Social anxiety isn’t much fun unless you’re really into overthinking all sorts of everyday interactions to the point of paralysis. It does, however, make for an entertaining time in The Average Everyday Adventures of Samantha Browne.
Samantha Browne is a student living in a dorm with a communal kitchen, so getting up to make a bowl of oatmeal is rife with opportunities for awkwardness. But what’s a girl to do when she gets hungry? As players, it’s on us to make the decisions that lead to a successful snack, but as Andrea Ayres of Lemonsucker Games explains to Indie Games (with a few minor spoilers), there is no easy way to get through what should be an easy task.
“With anxiety, I’ve always felt like I was choosing between two terrible situations.” says Ayres. For the player to feel that sense of anxiety that the character was going through, each decision had to be a failure, on some level. From Ayres’ own experience, this is what social anxiety feels like. It is a sense that all of your options are awful in some way.
Samantha has a stress bar that fills up as players work their way through the game. Every single decision, right or wrong, will add something to this bar. ‘Correct’ decisions often add less, but they still all contribute to increasing Samantha’s anxiety. There is no optimum path through the game where she doesn’t feel any stress at all. There is only a slightly better path that still leaves Samantha’s stress level on the verge of overwhelming her.
“On the rare occasion I’m at an event that requires my engaging with other people face-to-face, it’s a constant battle between two thoughts: running out of the room and hiding in the bathroom, or standing there and trying to make small talk. Neither of which really appeal to me.” says Ayres.
The result is a game that can feel unsatisfying in some ways–we’re wired to want to win games, and navigating social anxiety isn’t a win/lose situation. No matter what path the player chooses through this visual novel, Samantha Browne is going to have an uncomfortable time. Maybe she gets the oatmeal, maybe not, but her anxiety is coming with her either way.
It might feel unsatisfying, but it also feels real.