Content warning: Graphic cartoon imagery, discussion of trauma and abuse.
On its surface, Nathalie Lawhead’s Everything Is Going to Be Ok is an incredibly vicious experience filled with the same kind of violent, sadistic comedy that was popular back when ‘Happy Tree Friends‘ was a thing. But when horrible things happen to the cute bunnies and cartoon creatures in this interactive zine, the pain serves a deeper purpose.
The absurd, terrible scenarios are presented with shades of familiarity. As an adorable bunny is slowly impaled, you have to offer it hopeful statements to keep it holding out a little longer. As another bunny, you ask for help after being cut in two, only to be told you needs to be more appealing to find support on social media. And if you can wrap up your pain into an appealing enough package, then what? How does hitting a certain follower count help you in any tangible way?
It’s a scary question at a time when many people are turning to crowdfunding for their health care, but it’s one worth asking.
In a lesser experience, these vignettes would be unbearably cynical — a rejection of hope, optimism and positivity in the face of pain. But here, there’s a different approach. In an interview with IndieGames, Lawhead ruminates on the necessity and power of optimism.
That optimism, to Lawhead, is what makes all of these horrible things a bit more survivable. “Optimists seem to make it further than pessimists. If the game where about pessimists it would be a very short game. Pessimists have the good sense of just melting into a puddle of resignation and bitterness. Optimists somehow never quit. I’m poking a lot of fun at the level of ridiculous positivity, optimism, and hope required to get through some of life’s struggles. It’s a satire on hopelessness.” says Lawhead.
Optimism, then, is a way of moving forward. Dark events tend to mire the people they catch. They drag them into a mindset and place they cannot escape, perpetually hurting the person even if the event is, technically, over. That’s not to oversimplify the suffering of people both optimistic and pessimistic, as optimism can be seen to be completely absurd throughout Everything is going to be OK, but it often gives the chance of moving on.
“I am not saying that there is any right way to cope.” says Lawhead. “I fail at this constantly… but when bad things happen to me, I think about this. It can be really hard, and sometimes it seems like life is out just to destroy you, but if you can be as stubborn as possible about not letting that grief define who you are, that’s transcendence. That’s when you’re really going to be ok.”
Even as the game takes on a dark view of platitudes and the ways society fails people who need even the smallest amount of support, it embraces the power of hope and healing. One chapter let’s you look at the monster in the mirror and say (more or less), ‘Hey, actually, I want to appreciate my own butt. Which is fantastic, whatever these distortions try to tell me.’ Still ridiculous, but also empowering.
Lawhead’s artist’s statement drives this idea home. In Everything is going to be OK, surviving trauma is a type of strength, and transcending survival is even greater.
I don’t think the icon, epitome, of strength should be how many people you can hurt, conquer, overcome, but how much of this abuse you can overcome. How long you can live with what happened to you. How strong you are for being here. How powerful you are for being strong because you have no other option but to be strong.
Surviving is one thing, but living with it is an entirely different fight, and I think this is where examples of real strength are.
If approached from this point of view then it is an obvious conclusion that you should be celebrated simply for being here.
You are normal for your imperfections, and the way you cope. You are the hero in the story of your life, and you have every right to be proud.
And if a few cute bunnies need to suffer horrible catastrophes to help players reach that conclusion, then their digital suffering might just be worth it.
If you’d like to learn more, check out Everything Is Going to Be Ok on itch.io, where it’s available in early access on a pay-what-you-want basis.