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  • Cindi Knapton

Linda & Joan: The Vulnerability of Being Human

Updated: Nov 28, 2022

If a game mechanic transports me seamlessly into a real-life experience, I can’t stop thinking about it. Or talking about it. When I find myself explaining the magic of games to my former colleagues in film, tv, and architecture, I usually mention the very accessible Florence (see my previous blog) and Journey (see my future blog).

But lately… specifically this Thanksgiving, I have felt compelled to talk about the game Linda & Joan by False Vacuum. The story event and game mechanic in the demo so closely resembles my life, and the lives of my similarly-aged oldie friends, that I can’t stop sharing it. From the website:

"Linda & Joan is a forthcoming narrative game about a British family. You play as Russell, Linda, and Joan — son, mother, and grandmother — switching between them to help the family cope with a series of traumatic events. Based on a true story.”

That premise was the lure to get me to play the demo. This concept certainly has broad appeal. But to me, it’s irresistible. I’ve spent the last few years attending to my dying parents and their respective spouses. I think that I have felt what it is to be Russell, Linda, and Joan. Now I want to inhabit those experience with choices. I want to see what choices the game will present to me.

The fifteen-minute play length demo “Prologue: Four Months Earlier” is exquisite. In it, Russell and his mobility challenged mother Linda take a short walk to Griffith Observatory. The animation has a glorious casual friendly style. It captures the stark LA light, sparse xeriscape plant life, and slightly distorted human forms.

The soundscape is subtlety melancholic with occasional bird tweets and far away sirens. Using the space bar, the player progresses the dialogue that ranges from the banal chat about café refreshments to the grave implications of medical test results.

The real magic is the walking simulator mechanic. The player must keep Russell walking at a pace that is comfortable for his ailing mother. I have experienced this challenge so many times in real life. I start out very focused on the person that I am walking with, but sometimes I lose myself in conversation or the view, and I forget to slow it down.

The game mechanic requires dragging the mouse on the path ahead of Russell and Joan and clicking. That creates a circle. Simultaneously with the click, the player must carefully swipe the arc of the circle to the exact point that matches Joan’s pace. If you go too far around the circle, Russell gets ahead of Joan. Their conversation becomes disconnected. Joan gets tired.

This is so real. On how many walks, over how many years with my father, his partner, my mother, or my step-father, did I try to be attentive and patient? It’s hard being human. It’s hard staying synchronized with another human – no matter how much you love them and want to support them. I am sure my parents had similar challenges when I and my siblings were children and we were moving at our own paces. But… when you know someone is dying, and these moments have the preciousness of limited time together, it hurts when I fail to stay apace with my walking partner.

It’s hard being human. It’s hard staying synchronized with another human – no matter how much you love them and want to support them.

This demo has absolutely captured my imagination. I can’t wait to see how the rest of the game evolves.

How did I find this game? I met game developer Russell Quinn of False Vacuum at my local indie-game MeetUp. I can’t recommend MeetUps highly enough – if you’re looking to take steps in your game dev career, or just hang out with some like-minded friends, check them out. Here’s our LA local:

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