Lose Yourself: Disassociation and Games

The streets are narrow, cramped, decayed and full of offal. The inhabitants drift through the semi-ruined town, dragging their implements along. The only thing that stirs them from their wheezing mundanity is intervention.

The hero. The hero exists to intervene, to bring order to the chaos. Here, it's the streets of Central Yharnam; there, it's the mines of Europa; even further, it's secret facilities on Mars, in Britain, in alternate dimensions. The hero tirelessly works to enact their ordering will upon a disorganized life, realizing either partially or fully that the fundamental landscape of that life prevents them from ever truly making things neat, pristine, cordoned off into clean sections easily verified and codified.

This is what it's like to have a disassociative disorder.

Wake up in the morning and forget who you were, are, will be. Look at your arms and see another person's limbs. Pull back, your life a movie, your consciousness an objective observer, recording your flaws in some ledger visible only to you. Struggle to push through a fog preventing you from seeing reality for what it really is. Be a different person for a while. Are you real?

This is what it's like to have a disassociative disorder.


Disassociation is best separated into two distinct, but related, feelings.

Depersonalization goes by another, far more macabre name: ego death. The loss of the sense of self, the destruction of your sense of being; instead, you are an object, animated matter without feelings, without emotions, without life. Depersonalization is the removal of the self, the separation of mind from body, and the subsequent perception of body as being little more than a marionette.

Disassociation usually follows. It's the sense that you are, but aren't; the conflicting subsumption of self into a non-self object. You exist, but you don't, and the feeling causes you to question reality, your senses, your experience, your being. You become a different person; depersonalization is the slate wiped clean, disassociation is a new text written upon it.

Depersonalization and disassociation. Complicated, nuanced, manageable-but-terrifying issues. Can someone without them truly understand what it's like to live with the sense of not being?

Fundamentally Broken

The streets of Central Yharnam are confusing, winding, looping back on each other in unexpected ways. Leaving and returning brings back all the problems of before, and a lack of clear direction means you lose yourself in the oppression, the gloom, the blood-soaked gothic horror.

Confusion - of the self, of your surroundings - is at the heart of every disassociative fugue. When you are in a fugue state, the self that you are is replaced by a potential self, a separate you, a person who could have been under different but similar circumstances. It's not a separate identity, but a separate world; being in a fugue is waking up in your bed, recognizing it's your bed, but not knowing how or why it's there, or why you have that particular bed, or what you plan to do after waking.

Convoluted levels, twisting around and back in on themselves at random points like a demented ouroboros unable to find its own tail, replicate that feeling. They provide a sense of the familiar-yet-alien, the sense that your landscape is approachable and conquerable but not in the standard way, the straight and narrow way, the cause-effect way.

These levels can never be cleaned, or straightened, or fixed. They are forever broken, impaling themselves as the player pushes to find the designed path. No matter how much effort you put into it, you can only ever become familiar with the fundamental brokenness. It will be forever broken. Your task is to run your fingers along the break, feeling, appreciating, understanding how something could get this fucked up, how things are, how you can approach and understand them.

Are You You?

The border guard for Arstotzka is a troubled soul. He went into his job with high hopes and an expectation to follow the rules, be compassionate, and be well compensated. Caught up in the daily tragedies of human life and a larger political conspiracy, he finds that he is fundamentally a different person than he thought he was; nastier, willing to skirt the rules to get ahead.

The notion that you are someone you aren't is the most terrifying part of disassociation. It's the sense that inside you is a potential you, a scarier (or nicer!) you, a different you unbound by all you have done and seen and been. Of course, that fear is not rational; fugues do not generally result in a violent or significantly different person, and most people snap out of them within a few minutes.

Terror - real terror, the fear that creeps up on you in the middle of the night and forces the darkness behind your eyes to expand and consume until you are nothing more than an animal facing the fire, the hunter, the predator - breaks all logic. Knowing that you could simply not be, and go about not being without ever realizing it, is an existential terror beyond anything you can accurately comprehend. Coming down from a fugue is realizing that you are and aren't you, that your existence could be erased and replaced.

Taste and Self

Every person loves games for different reasons.

Some love games for visuals. Others for mechanics. Others for themes, for narratives, for metaphor, for emotional resonance, for exploration. You can find a game that appeals to your exact tastes pretty easily.

I love complex, unwieldy, complicated games that refuse to tell you exactly how to proceed and instead encourage you to get lost. Games that play with your sense of direction, sense of purpose, sense of self. Games that disconnect you, that violate your suspension of disbelief, that force you into perverse or disturbing roles. Games that remind me of who I am, of this force I can't control, of this existence that forever lurks behind my identity.

This is what it's like to have a disassociative disorder.

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