The game opens with three kids standing outside of a house. After the smallest of the children boasts that her parents are going to get her a pony, the boy in the group dismantles her wishful thinking, which makes Lydia, the other little girl, laugh. When the naive child becomes upset, the bigger kids relent and make nice. Stepping back, one could argue that here childish fantasy is something to be corrected rather than indulged since the wish for the pony can only lead to disappointment. Through Lydia, however, we come to see a more positive valuation of fantasy. For her, fantasy is not linked to outsize wants but to a survival strategy.
Once back home, Lydia insists that her father tell her a bedtime story. Yet before he can conclude his (super lame) impromptu tale, her mother brusquely shoos Lydia off to bed over his protest. Lydia’s mom appears more concerned with the imminent arrival of her guests than her daughter’s frame of mind. Naturally, the child is unable to sleep. “Not again.” she says, as she hears the rowdy voices and piercing electronic music coming from downstairs. We’re led to understand that she has a reason to be worried about the partying because Lydia bargains with herself out loud. If she is a good girl, she tells herself, she won’t be visited by the monster.
Lydia finds solace in her teddy bear and in a world that opens up from inside her closet. With her positively-minded buddy, she goes on an adventure to confront the monster. Teddy tells her that the monster is just an idea that she carries in her head. He is an optimist in a pessimist’s world.
In the magical world inside Lydia’s closet, Teddy’s purple fur makes for a striking contrast with the greyish palette featured in the game up to this moment. The game’s graphic-novel style uses color, editing, and framing to great effect. Even when I knew how a scene was going to end, I sensed that the developers anticipated this and used it as a way to create suspense. It was Alfred Hitchcock who famously observed that when the audience knows that a catastrophe is imminent, there rests an opportunity for suspense.
The game skillfully condenses different parts of Lydia’s life. We see her go from a child, overhearing things she shouldn’t, to being the disappointed adult daughter of a manipulative alcoholic. The ending of the game is particularly sharp because it makes a mockery of early promise. The developers have acknowledged that alcoholism is a subject that has touched their lives and that “Lydia” is inspired by their experiences. (According to an article last year in Business Insider, “30% of all Finns are affected by alcoholism.”)
I noticed a few typos in the dialogue. But I took them in stride (and read them to myself in a funny accent) because I was impressed with the overall design of the game. In its short playtime, “Lydia” covers a fair amount of emotionally treacherous ground.
Christopher Byrd is a Brooklyn-based writer who has been playing video games since the days of the Atari 2600. His writing has appeared in the New York Times Book Review, the Barnes & Noble Review, Al Jazeera America, the Guardian and elsewhere. Follow him on Twitter @Chris_Byrd.
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