Help a Sad Boy Escape Anhedonia in Upcoming VR Experience ‘Hue’

“Some days, life is blaring with bawdy and bright banderoles. Other days, it can be a little more pasty and pallid. Hue, our protagonist, has had his ups and downs like any of us, but lately the grays have overshadowed the greens and roses has lost their luster. If Hue could remember what the blues looked like, he’d have them, but all of the color’s gone missing from his world.”

With that chromatic introduction, Hue makes a good argument for being a game about depression, though the titular Hue is also “not depressed, per se.” He’s clearly suffering from anhedonia, though — a symptom of depression, the inability to feel pleasure, the loss of interest in previously enjoyable activities, the metaphorical colorless world.

Created by Nicole McDonald, it’s a VR game that is being developed in episodes. Alternatively, it’s an interactive film or virtual-reality narrative, but that’s splitting hairs. It invites its audience to help Hue to embrace life in its fullest spectrum by gently prodding him and helping him remember the good parts of his life.

It was exhibited last month at Sundance’s VR Palace, where Adi Robinson tried it out for The Verge. In Robinson’s estimation, it isn’t entirely successful yet. She found it unintentionally comical and not quite intuitive enough, noting that tugging Hue around in a trial-and-error format led to awkward moments. On the topic of mental health, she also found its message a bit shallow.

My bigger issue is that Hue seems like it’s simply skating over the surface of something deep and dangerous. Depression is an overwhelming experience that doesn’t usually feel clean and delicate and beautiful, at least not for anyone I’ve ever known. It might appear as blunt apathy or violent self-hatred or soul-scouring despair, but none of that comes through in a character drifting around an airy and immaculate apartment reading inspirational letters from an old professor.

I don’t mean to be glib here — people with giant apartments and caring mentors can feel as awful as anyone else, and not every piece of art needs to be rendered in gritty realism. And the fact that I feel moved enough to criticize this piece shows how far virtual reality art has come in the past few years. Hue’s character just comes too close to a treacly, unintentional parody of modern-day Byrons who pour out their angst on typewriters in coffee shops.

But even if Hue doesn’t quite achieve the depths it aspires to, it’s a rare thing. VR experiences that explore depression aren’t yet abundant, so we’ll be interested to see how Hue continues to develop

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