Body image is a complicated issue for a lot of us — what the mirror shows us is rarely what we wish we could see, and sometimes has little to do with reality. That dissonance between reflection and reality is the inspiration for The Mirror, a game by developer Kim McAuliffe.
In classic text-adventure style, The Mirror begins in a room:
The first rays of sunlight dismiss a dreamless sleep. Memories before today are hazy and few, but you are content. The small but comfortable bed lies under an east-facing window. A large, pretty dog warms your feet.
The only door is to the south. Someone has rather pleasingly arranged breakfast on a nearby table. The west wall is entirely covered with gear and equipment.
The north wall is a stark contrast, holding only a single Mirror. As your face enters the reflection, the Mirror speaks!
“Welcome, brave adventurer! My magic reveals your truest self. Touch the glass to discover your destiny and begin your journey.
From there, you take on the role assigned to you and do your best to succeed. Are you really the Warrior the mirror says you are, or the Wizard?
You can play The Mirror’s beta version for free in your browser, so go check it out — we’re heading into spoiler territory.
For McAuliffe, the question of the mirror’s honesty is a personal one. “I realized at one point that what I saw in the mirror was not at all related to reality or what other people saw when they looked at me — that the mirror was effectively a liar.”
For most of us, those lies are about weight, beauty or self-percieved flaws. In the game, they’re about stats and RPG classes. McAuliffe took inspiration from The Wonderful World of Eamon, a role-playing adventure game released for the Apple II in 1980. Eamon had perma-death, so a new character would be rolled up every time the player died. “It was my first RPG experience and my first experience with stats; I didn’t entirely understand what CHA was or why some characters would befriend me in one life and attack me on sight in another. I really wanted them to be my friends so it was frustrating.”
“I wanted to make a game about body image, and the idea for The Mirror is basically ‘What if you got your stats from a magic mirror every day instead of a character, but the mirror always lied?'”
As you can probably imagine, the result isn’t good, which is entirely the point.
“I’ve struggled with body image, disordered eating and the eventual realization that the fat and unattractive image I saw in the mirror had no connection with reality — I was incapable of seeing myself objectively. This scary disconnection with reality was the beginning of a conscious effort to separate how I might look on a given day from any judgment about what kind of person I was or whether or not I deserved food, love, or happiness.”
She designed The Mirror after playing Depression Quest and discovering how effectively games could convey serious messages. It has since been shown as an IndieCade 2016 Digital Selection.
McAuliffe hopes her game will help other players see that they’ve been allowing their mirror too much power over their self-image and daily life — that the negative things we see in ourselves are as realistic as being told we’re warriors, handed swords, and sent off to fight.