You may have seen our mentioning Fran Bow earlier this month. A point and click adventure with an ongoing IndieGoGo campaign, and an available demo. Fairly standard stuff. But as Ben found when he played it, and I certainly did too, this is something incredibly disturbing. A tale of a 10 year old girl who witnesses the brutal murder of her parents, and then seemingly develops severe mental health issues. The demo, set in an asylum, shows the morbid, hideous version of reality perceived by this girl - a world of brutal death, mutilated children, and dismal hopelessness. It was too much for me - I found it very unnerving. And then I saw that one of the co-creators, Natalia Figueroa, mentioned that it was semi-autobiographical.
So it should be said up front that this interview touches on subjects of sexual and physical abuse, alongside the impact such a project might have, and indeed what else to expect in the game.
RPS: I've played the demo. And I'll be honest - I found it incredibly disturbing. It was more disturbing than I was comfortable with. A girl watching her parents slaughtered in front of her, who maybe goes mad, goes into an asylum, and then with medication sees mutilated corpses of children, desecrated animals, terrible demons and all sorts of bloodshed. And it's all approached with such a cold, sterile response. Then I hear you say that it's based on your own life. And I'm completely thrown by that. Can you talk a bit about that, whatever you're comfortable with sharing?
Natalia Figueroa: The game itself is a kind of screaming out what I been experienced through my childhood and teenager years. From childhood I have being experiencing traumatic events, from being witness to family violence to unfair personal treatment outside home. And as a teenager being sentenced to be part of a religious sect, being kind of a guinea pig for research with all medicines doctors gave me to try to cure the mental illness that life was giving me. There is something else, that I want to keep to myself, but that event is the one that actually detonated everything inside my mind. So yes, Fran Bow is a gathering of many events that have being crucial in my life and in a way, I don't want to speak only for myself, but also the others I meet on my way, because not everything is about painful situations. Beautiful things has also happened on the way, and those happy event are those who really helped to battle my mental state.
RPS: So is the process of creating the game therapeutic? Has it helped exorcise anything for you?
Natalia Figueroa: I have to say that Fran Bow is purely based on painful and beautiful things that happened in my life and of course it feels very therapeutic. It is the last piece of the puzzle to, in a way, to feel free. And the making of the game is also a great step for me and Isak (the other head of Killmonday) as creators.
I never put so much love and honesty in a project. This really comes from my heart and is done with truly love. Is also a way of letting go of bad moments in life. Actually even this sounds a bit weird - all bad things that happened to me has only given me strength to see that life is about being able to open your eyes and realize that shit happens and there are beautiful things awaiting for you to find.
And making the game also gives me a chance to expose some social aspects that I am against. They are hidden in the story with the characters' personalities, specially the grown up characters.
RPS: Do you worry about how the game will be received? Any game featuring children is always given extra scrutiny, and one that's so deliberately upsetting as this one is clearly going to cause some sort of reaction.
Natalia Figueroa: I can't worry because of something that I create. That would put my point of view in a unsure situation. I'm not worried at all! I'm actually amazed by the love people has given to the game and especially to Fran Bow and the cat Mr. Midnight. I understand that many can feel very uncomfortable with a kid going through so many hard things, but it is the reality many had have lived, and I'm not scared of showing that. And actually if people would be against this game, the only thing I can say is that, I'm not using a girl "figure" to reach this unconformable feeling, it's only how things happened to me.
RPS: So do you think addressing issues of mental health in such a brutally honest way could be beneficial for people? Begin discussions, encourage people to share their own trauma?
Natalia Figueroa: There are many things untold. I have played many games that take mental illness like it's something funny. And I have to say, many don't have any idea of how unfair and sad it all is. Being sexually abused, being used as a research spot, being left back by family... being rejected from society and many things more that are on a torturer level. I think everybody has a trauma and many hide them because of not showing themselves as vulnerable. But hey! We are people and we feel things and we get scared... I don't understand the need to hide things from yourself. That only makes us more insensitive and scared and creates a wall in front of us.
It would be beautiful that the game for some people can work in a beneficial way, but I can't expect that because we are all different. And I also want to create something that can be a fun experience for some, and maybe for others a way of feeling at home... we all are so different! It's hard to tell.
RPS: About the game itself, the demo goes as far as escaping the asylum, but doesn't feature much of cat sidekick Mr Midnight who you describe as being very important in your IGG campaign. Can you explain a bit more about his role in the game, and how you interact with him?
Natalia Figueroa: Well, the first chapter is about knowing more about Fran Bow, so in the second chapter you will find Mr Midnight. He will be also a playable character and you can play as Mr. Midnight when Fran Bow is not "available" in some of the situations. Also you can pet him, give him food, love and talk to him. He will follow you around and be able to help you. His personality is very sweet and clever at the same time... a bit silly sometimes, so it will give a bit of sweet humor to the game.
RPS: You've just reached your funding, so congratulations for that! With over a week left, what further ambitions do you have? How will the game change if more money comes in?
Natalia Figueroa: Thank you! We are in shock actually... we really want to start working on the game again as soon as possible! I have a very clear picture of how the whole game will be, and that no money can change. The game will be in English, Spanish and German. And available for Windows, Mac, Linux and Mobile devices, Iphone, Android and Windows Phone. And about setting stretch goals, we didn't wanted to do that because we have to focus on doing the game first. And the 20,000 is what we need to do the game. All that is over the $20,000 will be used to make the game available in more languages and platforms if possible. With the extra money we get we have very clear ideas, the first one is to translate for more languages like French, Italian, Russian and more if possible. If we get enough for the Wii U (developer kit cost around $3,000) we will do that too. And we will try to do it for Ouya also.
RPS: Thanks for your time.
Fran Bow's IGG campaign is still going for another nine days. You can get the demo from that page too.