The Truth in 'c i r c u i t s'

Finding a harsh reality in a closed c i r c u i t.

I first played circuits at the Toronto Comics and Arts Festival. It was a busy afternoon, and Comics x Games was full of patrons. Most games were occupied, and I wasn’t there to really cover the event. I kept reminding myself to sit down and play something, but I would get drawn away before I could. Soon enough, I was making my final rounds through the space and hadn’t really seen anything. That’s when I saw circuits. Eileen was sitting behind a simple laptop, and I was drawn to the polaroids that were displayed on her screen. I sat down and read a bit, clicked through and saw something that I knew was great but I wanted to experience it in a quieter, more personal space. I chatted with Eileen briefly before taking a business card and making a mental note to return to this story.

 
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It was two days ago, late at night, that I thought about circuits again. The card for it has sat on my desk for weeks and I knew I wanted to write about more itch.io games again for a monthly roundup. I decided at around 1 am, just before bed, I would take a look once again at what Eileen created. I didn’t mean to go through all of it, and I definitely didn’t mean to place circuits into its own article. But I did, and I am. I have to.

I cried playing through circuits. It was slow at first. As the words flashed before me on screen I could feel that knot in my chest, and soon it spread and tugged and tore. I read through the final words through a blur of tears, and I cried longer after I closed circuits. To say Eileen has written something moving feels like I’m selling it short. I haven’t read something that hit me so hard as circuits did in almost any form of media, let alone games.

It is a game with heart. It doesn't hesitate or pull any punches. There is something about packaging this pain up into this format that places it beyond pity and instead into the realm of self-reflection. For many, these words resonate from a twisted form of nostalgia. Not a comforting home to weather the storm, but the familar ice cold breeze that comes with winter that chills to the bone. For others, like myself, it is a stark reminder that we need to do more. 

 
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Circuits is a story about trauma. It is about survival, finding strength through adversity, dealing with moments that strip away humanity and leave behind something other, a person lost within themselves because the world surrounding them is too cruel to believe. It is a world that almost every woman has lived in, and has dealt with. It puts you right in that life and it broke my heart. I read the words but got lost in the spaces. So much is said, that I can’t even imagine what is left off of the page.

There is a deafening silence in circuits, we see the story from the inside, but we also see that there are many forces that work against the narrative. The institutions, the societal beliefs, the inner workings of the mind. All of these things work against the story and are carefully represented both plainly and artistically in circuits. From a critical perspective, the layout and way you navigate circuits is one of its biggest strengths. It becomes a maze almost, mirroring the inner thoughts of the protagonist, something to be investigated and sorted out.

 
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We talk about games taking to us to far off worlds, or to fantastical places. Games are an escape that often fail to reflect or comment on what we actually live day to day. Our role-playing games places us heroes, the protagonist surrounded by both friends and foe that can be conquered. Games like circuits don’t come around often enough, but instead, show us what truly is and show us the roles we either ignore or fall into subconsciously. Eileen does more with words on a white backdrop in under thirty minutes than many mainstream games do with near infinite resources and attention. Games for everyone, that say nothing.

As I get older I’ve found myself more drawn to games that let me see the world through new eyes. I play as female characters in most games because I want to open myself up to something new. circuits is both new and painfully familiar. It is a truth that we so often pretend isn’t there. As a white man, I know I navigate through our world differently. Even as I begin to think and perhaps discover my sexuality isn’t as straightforward as I thought it once was, I still exist in a place of privilege. What I can do is set my horizons as far as I can, and support the voices that too often are ignored or silenced. circuits made me cry, and it makes me cry even as I write this because I know I haven’t done enough, and I know I can do more.

 
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In the wake of #metoo, and other similar movements, we have to believe women and be painfully aware that we aren’t perfect and we always need to strive to be better, to help and support those around us. We really should have been doing that all along. Playing through circuits is painful because it gives you something that you desperately want to reach out to and help, to tell them it will be okay and to be there for them. But the point of circuits is that we don’t know them, but we all know someone like them.

circuits isn't something that's new, there have been many accounts of assault and trauma in the stories we read, or in the movies we watch. The point is that in games it is a rare topic. The games industry and communities are some of the most toxic that exist, with entitled white men leading the charge against diversity, LGBTQ storylines, and anything that threatens the "status quo". Even as we get closer to better representation, it is a battle. We constantly argue that games are art but rally against those that actually further the medium, wanting to enshrine our violence and brutality in the protection of an "art" status. Games are a constant push and pull of wanting fun and escape, while also giving us means to confront experiences and stories in new ways. Interactivity isn't groundbreaking and doesn't elevate our stories beyond those of books or movies, but it does give us a chance to explore at our own pace and in our own way. circuits is part of the furthering of our medium, and facing that truth will allow us to grow.

Please, set aside an hour, even half an hour. Play through circuits. Take the time to read, and believe, and carry that with you. I know I will.


Quote from 'c i r c u i t s', by Eileen Mary Holowka


Growing up in a small town, going to school for graphic and web design and finally moving to Toronto, Colin began to look for a new project and landed on Third Person. He has always had a passion for video games and finally decided to do something about it. Inspired by websites like Giant Bomb, Polygon, and Waypoint, Colin has founded Third Person with the intent of covering games using a mix of the old and the new.

Colin loves to dive into RPGs of all kinds, exploring their worlds and developing his character. Well-crafted stories draw him in too, and he is always on the lookout for a new adventure.

When he's not spending a billion years in a game's character creator, he can be found behind his camera, reading comic books or probably sleeping.

Some of his favorite games: Dragon's Dogma: Dark Arisen, Alpha Protocol, Mass Effect, Overwatch, Life is Strange, Persona 4