PopMatters is moving to WordPress in December. We will continue to publish on this site as we work on the move. We aim to make it a seamless experience for readers.

Games

Indie Horror Month 2016: 'Downfall' Explores Depression, Bulimia, and Suicide Through Horror

Downfall finds horror in helpfulness.


Downfall

Publisher: Harvester Games
Price: $13.99
Developer: Harvester Games
Players: 1
Release Date: 2016-02-15

The Cat Lady was an excellent horror game that explored depression and suicide in a way that was nuanced, thoughtful, and scary. It used its supernatural violence to evoke suicidal thoughts in players (“It's no big deal if I'm just going to be resurrected anyways”), while at the same time arguing against suicide as a means of coping or revenge. The climax had us playing as a woman who had already successfully killed herself, trying to talk a friend out of doing the same thing. The game argued for the importance of life, even as it wallowed in the darker sides of living, showing off a world full of pain, sadness, suffering, loss, grotesque people, and inexplicable violence. Life is full of evil, and we can't handle it by ourselves. However, The Cat Lady seems to say that we can help each other through it.

I bring up the The Cat Lady for multiple reasons. For one, it's kind of a spin off of Downfall. The latter game was the first one from developer Harvester Games, but the former was their first one on Steam. This year, Downfall was remade and released on Steam as well. It stars Joe and Ivy Davis, who live in the same apartment complex as Susan Ashworth of The Cat Lady.

More importantly, however, is that Downfall and The Cat Lady feel very much like companion pieces. Both games explore the effects of depression, but from opposite points of view. The Cat Lady puts us in the shoes of a woman who is depressed and helps us see the world from her eyes. Joe Davis, the protagonist of Downfall, is not depressed, but his wife is. Downfall explores the anger and frustration and horror of loving someone who has depression.

Ivy's depression and resulting bulimia have put a strain on their marriage, so the couple decide to visit a countryside hotel for a vacation. In the morning, Ivy disappears, and Joe goes through a surreal and symbolic hell trying to save her. There's a lot going on in the game, but for now, I'm going to focus on the symbolism of our main objective. Joe has to kill a girl named Sophie, or rather four different incarnations of a girl named Sophie. Killing these girls damages a supernatural mirror, and Joe suspects that Ivy is trapped on the other side of the mirror. So the Sophies must die.

Each Sophie represents some aspect of Ivy’s troubled mental state. One is depressed, curled up in a fetal position on a chair, begging Joe to kill her. One is bulimic, too self-conscious to confess her love for an asshole who calls her a fat cow. One represents how Ivy sees herself, overweight and leaning against the wall of a bathroom, surrounded by similarly overweight women who have all killed themselves. The final Sophie is a giant, hideous, blob of a woman, covered in large gashes -- a combination of each previous incarnation pushed to their extremes.

The game is designed to ensure that we kill the girls in a particular order, which is important because we can track Joe’s character arc through his chosen method of murder. At first, he kills with kindness, injecting the depressed Sophie with a poison that kills her... not painlessly, but at least quickly (her head explodes). Next, he kills the overweight Sophie by blowing her up off-screen. Again, a quick death if not a painless one. Then things get gruesome. He gives the bulimic Sophie a smoothie made from a human head, causing her to vomit endlessly until she shrivels into a skeleton. Before the final Sophie, we get our hands on a chainsaw, and Joe turns into Jack Nicholson from The Shining, stomping around a hotel shouting death threats, pissed off and ready for a slaughter.

The downfall of the title relates to Joe's mental state. He sees himself as the doting husband, always so supportive, so understanding, and so caring, but ultimately helpless. He loves Ivy and wants to help her, but he’s also irritated by her. Frustrated by her backsliding into bulimia, angered by her sad bouts of silence, and enraged by his inability to change her. For Joe, killing the Sophies means finally being able to beat Ivy’s demons. He’s finally able to express all his pent up emotions, and the results are violent.

Despite that violence, Downfall wants us to be sympathetic towards Joe. For so long Joe has been unable to help Ivy, and now he finally has the opportunity to get rid of her demons. Even if they don’t really go away in the end at least he can pay them back for all the suffering that they’ve caused him and Ivy. And, hey, they’re probably not real anyway, so who cares about a little gore and ultraviolence tossed their way? Joe has our sympathy, so we excuse his violence.

However, that sympathy has its limits.

The Cat Lady wants us to understand the thought process behind suicide, though it argues for life. Downfall wants us to understand the anger of a husband who can’t stop his wife’s suicide, depression, or bulimia, though it also argues against making him the central focus of our attention. We can sympathize with his struggles, but he’s not the one that needs the most help. This is where Joe goes wrong.

The final twist is that there is no hotel, and Ivy is already dead at the start of the game. Our journey through the hotel was just an elaborate fantasy that Joe concocted so that he could imagine himself actually saving his wife. It's kind of sweet actually, until you realize that Joe also killed his wife.

Not on purpose. Joe genuinely loves Ivy and desperately wants to help her. He may have good intentions, but his actual attempts to help are god awful. He would chain Ivy to a chair and force feed her, then deadlock the bathroom shut so she couldn’t purge into the toilet. This combative method obviously didn’t help her, and eventually she starved herself to death.

In Joe’s mind, the illness won despite all his best efforts. He see himself as just as much a victim as Ivy, a man who gave everything to help his wife and still failed. There's a lot to make Joe sympathetic, but the game makes a strong point in denouncing him and his actions.

Another character linking Downfall to The Cat Lady is a demonic woman, the Queen of Maggots. In The Cat Lady, she's the one that resurrects Susan and tasks her with killing five serial killers, or as they're called by the Queen, Parasites.

That word is important. In my post on The Cat Lady, I wrote, “When we hold others to a higher standard than we hold ourselves, our friendship becomes a symbiotic relationship in which we make each other stronger, even when we’re at our weakest. [... The Parasites] hold themselves above others, seeing others as something disposable. Instead of supporting the world, they break it down, leech off of it. Those who don’t hold others to a higher standard, who don’t try to strengthen others, are literally parasites upon the world”.

Joe has good intentions, but his violence towards Ivy proves that he's not really interested in her well being. He does want to help her, but more for his peace of mind than for the sake of her safety. Joe cares more about himself than Ivy, so when Ivy starts to hurt him, he helps her only inasmuch as he helps himself.

We should sympathize with Joe. We should understand his frustration with Ivy. We shouldn’t hate him for snapping at her or walking away in anger. These are understandable emotional reactions. However, we should hate him for his lack of empathy, his inability to understand what Ivy is going through. To him, depression and bulimia can be solved with a little tough love, and if that doesn’t work, you just need tougher love. If that doesn’t work, you just need violent love. Joe plays the doting husband, but in reality he is anything but doting. His love for Ivy is psychopathic. She’s not an actual person, just a problem to be fixed.

That's not love. That kind of psychopathic selfishness only leads to downfall.

Downfall is available on Steam for $13.99.

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology provider that we have until December to move off their service. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to fund the move and further development.


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Music

Artemis Is the Latest Jazz Supergroup

A Blue Note supergroup happens to be made up of women, exclusively. Artemis is an inconsistent outing, but it dazzles just often enough.

Books

Horrors in the Closet: A Closet Full of Monsters

A closet full of monsters is a scary place where "straight people" can safely negotiate and articulate their fascination and/or dread of "difference" in sexuality.

Music

'Wildflowers & All the Rest' Is Tom Petty's Masterpiece

Wildflowers is a masterpiece because Tom Petty was a good enough songwriter by that point to communicate exactly what was on his mind in the most devastating way possible.

Music

Jazz Composer Maria Schneider Takes on the "Data Lords" in Song

Grammy-winning jazz composer Maria Schneider released Data Lords partly as a reaction to her outrage that streaming music services are harvesting the data of listeners even as they pay musicians so little that creativity is at risk. She speaks with us about the project.

Music

The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 100-81

PopMatters' best albums of the 2000s begin with a series of records that span epic metal, ornate indie folk, and a terrifying work of electronic music.

Books

The Power of Restraint in Sophie Yanow, Paco Roca, and Elisa Macellari's New Graphic Novels

The magical quality that makes or breaks a graphic novel lies somewhere in that liminal space in which art and literature intersect.

Books

'People of the City' Is an Unrelenting Critique of Colonial Ideology and Praxis

Cyprian Ekwensi's People of the City is a vivid tale of class struggle and identity reclamation in the shadows of colonialism's reign.

Music

1979's 'This Heat' Remains a Lodestone for Avant-Rock Adventure

On their self-titled debut, available for the first time on digital formats, This Heat delivered an all-time classic stitched together from several years of experiments.

Film

'The Edge of Democracy' and Parallels of Political Crises

Academy Award-nominated documentary The Edge of Democracy, now streaming on Netflix, lays bare the political parallels of the rise of Bolsonaro's Brazil with Trump's America.

Music

The Pogues' 'The BBC Sessions 1984-1986' Honors Working-Class Heroes

The Pogues' BBC Sessions 1984-1986 is a welcome chapter in the musical story of these working-class heroes, who reminded listeners of the beauty and dignity of the strong, sooty backs upon which our industrialized world was built.

Music

Mary Halvorson Creates Cacophony to Aestheticize on 'Artlessly Falling'

Mary Halvorson's Artlessly Falling is a challenging album with tracks comprised of improvisational fragments more than based on compositional theory. Halvorson uses the various elements to aestheticize the confusing world around her.

Music

15 Overlooked and Underrated Albums of the 1990s

With every "Best of the '90s" retrospective comes a predictable list of entries. Here are 15 albums that are often overlooked as worthy of placing in these lists, and are too often underrated as some of the best records from the decade.

Books

'A Peculiar Indifference' Takes on Violence in Black America

Pulitzer Prize finalist Elliott Currie's scrupulous investigation of the impacts of violence on Black Americans, A Peculiar Indifference, shows the damaging effect of widespread suffering and identifies an achievable solution.

Music

20 Songs From the 1990s That Time Forgot

Rather than listening to Spotify's latest playlist, give the tunes from this reminiscence of lost '90s singles a spin.

Film

Delightful 'Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day' Is Good Escapism

Now streaming on Amazon Prime, Bharat Nalluri's 2008 romantic comedy, Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, provides pleasant respite in these times of doom and gloom.

Film

The 10 Best Horror Movie Remakes

The horror genre has produced some remake junk. In the case of these ten treats, the update delivers something definitive.

Television

Flirting with Demons at Home, or, When TV Movies Were Evil

Just in time for Halloween, a new Blu-ray from Kino Lorber presents sparkling 2K digital restorations of TV movies that have been missing for decades: Fear No Evil (1969) and its sequel, Ritual of Evil (1970).

Music

Magick Mountain Are Having a Party But Is the Audience Invited?

Garage rockers Magick Mountain debut with Weird Feelings, an album big on fuzz but light on hooks.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.