Everything is Going to be Okay
Nathalie Lawhead’s, Everything is Going to be Okay is all about bringing to light a certain sense of taboo contexts. That the game successively yells out and puts on the players face, the simulated desktop becomes a portal into neurotic fears and psychopathy. If I do say so myself, the game is an absolute cluster f*** of visuals that can give the player a headache.
The visuals change from distorted planes flying or eggs cracking. It's almost like an announcement to people of the things we don't want coming out. Each picture leads to a different mini game, short video or tool to do some thing creative with.
There is no set story or continuity. In one, a cartoon looking bunny gives a presentation about their absolute pulverization. In another you draw a portrait of a pancake kinda thing? In yet another, you, through a series of ineffectual choices, attempt to talk an impaled blob substance from its eternal torment. On both the itch.io page and in their artist’s statement on the zine, Lawhead describes this as a power fantasy. This might seem unusual at first glance. The zine’s short segments, which often have wildly different control schemes and interfaces, never let the player settle into anything like mastery. In fact when I asked Lawhead about the power fantasy itself, they first emphasized its hostility: “Everything you touch feels like it could just blow up or completely break.” With their own horrible experiences with the games industry and press in mind, it is difficult not to see EVERYTHING IS GOING TO BE OKAY as an echo of the way those in power shape our horrors and traumas. Afterwards they still ask us to continue, husks of ourselves to be hurt again and again.
Certainly nihilism is present in that zine; the tagline on itch.io states as much -- but also strength. We are, after all, still here. These kind, little creatures continue to survive despite horrific circumstances. Being split in two or completely alone requires an immense amount of strength, but the creatures never exhibit it. Rather, they whine in pain or scream in pain. They show no traditional signs of effort. "If you can survive and just be here at the end of the day, you are powerful," she said in an interview with paste magazine. Having the strength to just be ok after all this shit takes a lot of strength. That last statement is the essence of the entire project of EVERYTHING IS GOING TO BE OKAY.EVERYTHING IS GOING TO BE OKAY’s entire project. Many of us reading this, including myself and many of you, are suffering from trauma or less. However, people don't need to be soothed by digital hugs or patronized by advice. Validating, listening, and acknowledging their strength are crucial.
The zine is designed to invite the reader to just linger and feel. Every interaction in the zine is a helpless act against death or injury, forcing you to listen and understand the characters' plight. They become a way of listening to yourself through the apparatus of the zine, even when they allow you to interact, like with the powerpoint or portrait. Players actually spent a lot of time in the game's creative moments, according to Lawhead by themselves: "I think maybe the creativity here was a way to cope with how the pages made you feel.". Other than maybe writing about it with the characters, there's nothing you can do about this messed up situation." It is this helplessness that makes these moments of creativity meaningful. My frustration with my day job filled the powerpoint when I made it. After letting it all out, I felt something like relief.
I do not wish to claim that the zine is therapeutic, or somehow transcends videogaming. Rather, it is honest about its limitations. A zine like this cannot materially change the situations people find themselves in. It can, however, resonate with those situations. Nathalie said to me that the lack of a player character “give[s] you distance, so taking that away kind of robs the player from that protection. You’re expected to confront what you are seeing as yourself.” It’s true. I did and do feel confronted. However, it is not confrontation like a showdown at sunset or a massive monster you must destroy with your cunning. Rather it is a confrontation like a blank page, a dormant pen, a mirror. In some sense, EVERYTHING IS GOING TO BE OKAY asks nothing more of us than to sit and listen, both to ourselves and others.
That is why, a years on, it feels more powerful than ever. In the last few months of the pandemic, we have focused a lot on games as escapism, on Animal Crossing or Hades being the “games we need right now.” EVERYTHING IS GOING TO BE OKAY, though, cannot position itself as outside of life. It is rather a deeply personal thing that asks you to engage with it personally.