Thanks to everyone who played my sad little game. It was my hope in writing it that it would help me understand and accept better what is happening to my mother, and how her dementia is affecting me. I don’t know that it did help me understand better, but it was a journey worth taking; and I’m very grateful to everyone who took it with me.
Most of what I would say about the process of making OTSD is detailed in my conversation with Drew Cook here, so I’ll just link to that instead of repeating it. But there was indeed a day, right after an ice storm, when my mother stopped being able to say my name; and it seemed then that there must be something I could do, some magical task I could perform, to restore her words and set the world to rights. OTSD was born of that day.
A few notes about other points of possible interest:
As always, there would be no game without the generous help of my testers, who contributed so much to it: Drew Cook (@kamineko), Dark Star (@DrkStarr), Jade(@Jade), Zed Lopez (@zed), Mathbrush (@mathbrush), Eva Radke, Edo Rajh (@edo), and Mike Russo (@deusIrae).
And thanks always to everyone here who patiently answers technical questions. If you got exasperated with my “beads on a string” threads, or my “multiple papers and disambiguation” issues, I hope you can see how much those discussions helped the game.
I don’t think I would have written this if I hadn’t played Mike Russo’s Sting and N. Cormier’s This Person Is Not My Father. Big thanks to them both for inspiring me to be brave enough to try and write about the awfulness of my own loss.
Thanks isn’t good enough for my sweetheart Tom, who is travelling this road with me-- of being a caregiver for someone with dementia. I don’t like to think about what that road looks like when you’re alone on it.
The riddle poems are original—I wrote them for the game. There are much better examples of concrete poetry out there, though. For a particularly fine example, see John Hollander’s Swan and Shadow. And I accidentally stole John Hollander’s cat image. Although the text of my poem is original, after I published the game I looked up more of John’s concrete poems and realized that the shape of my cat poem was nearly identical to the shape of his cat poem. Sorry, John—although it’s been at least 20 years since I’d seen your poem, that shape sure must have lodged in my head. It was not intentional, and I’ll revise the image when I can work up another one.
William Butler Yeats’ great poem When You Are Old is quoted in several places in the game, as it is one of my mother’s favorite poems. If you missed it, the book the old woman holds has the text of the poem in it, or you can read it from the link. Although it reads very sweetly, it’s actually a pissy little piece of work. Yeats probably wrote it for the fabulous Irish revolutionary Maud Gonne, whom he loved his entire life. She married another man, and this poem is a dig at her: “I love you for all the things other men don’t care about, and you rejected me. You’ll be old one day and look around and realize you missed the boat on love.” What a whiner. Still, it is a lovely poem and fit my needs well.
And I have to mention two poems that I didn’t quote because they are not in the public domain, but which heavily influenced the game: One Art by Elizabeth Bishop, and Mirror by Sylvia Plath. Reading these always makes my heart hurt with their absolute and unflinching truth.
A word on the setting: right before the pandemic hit, my husband and I quit Austin, Texas, where I had lived nearly my whole life. And we brought my mother to live here with us when her dementia became too advanced for her to live alone (a decision I will forever question, even as I will forever be grateful that I made it). Austin has changed beyond recognition from the badass city I grew up in, and my husband always wanted country acreage. So we bought a chunk of land in the Texas Hill Country, right on Barton Creek, which is one of the most protected and beloved creeks in Texas. All the locations in the game are actually here (although my cave is not tall enough for a person, and it’s in a different location. Also, the stream only runs after a rain. Poetic license). The gorgeous Texas Hill Country, with its incredible flora and fauna, is fast being paved over and lost to strip malls and housing developments, so if you get a chance to spend some time here before it’s gone, do it, as long as it is not between the months of June and September (relentless heat, giant centipedes, etc).
Thanks again to everyone who played and reviewed it. It is a downer, and I’m thankful for the open-minded reception it got. I’m very fortunate to be a part of the IF community and to get to write what I want and receive thoughtful feedback on it. And coming in second after @mathbrush is just a huge honor. I read his reviews and played his games for years before I wrote anything, and so long before I had the pleasure of making his virtual acquaintance, he was a presence in my life. Thanks to him for everything he does for this community.
And if someone in your life has dementia, my heart goes out to you. It’s terrible beyond words to describe it, and although I made a stab at describing it with OTSD, nothing can ever really convey how lonely and sad this disease makes everyone touched by it. Cherish your words and your memories, y’all. And cherish them in your loved ones.