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By Karoline Castillo-Troncoso
When I began to indulge in Wayward Strand, I thought about emotional intelligence – or the lack thereof. Emotional intelligence is measured by an individual’s ability to perceive, utilize, comprehend, manage, and deal with emotions appropriately. Australian indie game Wayward Strand beautifully portrays people from different walks of life, all demonstrating various levels of emotional intelligence despite being in similar situations as hospital patients who sometimes feel alone and neglected in this hospital that flies above the water and earth.
Wayward Strand from Ghost Pattern is a single player game that explores life aboard an airborne hospital. The protagonist, Casey Beaumaris, an adventurous, teenaged journalist keeps track of events occurring in the hospital as told through the perspective of multiple hospital patients. She wants to uncover a story for an expose, but what she finds is perhaps more meaningful than nabbing the big story.
As I dismantled the title of this game and its potential meaning, I discovered that “wayward” can be defined as something which is difficult to control or predict because of unusual behavior. The word “strand” refers to the action of leaving something without the means of moving from somewhere. Consequently, the impression which I had imagined from combining both ideas refers to: the difficulty to control or predict the unusual behavior brought about by leaving something without the means of change.
Wayward Stand’s takes this meaning seriously because the protagonist is unable to control the behaviors of the patients onboard the hospital ship. She tries to communicate and often succeeds in developing a positive relationship with various patients. Unfortunately, not everyone receives Casey’s presence in such an optimistic manner. There would be times where Casey is left confused because she struggles to understand the depth of the illnesses treated in the hospital.
The recovering people-pleaser in me wanted to make it an objective to get along with everyone on the ship and to potentially get on their “good side” – if I wasn’t already on it. But, every character/patient was undergoing their own battles of deteriorating health or mental inconsistencies. It’s often difficult to accept that everyone has acquired their own coping mechanisms and that those thoughts may involve the rejection of any form of consolation. As I entered each patient’s room with the motive of simply beginning conversation, I came across Dr. Bouchard (bed bound). She was once Casey’s doctor but provides a rather cold greeting when she introduces herself. I later realized that Dr. Bouchard has cancer.
I believe I’m a sensitive person so Dr. Bouchard’s response to Casey’s wanting to accompany her threw me off a bit. Regardless, this game allowed me to realize that people don’t always intend to be impertinent – it’s just their way of perhaps protecting themselves. What I mean by this is that if I were in Dr. Bouchard’s shoes, I’d probably also want to isolate and hinder myself from pursuing/developing relationships with, well, anyone. That’s because being emotionally present for someone when you’re not in the best mental state yourself can be extremely exhausting; and I wouldn’t want to burden the body that is already exhausting its attempts at keeping me alive. Not only that, but I wouldn’t desire to leave someone with hurt after I am no longer able to be present for them because relationships require mutual effort in order to work.
This really is the ultimate in “Playing With Purpose,” and I cannot begin to express the fondness I have acquired for this game. The intricate detail; from the beautiful artwork, defined by black outlines, down to the reticular veins on Ms. (Esther) Fitzgerald’s legs. The music effortlessly complements the plot of this story. I believe that its calming essence portrays the idea of peace and how many long for it. It’s fascinating that Casey is a significant component in the lives of the patients aboard the hospital ship. But the decisions made by the player do not suspend the storylines of the supplementary characters. Instead, they allow for one to advance within the game in various ways. An example of this is when Theodore (Ted) leads Casey to the abandoned crew quarters in the upper deck. Casey most likely would’ve been introduced to this room regardless, but her developing friendship with Ted granted access to this room easily.
The raw nature of this storyline coaxes the audience to think and feel. Unfortunately, many can relate to the inevitable reality that nothing prepares you for the death of a loved one or friend, or even acquaintance. But for young people like me that play Wayward Stand, knowledge of the nature of illness and one’s passing helps me understand. It’s perhaps too easy to lean on pop life philosophies such as “You only live once” and “Life’s too short,” words that indeed hold a lot of truth. But it’s only a temporary dismissal for what all people will eventually face. As Ms. (Ida) Vaughan stated in the game, “We’ve all got to go sometime. But it doesn’t lessen the sting when it’s your turn.” Still, the game is so moving, that I may return to find out more of these wise characters’ life stories.
Karoline Castillo-Troncoso is one of our newest New York Videogame Critics Circle interns from the Bronx.