Heavy Rain, Or How I Learned to Play with Life

At age four, I drowned. My mom was busy weeding in the backyard. I wasn’t planning on it. I didn’t mean to fail my Big-Wheel mission, but still, I returned to the checkpoint with wet socks, staring across the luscious emerald field that was my pool cover and that had just folded over me, clinging to my lanky body like saran wrap. When I awoke, my mom was shaking, and cursing herself for not seeing me sink. I remember telling her it wasn’t her fault. I told her about the box that the pool cover came in and how it had a picture of an elephant standing on someone else’s pool cover, and, I’m lighter than an elephant! I told her, I can ride across it, gliding on over to the other side of our backyard to trample the weeds threatening to strangle my mom’s geraniums (for her). When I tried to run back to the bike, telling her that I just needed to increase my speed to make it, she grabbed my shirt, knuckle white, and gave me a time-out.

In some ways, I’m still that child. I tend to think the most important thing when accomplishing a task is seeing what can be done within your power to succeed. I like poor odds. I remember how intoxicating it felt to pedal so fast that the pedals spun out from under me, and the only thing keeping me upright was my grip on the handlebars, not any one else’s. I didn’t have to think about what it would be like to watch that, to watch someone live recklessly or how it’d feel to lose someone. I didn’t think my mom was anything but a worrier, and a control-freak. I never told my boyfriend this. I wonder if I did, if he still would have bought me Heavy Rain.

When playing the opening to Heavy Rain, I cried. I cried because it was like someone had reached into my head, found that pool memory, and switched the point-of-viewon me. The camera was now focused on what it is like to lose a child. There was no smiling on the wind. There was a room with the air thinning. My hands shook. My throat constricted. I was in a game where you have to make tough choices for the ones you love, and most won’t benefit you at all. In the opening of the game you have to live through watching one of your sons die. No matter how fast I moved, no matter how many times I restarted it, there is no way to keep him alive. My wife in the game leaves because of it. I gain custody (on the weekends) of my second son who then is captured by The Origami Killer, and I spend the rest of the game deciphering his cryptic messages through challenges that ask: How far are you willing to go for someone else?

If grappling with a character’s inability wasn’t enough, the game switches POV’s so often (between that of a reporter, a jaded old detective, and a drug-addicted profiler) that it makes it impossible to latch onto one character. The ways you interact between these POV’s directly affects how the case unravels—if you live, if he lives, who gets this information, who can or cannot help you in the final showdown—which means over-invested into one storyline, or person, can cause you to lose. I never played a game that made me question how much trust I put in my character to succeed without help. I didn’t like it, at first. Who likes a world that asks your frame of reference to be called into question, to be juxtaposed beside others, to be compared by the things you did do or didn’t do and to see those consequences? Who likes to face themselves in game-play? Who likes to see their mistakes snowball into other lives that then become yours at the switch of a cut-scene? The game, in many ways, was asking me to let go of control.

The first time I played, I let the killer survive. I called my boyfriend and told him of all people, I let the one person off the hook that needed the most to die. Of all people to get away with being pretty much okay I let the one get away who did whatever they wanted to do, with no respect to others, and with little consideration to the consequences of their actions. Of all the people to let go I let the one live that did not stop to think how their actions could hurt another, because their actions were in direct response to alleviating their own feelings. In a way, I wasn’t surprised that over-committing to that character (as I enjoyed them from the start and wanted to make them succeed and totally ignored the others) would cost me, but I didn’t know how much it would cost me until I played the game for the second time with my boyfriend.

After the first playthrough I wondered about how easy it is to live like this, to do whatever it is that pleases your perspective and to frankly screw over the other, by simply not taking the time to understand what it is like from their perspective. On that day that I drowned, I was furious at my mom for putting me in a timeout. I was mad because she stopped my play.

On the second time I played the game, my boyfriend and I alternated roles. We each had two POV’s to play, and we tried our best to play as well as we could to give as much chance of success for others. Playing this way was scary in a way that rivaled the tension of the game for me. I had to hand over the control, knowing that whatever he did would change the landscape of my game. I had to step back and say, go on, and hope that the doors opened, or shut, would actually benefit us on our mission to save the boy who the father lost by mistake. I had to admit how helpless I felt when watching the joystick jerk left when it should have gone right or right when it should have gone left, and how even more helpless I felt when the same happened to me, and he was beside me watching, urging, hoping that the chainsaw wouldn’t kill me, or that the electric fence I was crawling underneath did not get too close to my fingers or skin or touch. At points, I wanted to say, I am done, but doing so would kill off half of the game, literally, and force the little boy, slowly drowning, to continue to drown without anyone coming for his rescue. At points, he asked, is this still fun, and at times I said, NO, BUT IT IS IMPORTANT TO PLAY THROUGH THE NOT-FUN PART. IT IS PART OF THE CHALLENGE, LOVE.

Wanting to give up on actions that someone else had to answer for taught me that to be in a relationship with another also means to be in an honest relationship with yourself. Step up. Commit to the actions that you make, and admit to the flaws created, and let them do the same. Sure, there were moments where I would have been better off leaving that room, or opening another door, or leaving that creepy old house, or never kissing her, but at the time I did, and all I could do after I made those moves was to see what they caused, and counter what negative effects that I could, and communicate to my other POV what I wish, and will change.

We spend twenty-six hours to finish. We didn’t sleep. We played until we saved the boy, and until we could catch our breath and collapse on the couch in a screen-fazed headache. His head fell against my shoulder. I wrapped my arms around him and pulled him close. Our virtual mission was bent on working together to save a boy who was once lost. In our real-life mission, we were seeking to figure out a way to game together in a way that made the other feel vital. When our virtual selves met up at the end to lift up the gutter, and lift the body’s boy out of the water, we saw how much easier it looked to lift that body with more than one person.

I can’t say that I don’t drive fast still, or walk too close to the edge on a bridge to see how the water swirls and breaks against the rocks. I can say, however, that there is that pang in my heart now that thinks if this happens, what will happen next, each time I’m met with an action that could or not cause me harm. Heavy Rain taught me to play, but to play as if someone you love is watching you move. To live in your world and the world in the game as if there is consequences to others, because there are, even if you choose to not see them, they will see you, and be changed by your action and inaction. Their turn will happen without your say.