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Have You Played... Sym?

A puzzle platformer about social anxiety

Have You Played? is an endless stream of game retrospectives. One a day, every day of the year, perhaps for all time.

Over the last few years, the ‘indie renaissance’, for want of a less hackneyed term, has seen videogames tackle a whole host of complex social issues. From depression, to suicide; alcoholism and drug abuse, to cancer - games are exploring all sorts of intricate sensitive areas nowadays, and are systematically educating as they go. To this end, Sym [official site] is a neat 2D puzzle platformer whose central mechanic is built around social anxiety.

Sym’s protagonist Josh suffers from acute social anxiety disorder. His shyness and tendency to avoid social scenarios are portrayed in-game by his ability to switch between light and dark areas, and, as he makes his way across Sym’s abstract monochromatic levels, inner-monologues are writ across its walls to remind us of the hero’s enduring struggle. Here, he must dot between both planes in order to succeed.

Metaphorically, then, the light area exists to encourage Josh to show more of himself. The game is basically saying that being reserved is fine, having anxiety is fine, however is also suggesting that a balance is required to push forward, and that protagonist Josh should try to avoid being overwhelmed by his moments of darkness. Sym’s taxing puzzles in turn show this isn’t always easy to do.

In practical terms, this creates a really intuitive puzzle platformer, where levels are rarely straightforward and result in a whole load of trial and error and the occasional spat of blind cursing, yet its eureka moments are second to none. It echoes the likes of Shift in its presentation, but operates within a far more interesting, far more abstruse world.

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Joe Donnelly

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