Anxiety disorders aren’t any fun, but they sure can feel ridiculous. On one hand, you’re dealing with a serious mental health issue. On the other hand, you might recognize that (say) making a phone call isn’t actually a life-or-death situation, no matter what your body and mind are currently insisting.
The Awkward Steve Duology gets right to the heart of that horrible, no good, very bad juxtaposition. Made by Oh, a Rock! Studios, it’s an FMV visual novel in two acts, both dealing with the frustrations of anxiety.
The first, A Stranger Comes Calling, is about answering the door when someone knocks. Guided by your choices, Awkward Steve needs to overcome anxiety to open the door and find out who’s out there waiting. But you can’t just answer a door, not with the amount of anxiety Steve’s carrying around. So you need to help him find the right combination of self-soothing activities to work out the anxiety. Talk to the internet. Sit in a box. Pet some rabbits. You’ll still have to open the door eventually, but you can make it possible by working through the anxiety first.
Don’t Turn Your Back on the Ocean is the second chapter. It finds Steve at a party — hiding in the bathroom. He’s stuck behind another door. There are people waiting outside to use the bathroom. It’s a nightmare. And once he runs out of toothpaste tubes to read, he still needs to find a way outside.
The execution is a bit ridiculous, but the situations aren’t. For a lot of us, they’re probably frighteningly relatable. Thankfully, the game treats anxiety with humor and respect. Ocean is particularly lovely, telling an emotional story in the midst of its absurdity. Developer Paul Franzen’s portrayal makes Steve into a likable, relatable character even when he’s hiding under a table to avoid answering the door.
That may be because he’s exploring a familiar scenario. In an interview with FMV World, he explained his personal connection with A Stranger Comes Calling.
I wouldn’t say that I hate talking to people I don’t know, but it definitely puts me on edge. When I was younger, before I’d call anyone on the phone, I’d write down what I wanted to say so I wouldn’t trip over myself and accidentally tell the dentist that I love them. The concept and story for A Stranger Comes Calling took this social unease to an extreme — when there’s someone at the door, and you’re not expecting anyone, there’s a primal instinct to hide under the table or whatever and hope they just go away.
Both parts of the duology will be on display in August at the Smithsonian American Art Museum as part of the SAAM Arcade. You can also play them right now: The Awkward Steve Duology is available on Steam.