Will O’Neill’s games can be hard to play — they don’t tackle pleasant subjects. Actual Sunlight is well known for its unflinching depiction of depression and suicide, and Little Red Lie takes a hard, cynical look at our relationship with honesty, and how that affects our relationships with others.
Destructoid contributor Charlotte Cutts recently argued that, taken together, the two also share a common message: that as much as we might believe that money can’t by happiness, its lack can certainly buy suffering.
You can look through Evan’s bank account at an ATM (heavily in debt with no savings), and Evan is depicted as feeling guilty about spending his money on video games, crucially, because buying them seems to be a compulsive action for him. Money feeds Evan’s addictive and self-loathing behaviours, and his debt is in part a consequence of his illness. When he smashes up his apartment in a fit of self-hatred, it is an irreversible act of self-harm, since he has no money to replace things. The inability of Evan to move up in his life in any way due to his financial situation, self-imposed and due to general economic decay, hangs in the air. Money money money is all that matters in Evan’s life, at work or at home.
It’s difficult to say whether an Evan Winters character would be able to get on top of his demons if he weren’t stuck in the cycle that a lot of people in their late twenties/early thirties experience: not only the inability to save up funds and to hit milestones but entering into an unhealthy relationship with money. Because of his compulsive ways, extra funds would fly through his fingers. Yet he does not have the confidence of an Arthur Fox (see below), so the money will eventually run dry. Unless the extra money would fix his shattered confidence? Unlikely; money as an emotional crutch is always just a temporary solution, as is depicted in Little Red Lie.
Continue over to Destructoid for Cutt’s analysis of Little Red Lie, which looks at income inequality from both sides.
O’Neill’s take on wealth has merit. While the maxim “Money can’t by happiness” is broadly true, studies consistently show that income inequality can have a devastating impact on both mental health and life expectancy. Money can buy security, therapy, preventative care and other necessities for our wellbeing. O’Neill’s games are dark, but they illustrate a point we’re rarely encouraged to consider: that a society that cares for its least fortunate will almost certainly be a healthier society overall.