How HackyZack Helped Its Creator Explore His Anxiety

A cheerful pixelated platformer probably isn’t somewhere you’d expect to find deep themes of mental health but according to its creator, that’s just what you’ll find in the soon-to-be-released HackyZack. Yes, precision platformers can inspire emotions — often rage, frustration, and transcendent happiness when you finally succeed — but they rarely explore them.

But Zack Bell, HackyZack’s creator, found himself using his game as a way to explore his own emotional states, as he explains to Kill Screen.

So let’s get to it: HackyZack is about living with social anxiety—trying to escape its grasp by imprinting it onto a person or object that simulates comfort and security. For HackyZack’s little sprite, the balls are the only way to “win and survive.” Though like the people we cling to for comfort—whether it’s unhealthy or not—the balls are never things the player can directly control. These themes started to emerge organically once Bell started developing the game. “When I analyzed all of the mechanics, the settings, and the mood, I could easily pick out parallels between the game and my past,” he said. Now, most of the mechanics—and not only the balls—are tied to the underlying narrative.

Bell goes on to describe the connections he found between his game and his life, which he began to intentionally include once he noticed the parallels. HackyZack’s mental health themes are not the sort of thing you’ll notice if you’re not looking for them, apparently, but we’ll be keeping an eye out for them when the game arrives later this year.

[Kill Screen]