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← A video game that helps us understand loneliness

Step into artist Cornelia Geppert's visually stunning video game "Sea of Solitude," which explores how battling the "monsters" of loneliness and self-doubt can help us better grapple with the complexity and struggles of mental health.

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Showing Revision 4 created 12/05/2019 by Erin Gregory.

  1. Have you ever felt lonely?
  2. The urge of wanting
    to connect with people,
  3. but you seem to have no one
    you really would want to contact?
  4. Or, it's a Friday night
    and you want to be with others,
  5. but you have no energy to go out,
    so instead you sit at home all evening,
  6. watch Netflix
  7. and feel more alone than ever?
  8. You feel like a monster
  9. between humans that know how to function.
  10. This is what loneliness felt like to me.
  11. So I'm an artist,

  12. and I process my emotional world
    by sharing my feelings through my art.
  13. If you share your feelings with someone,
  14. and they understand
    and share those feelings too,
  15. you create an emotional
    and deep connection.
  16. This is why you can be surrounded
    by hundreds of people,
  17. jump from one candidate to the next,
  18. but still feel lonely.
  19. It's because these deeper connections
    haven't been made.
  20. I was an always-happy child.

  21. I think we nearly have
    no single photo of me
  22. where I don't smile broadly
    or laugh or joke around.
  23. And this went on until ...
  24. well, it's still the case.
  25. But I had many friend groups
  26. up until, as a young adult,
    I moved to another city
  27. for my first job as a comic artist.
  28. And like so many young,
    thriving people all over the planet,
  29. I concentrated all my energy
    into my work life.
  30. But, if you spend, like, 90 percent
    of your daily capacity
  31. trying to succeed at work,
  32. of course there is nothing left
  33. to take care of all the other
    important aspects in your life,
  34. like your human relationships.
  35. Nourishing friendships
    as an adult is work.
  36. You need to be consistent with connecting.
  37. You need to be open,
    you need to be honest.
  38. And this is all I struggled with,
  39. because I tend to camouflage
    my real feelings
  40. by trying to appear always happy
  41. and trying to make
    everyone else happy, too,
  42. by trying to fix their problems.
  43. And I know a lot of us are guilty of this,
  44. because it's an easy way to not
    think about your own issues.
  45. Isn't it?
  46. Hmm? Hmm? Hmm?
  47. (Laughter)

  48. OK.

  49. The turning point came

  50. when I fell into an emotionally
    abusive relationship
  51. just a few years ago.
  52. He isolated me
  53. and left me feeling more alone than ever.
  54. It was the lowest point in my life,
  55. but it was also my wake-up call,
  56. because it was the first time
  57. that I really felt loneliness.
  58. Many others put
    their feelings into their art.

  59. There are endless books,
    movies, paintings, music,
  60. all filled with the real
    emotion of an artist.
  61. So, as an artist myself, I did the same.
  62. I shared my feelings.
  63. I wanted to help people
    cope with loneliness.
  64. I wanted, yeah, to make them
    understand it,
  65. to really experience it through my art
  66. in the form of an interactive story,
  67. a video game.
  68. So, in our game --

  69. we called it "Sea of Solitude" --
  70. you are a person named Kay,
  71. who is suffering from
    such strong loneliness
  72. that her inner feelings --
  73. the anger,
  74. the feeling of hopelessness,
    worthlessness --
  75. turn to the outside,
  76. and she becomes a monster.
  77. The game -- well, Kay --
  78. is actually a representation of me
  79. and the path I went through
    to overcome my struggles.
  80. The game plays, actually, in Kay's mind,
  81. so you walk through a world
    that is flooded by her tears,
  82. and the weather is changing by her mood,
  83. how her mood is changing.
  84. And, well, the only thing Kay wears,
  85. the only thing,
  86. is her backpack.
  87. It's the baggage we all carry
    throughout our life.
  88. And Kay doesn't know how to cope
    with her emotions in the right way,
  89. so her backpack becomes bigger and bigger
  90. until it bursts,
  91. and she finally is forced
    to overcome her own struggles.
  92. In our story, we present many different
    manifestations of loneliness.

  93. Loneliness through
    social exclusion is very common.
  94. In our game, the brother of Kay
    got bullied in his school,
  95. and he just wants to hide and fly away.
  96. And we portray him as a huge bird monster
    surrounded by thick fog.
  97. The player has to actually
    walk through his school
  98. and experience, really feel the harm,
  99. that the brother had been through,
  100. because for a long time,
    nobody really listens to him.
  101. But the very moment
    friends and family start to listen,
  102. the first step towards overcoming
    this form of loneliness had been made.
  103. We also show loneliness in relationships,

  104. like when parents just stay together
    for the sake of their kids
  105. but end up hurting the entire family.
  106. We put the player literally in between
    the two parents while they are fighting,
  107. and you get hurt in the middle.
  108. They don't even see that their daughter,
    Kay, is right there
  109. until she breaks down.
  110. We also show loneliness
    through mental health issues,

  111. with the boyfriend of Kay,
    who suffers from depression
  112. and shows that sometimes
  113. it is most important to focus
    on your own well-being first.
  114. The boyfriend also tends
    to camouflage his feelings,
  115. so he appears like a lone,
    shiny white wolf.
  116. But the moment he starts
    to interact with his girlfriend, Kay,
  117. the mask falls off,
  118. and we see the black dog beneath it:
  119. depression.
  120. Sometimes we put on a smile

  121. instead of dealing
    with the issues at hand,
  122. and that can ultimately make it worse,
  123. affect the people around us
  124. and damage our relationships.
  125. So Kay herself

  126. we portray as ripped apart
    into her basic emotions.
  127. Some help you,
  128. some are trying to stop you.
  129. Self-Doubt is a huge creature,
  130. always telling Kay how worthless she is
  131. and that she should just give up.
  132. Like in real life,
  133. Self-Doubt is blocking the path,
  134. and it seems impossible to overcome it.
  135. Destroying the omnipresence
    of Self-Doubt is a slow process.
  136. But in the game,
    you can slowly, like, shrink her,
  137. so she turns from self-doubt
  138. to actually healthy doubt,
  139. and you can finally trust her advice.
  140. We also show Self-Destruction.
  141. It's a huge monster
  142. always lurking nearby
    under the water's surface.
  143. Self-Destruction is actually
    the main antagonist of the game,
  144. and she is always trying to drown you
    in the ocean of tears.
  145. But, when she actually drowns you,
  146. you wake up just a few moments [before],
  147. and you have a chance to progress again.
  148. We wanted to show
  149. that we all go through hardships
    in our life, we all do.
  150. But if you at least, like, stand up
    and try to move forward,
  151. you are very likely to make it
    through your struggle,
  152. step by step.
  153. Joy is something that Kay
    cannot really embrace or touch.

  154. It's always something in the distance.
  155. We portrayed Joy
    as a child version of Kay,
  156. with a yellow raincoat,
  157. so she is invulnerable
    to the ocean of tears.
  158. But Joy can also turn into obsession
  159. and start to be actually harmful for Kay,
  160. like when she starts obsessing
    over her boyfriend.
  161. Joy will not turn back to normal
    until Kay realizes
  162. that her happiness
    should not depend on anybody else
  163. but herself.
  164. So our monsters appear huge and scary,

  165. but if you overcome your reluctance
    and approach them,
  166. you soon see that they
    are no monsters at all,
  167. but just fragile beings that are simply
    overwhelmed by what life throws at them.
  168. All of those emotions,

  169. be it self-doubt or even self-destruction,
  170. don't completely vanish in our game.
  171. The key message is to not only
    chase for joy or happiness
  172. but to embrace all your emotions
  173. and bring them into balance,
  174. being OK with sometimes not being OK.
  175. Everyone has their own
    loneliness story to tell.

  176. This realization changed
    everything for me.
  177. Being much more open with my emotions
  178. and concentrating much more
    on my private life,
  179. my friends, my family.
  180. When we released the game,
  181. literally thousands of fans wrote us,
  182. all sharing their stories with us
  183. and telling us they felt
    not so alone anymore
  184. just because they played our game.
  185. Many people wrote us that they felt hope
  186. for a better future for themselves
    for the first time in decades.
  187. Many wrote us that they seek therapy now,
  188. just because they played our game
  189. and felt hopeful to overcome
    their own struggles.
  190. Our game is not a therapy.
  191. It's not meant to be a therapy.
  192. It's just my friends and me
    sharing our stories
  193. through our art, video games.
  194. But we are so deeply thankful
    for every single message
  195. that people feel better,
  196. just because we shared
    our story with them.
  197. So ...

  198. I didn't completely overcome
    my urge to help others.
  199. But I don't want to overcome it anymore.
  200. I love it.
  201. I just needed to bring it
    to a healthy size,
  202. so it doesn't stand in the way
    of deeper relationships anymore,
  203. but even help me to connect with people.
  204. So, if you have an inner monster

  205. that is born out of negative emotions,
  206. it is not only the goal
    to kill that monster
  207. but to understand that we humans
    are complex beings.
  208. Look at what part of your life
    is so big that others fall short.
  209. Look at what emotions you barely feel
  210. or maybe feel too much
  211. and move towards lowering those peaks.
  212. Most of all, it's about understanding
  213. that all the wide range
    of emotions and struggles
  214. makes us what we are:
  215. humans.
  216. Thank you.

  217. (Applause)