After a Bipolar Diagnosis, a Comedian Finds Meaning in ‘Prey’

Content notice: Spoilers for Prey (2017). In linked articles, strong language and discussion of substance use and suicide.

Over at Paste, comedian and author Brock Wilbur shares the story of how Prey (2017) helped him confront his newly-diagnosed bipolar disorder.

It’s an essential piece of writing on games and mental health, so continue over to Paste to read the whole, substantial thing. But if you’re still reading this and yot haven’t already gone and done that, here’s Wilbur’s remarkable take on how analogous Prey’s two distinct upgrade paths are to the process of understanding and accepting a bipolar diagnosis:

It was in these divided playthroughs that I learned more about how to think of myself and my brain problem. As a human with no changes, no superpowers or detriments, you can still make it through Prey. It has far less, shall we say, flair? There are no highs or lows in gameplay on nearly the scale I was used to. It was normal. It was disappointing. On the Human Enhancement playthrough, I saw how self-improvement could make life easy. You don’t necessarily earn your upward mobility here, but at least it makes sense. Then there was the Typhon Only playthrough. In this one, an alien DNA is changing the very make-up of your body and thoughts and that adjustment has no patience for your humanity. Maybe it is not inherently evil, but it does stem from a place that seems unrecognizable. And the powers you acquire, as indicated by the teleportation, are all about hiding, deceit, and, more damningly, shortcuts.

One of the hardest parts about accepting a diagnosis of Idiot Lying Brain is finding a way to dig back up and re-evaluate every story you can remember (or half-remember) about a time you were not you—and be honest with yourself about it. In which situations were you a totally aware human being who made bad, petty or cruel choices? In which situations were you under the influence and at best in the co-pilot role? Obviously, neither of these situations are the kinds of things you can explain away or sweep under a rug with an excuse of mental unrest. Important, but not off the list. Then it becomes about plowing through texts, emails, DMs and such from people you mostly don’t speak to anymore. Taking stock requires trying to believe everything that anyone has ever said about you in your life, whether you thought they were wrong, or lying, or deliberately trying to destroy you. (Oh, you don’t have that last category? That’s… for the best.)

There’s always a solution, no matter your situation. Where there’s a will, you don’t have to die alone.

This is all to say that if Prey’s Typhon powers are all about deceit and shortcuts, what you’ll soon discover upon re-examining your entire life is that nothing could be more human than tricking yourself into erasing every detail that could complicate the image of how you want to be seen. As someone who fetishized David Carr’s The Night of the Gun (a book about exploring your brain’s fake history from a journalist’s perspective) I suppose I was damned to do this eventually. No matter how you might come to taking this on, it sucks. I promise. What unravels first is all of the shortcuts. When you realize easy, how second hand, how Your Nature you’ve made the process of ignoring even the mildest criticism… well, those shortcuts are now forever off-limits to you. If you want to change.

That’s only a small look at the full piece, so read on at Paste.

If you’re interested in more of Wilbur’s thoughts on mental health, he’s shared more in an interview with Live Through This, a project that collects stories of suicide attempt survivors.

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