s the author’s notes – they’re very spoilery and I think the game does work better without knowing exactly where it’s headed, so I’d of course recommend playing it first (it’s a parser game, but it only takes about an hour and it doesn’t have any real puzzles, modulo that one intentionally-frustrating bit that you can just skip by WAITing a bunch of times in a row, with no impact whatsoever).

EDIT: ninja’d by Sophia!


I have bounced off some games/pieces (whichever you prefer) like this very hard, but when I say ‘like this’… from the games people have mentioned in this topic, some of them were not experienced by me ‘like this’ at all. So it’s not even just the combination of personal and sad, but there has been a tradition of Twine authors in particular expressing that combination in a way where I find myself unable to write a review, because to do so simply felt pointless. The piece was an artifact cry of pain, and as I say a few times here, I’m not here to engage with straight artifact, but at least some kind of artifice.

Where or how this artifice manifests could vary hugely, but if the piece either reads like, for instance, a wooden frame placed around a suicidal diary entry, or just is that entry, then my interest may approach zero.

I’ve described my issues with this kind of thing at probably the most articulate I did (way better than this post!) in my review of ‘I’m Fine’ on IFDB, so I’d invite you to read that to see some of the issues I’m talking about from a potential receiver’s end.



I’m with you, though maybe for a different reason. I find games that take away player agency on purpose to repeatedly drive home a hopeless “nothing matters and everything you do is pointless” theme borne of depression and self-hatred very painful and unpleasant to go through (as opposed to “nothing matters and everything you do is pointless” themes born of other things like existentialism, time loops, the retelling of stories, and societal structures that trap even the best of people-- which I like and play with/make quite a lot). Been on that ride too much to find it fun in a game.

My hope is that even if the flashbacks in my game are closer to ugly and sad (they won’t be strictly autobiographical - it’s been several years since the breakup and I have a bad memory), the centerpiece (the machine) and potential themes I’d be driving home with its presence would make the flashbacks have less of a “here’s my miserable diary entry” feeling. But who knows?


tfw I realize that this and PCs with pre-existing personalities as opposed to blank slate PCs are things I’ve done in nearly every game I have released thus far…what in the hell…(the half exception is You are Neurodivergent as FUCK (and not alone) which was a shitpost)


Disclaimer: I haven’t read any of the previous replies in the thread, this is just my initial gut reaction:

DO IT! I think it’s a great idea both as an author and a player! People love true, emotional stories. Making a story or game out of it that you share can be extremely cathartic and give you a feeling of being understood that is hard to find otherwise.


From a more personal perspective as a creator rather than just as a player, I have definitely grappled with the fine line of plumbing emotional depths and maudlin bleeding out that does more harm than it does good. I think that emotionality can lend a lot of oomph to a piece, but can also set a creative up for a really bad spiral if they find themselves unable to separate themselves form their work, leading to any criticism (constructive or not) as feeling more like a personal attack. It’s unfortunate to see.

There is something really special about interacting with media that makes you feel seen, though. One of the greatest things about poetry to me, is that it showed me that I wasn’t alone- that other people felt the same things that I did, were going through similar struggles. I wept like a baby the first time I read the poem that is the first I ever felt understood by, and it’s a major contributing factor to my interest in writing and reading poetry to this day. The poet is still one of my favourites, and I know the poem nearly by heart.

I sometimes find addressing something deeply personal head on without the protective layer of fictionalization too difficult. It’s why despite having a character with hemophilia (and writing him in collaborative writing with my friends is really cathartic), I haven’t put out a game (yet? who knows) about what it’s like living with that disability. It’s I think, a big part of why that particular OC of mine is also quite different from me: a cis gay man who is very comfortable in his sense of self. It would sting a little too much to write him as being too similar to my own identity- because with my genetic disorder has come a wealth of pain, grief at losing out on a medley of normal givens people don’t think twice about having access to, and an early coming to terms with mortality and the fragility of our bodies.

While hemophilia doesn’t define me wholly, it has shaped who I am in some senses- it’s a huge part of why exploring body horror appeals to me: the familiar turned grotesque, the betrayal of your sense of normality and your understanding of your body as it was and always had been. There’s a whole deep discussion you could get into about the intersections of disability, homosexuality, associated prejudices, and how horror slots into all of it. And in that sense- literature has been a safe grounds for me to pick apart really overwhelming, nauseating emotions: an expression that renders something excruciatingly painful into something beautiful, something easier for me to handle, and share.

I often think fondly of kind reviews I’ve gotten. One of the reviews that is seared into my mind is someone reaching out to thank me for my inclusion of alcoholism in Sweetpea, and how it really resonated with them. To think that I was able to, in a round about way, connect with someone in a really raw, human way- for them to feel seen the same way I had all those years back when I first read that poem, was deeply humbling and moving.

One of the hallmarks of good writing to me, is it’s ability to make the reader feel. It’s probably why I like the Confessional movement of poetry so much. It was a wonderful, tender moment, and it made me feel as if I had really accomplished something with my writing. I write first and foremost for myself, as a means of self expression and self exploration: but it can be intensely rewarding to hear from others how they received a piece, and how it might have changed in their interpretation.

I think there’s definitely a place for ‘extremely personal and sad games.’ They’re not everyone’s cup of tea, and you will probably find there’s quite the polarizing response, but I think they’re worthwhile. Write it if you feel like it will bring you catharsis. Don’t, if it’ll hurt more than it helps. That’s all the advice I’ve to give, anyway.


Slightly unrelated vent:

I love writing very personal poetry, though one of my friends gave me an odd critique that stung a lot about a particularly raw pantoum I wrote (about this same relationship – it’s taken years to process it).

They essentially said that they couldn’t engage with it because it felt like they weren’t meant to see it, that I’d written a private poem only for myself.

And I was like. But I did mean for you to see it, that’s why I showed it to you. I wrote it to show to people…

It sorta stopped me from wanting to show to anyone else, which really hurt with how much I poured into it. It may be part of what’s making me hesitate now.

Creating things like this and sharing is what helps me feel seen, you know? If one (1) person says “holy shit, that’s me” that makes it worthwhile. Like I am less alone.


well, on the personal, I think that every work, whatever type, reflect the author’s personality, so every work of art or craft IS personal.

on sadness, I think that is much more important that the player feel the PC’s sadness, (everyone whose has played FF VII WILL understand…) and is a very powerful tool, to dose careful (I think I manage to dose it well in my WIP’s passage from early to mid-game, a moment of deep sadness immediately followed by a literal ray of light…)

I also think that sad IF works are important in defining IF as an art form, because they break one of the major definiton of gaming, that is, gaming as escapism.

Best regards from Italy,
dott. Piergiorgio.


I like escapism in all my entertainment. I don’t want to be brought down emotionally. Real life is enough of a struggle. I also don’t really engage with art. You bring up a very important observation.

I mention this because I’m the exact opposite of the intended audience for sad, personal games, but this distinction resonated with me.


I hope you make your game. In order to move on, we need to be able to deal with criticism of, and compassion for, the issues that are bringing us down. Our ability to deal with both is an indication of where we are with the struggle. Time heals all wounds, but taking action allows us a chance to heal faster.

I’ve been told that when a wound stings, it means it’s healing.

1 Like

This is a question I’ve fought with. I think I deal with tough issues obliquely, maybe too obliquely. They are mostly of the “sort of people I can’t deal with” variety.

I want to get my dislikes out of the way first, and they may seem harsh, but there’s a big counterpoint. Certainly when I read a personal story, I don’t like feeling buttonholed. And I don’t like if I feel the story is just piling up angst for its own sake. If I feel it tries to grab me and tell me YOU HAVE TO LISTEN TO ME, I back off. I’ve had people explain to me that their problems are bigger than mine, so I need to listen right now, and that’s something I don’t like done to me and something I don’t like to do to other people, especially not in my free time.

But you shouldn’t feel bad if a work starts out that way. You have the ability to change it, and you have the internal motivation, since you’re asking that question here. That you’re asking this question is a good indication you’ll make enough space between saddling the reader with angst and showing us how it is. A flashback seems like a good way to give space.

This is just an off-the-cuff guess but if you have, say, 3 ways that you are clearly giving the reader space from something that is raw and personal, that is more than good enough. It will give us a break if we need it.

The thing is, we do want to wait until we are relatively ready to share certain things, but we don’t want to wait too long, as at some point, we can’t really add to it! One personal example for me was writing a Facebook post about Pride Month and parades and such. And my own personal experiences and how it’s important if you were only a suspected homosexual. I’d meant to do it last year and put it off. Perhaps I waited too long. But it was important for me to do it. And I want to encourage others to do so.

Perhaps you asking me this question helped me push through the essay I wanted to write. So I hope that my advice, general as it seems, is a way to say thank-you, even if it doesn’t cover much new ground.


Well, I loved the poem of yours I read, and a lot of people will.

But making art requires you to develop a thick skin, because there are always people who will hate your art, and they will say so right to your face. And there’s the people who don’t get it but are trying to be polite (“Isn’t that interesting!”). You have have to have these experiences to develop the attitude that those people just aren’t your audience. When you do find your audience, it’s an amazing experience, and worth the punches you take from the others. It’s particularly hard to roll with the punches when your art is very personal, because you yourself are the instrument, the artistic medium, so it feels like a rejection of your mind and body. But it’s the price artists pay for putting art out there. You would just not believe the things people have said to me about my work, and it happened so much that it eventually just stopped hurting my feelings and got easier to shrug off. I wish I could say there was an easier way.

Art is often escapist. If you play IF, you have engaged with art. It’s an art form with distinct categories, just like movies or novels or music have distinct categories as art forms. There’s just forms you like and forms you don’t like, which is the way it goes for everyone.