How This Game Mirrored My Own Reconciliation With Trauma

'Home Is Where The Hearth Is' is about finding a home in the wreckage of crisis.

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Feb 11 2019, 3:00pm

Image courtesy of InfectedBytes

Free Play is a place where we write about interesting, entertaining, or enlightening free games you can play right now. Content warning for discussion of sexual assault.

I never wanted to leave here. This had been my home for two years, just mine. The paint splatters on the wood floors were mine. The cigarette ash stains on the windowsill were mine. The dust collecting on the top of my bookshelf that I could never manage to reach on my own was mine.

I remember standing in my empty apartment, all my things packed in the back of a moving truck on its way to a completely different neighborhood. From the front door, I could see right into what had been my bedroom. I thought about what happened there almost a year before. Furious tears filled my eyes, furious at the fact that I had to leave.

It took me almost a year after I was sexually assaulted in my own apartment to save up the money I needed to move out. For months I tried to reconcile what was my sanctuary, my home, with what became a site of trauma. I didn’t want to leave. I wanted this space to stay mine, just like it had been before. But I couldn’t get around the fact that the safety and sanctity it had once provided for me felt taken away. I worked for several months with my therapist in trying to resolve the conflicting feelings I was dealing with, and after a while, it became clear that the only option was to leave.

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Image courtesy of InfectedBytes

InfectedBytes’s Home Is Where The Hearth Is is not about sexual assault, but it does ask us to think about how trauma changes the way we think about “home,” and how much of a struggle it is to make a new place yours. (As a heads up, to explain why that is, I'll need to talk about the whole game, with spoilers.) It begins with a still of a traveler sailing through rough, stormy waters. The next scene, I see him lying on a snowy shore, his boat completely wrecked in the background. Shivering, he picks himself up, and I assume control. Just behind me is a small shack, and all around me are various resources I can collect.

As time passes, a health meter with a heart on one end and a snowflake on the other begins to diminish. If it drains completely, my character begins to shiver again, falling to the ground, only to wake up again without any of the resources I just acquired. I realize that I need to stay warm, but because there’s a hole in the roof, the rain repeatedly extinguishes the fire. So, I quickly build up my health meter as best I can, and run out for just enough supplies to repair the roof.

I figure out that I have to complete several of these repair processes around my shack before I can finally fix my boat and get off this arctic island. I think about me, standing in my new apartment for the first time, boxes stacked high around me, an air mattress on the floor. I was looking for an escape, and like my traveller friend, I crash landed somewhere unfamiliar. A new neighborhood where I knew nothing and no one might as well have been a desolate tundra. Whenever I got home from the end of the day and saw the endless processes of unpacking, organizing, and putting away ahead of me, I just wanted to curl up on my air mattress and go the fuck to sleep.

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Image courtesy of InfectedBytes

In the game, I complete each step needed to survive here. In real life, I do the same. In the game, I fashion the hay on the floor into a bed. In real life, I order an actual mattress, this time filled with foam instead of air. In the game, I tell myself the monotony of collecting and repair will be worth it just to leave this place for somewhere better. In real life, I tell myself I have to make it just livable enough, just until I can leave this place for somewhere better.

These processes were just supposed to be a means to a greater end. But slowly, something shifts in my feelings. Instead of simply fixing something, one of the “repair” steps I take in the game results in me laying out a pretty rug. And this is familiar, too. One day, after I get home from work, I unpack some small trinkets that once decorated the shelves of my past apartment. Useless, unnecessary to “survive,” but now they make me smile when I see them on my new dresser. Slowly, this new place has begun to bring me more comfort than my last apartment ever did.

Eventually, I complete all the steps needed to fix my boat. After I deliver the last set of resources I need to the crash site, the game gives me two pictures to choose from: one of my shack and one of my boat. I didn’t mean to come here. Crashing on this island, I’m assuming, wasn’t in my traveller’s plans. I never wanted to leave my last apartment. Moving to this new place wasn’t in my plans. My mouse hovered over the boat option.

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Image courtesy of InfectedBytes

But then, I thought about the pretty rug I had laid out in my shack, and the little burst of happiness it brought me. I thought about the little trinkets on the top of my dresser, and how they make me smile when I pick out something to wear in morning. My mouse moves to the picture of the shack, and I click.

You can play or download the game for free over at itch.io.

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