Nevermind is described by developer Erin Reynolds as a biofeedback horror adventure game. Meaning, the game is designed to respond to your heartbeat, increasing the difficulty when your stress levels start to rise. To survive, you have to learn to relax, literally. Erin Reynolds is attempting to crowdfund Nevermind right now. Her team has a long way to go. As of writing, they have a little over $54,000 of a $250,000 development goal. I personally just pledged at the $25 tier, earning me a digital copy of the game and my name in the end credits if the campaign succeeds. Here's why I supported the project.
Nevermind looks like a surreal version of Eternal Darkness: Sanity's Requiem. For those unfamiliar with arguably the greatest GameCube game ever made, Eternal Darkness is a survival horror game where you play a young woman investigating the death of her grandfather. Her family has a long, secret history of occult activity and she uncovers a whole lot more than she bargained for on her journey. Namely, the more weird stuff she sees, the more her sanity begins to breakdown.
That's right. The metagame of Eternal Darkness: Sanity's Requiem was managing the stress level of the character onscreen to prevent the insanity effects from kicking in. These effects made the game significantly harder, blurring the screen, trapping the main character in a never-ending loop of the same room, or even convincing you, the player, that the console needed to be reset because of a fatal game error.
Nevermind looks like the real world version of that mechanic applied to a more nebulous kind of horror. The imagery in the Kickstarter video is wide-reaching in scope: traffic jams, abstracted monsters, and creepy toys, among others. However, the difficulty mechanic is a new spin on my favorite horror game conceit of all time. The idea of the human mind being the health meter that needs protection above all else is disturbing and Nevermind takes it to another level. Forget about protecting your character: you need to protect yourself.
The other reason I hope this Kickstarter campaign succeeds is Reynolds' own mission statement about gaming. She says in the video that she wants to develop entertaining games that have a greater purpose for the player. She considers Nevermind a stress management tool. In order to progress in the game, you need to figure out how to best control your reaction to scary and stressful situations. Since the meter is connected to your physical body rather than a computer generated character, you can actually experiment with and learn real world stress and anxiety management techniques while playing a horror game.
I have to level with you. It's clear from all of my writing that I love the horror genre. Horror games are often too intense for me to handle because I get so lost in them. Nothing puts me on edge more than unjustified jump scares and those are the bread and butter of the genre. Just once, I would like to play a horror game that actually cares at all about my well-being. Its not a matter of being scared. It's a matter of so much aggressive imagery and sound design actually causing my anxiety to rise. I enjoy being scared. I do not enjoy being bombarded with blasts of random disturbing imagery designed to stress me out to the point of aggravating my OCD and GAD.
Nevermind's reliance on biofeedback data to control the difficultly clearly means that the team cares about the well-being of the gamers. There's a dark element to raising the difficulty because of an elevated heart rate, but that also puts more control in the hands of the player. Want to have an easier time passing through a particularly scary room? Take a moment to focus on yourself, stretch out, and breathe.
Nevermind has until 7 March to raise another $200,000. I don't know if they'll reach their goal, but I'm really hoping they do. The world needs more developers like Erin Reynolds and her team who actually care about how games can be used for more than entertainment. You can support the campaign here.