The oppressive and depressive strings haunt you from the start as Dear Mother finishes loading. There’s an imprisoned heart to greet you on the start menu and if that wasn’t enough symbolism to cause you to pause for just a few moments, the ensuing conversation once you get the game going makes it clear that you will have to make a choice. Depending on your personal beliefs, what follows will quite possibly infuriate you should you attempt to dodge devils raining down from the sky.
Fun isn’t something that gets worked into Dear Mother, instead the game wants to coax a response out of people. It wants them to feel something about the game’s premise:
[…] this is simply a game about people who use religion to propagate backwards, hateful thinking, however innocently.
Over on Newgrounds, where the game is hosted, the response from the community there has been mixed, many questioning the suitability of a dodge game to represent such concepts. I decided to ask the game’s creator – failnaut a.k.a. C.Y. – whether you could ever really win the game and just what had been his intentions with it.
Me: Is it humanly possible in Dear Mother to never collect any sin?
C.Y.: Nope, the game is designed so it’s impossible to win. I think of it as those battles you fight at the beginning of JRPGs where you’re up against ridiculous odds because your loss is part of the narrative.
Me: If you continue avoiding sin – does the game ever end?
C.Y.: Well, if you CAN avoid them forever, then no, it doesn’t, and that’s the point, really. You will always be under watch, and you’ll always be trying to avoid something, causing yourself immense stress as a result.
Me: How do you think people have taken to your play about with the concepts of what is good and what is evil in the game?
C.Y. Pretty well, but that’s not surprising – given it’s an autobiographical piece, there’s nothing to argue with. It’s not so much me saying “this is evil and this isn’t,” it’s more “this is what someone said to me, and how I was treated and had to cope as a result.” In the Newgrounds description I’ve made it clear that this isn’t a criticism of religion in general, just my experience of how it can affect one specific person, and my relationship with them.
Me: What were you hoping people would take away from the game?
C.Y.: That religion, when taken to extremes and used as a justification for hatred, is not going to end well for anyone you come into contact with. Some people find God because the idea of believing in something greater than themselves appeals to them. Unfortunately, some people seem to be using it as a means of controlling and forcing their beliefs on other people, which is a shame. Personally, I’m agnostic, so I’ve not got a dog in this fight, but I have noticed that there’s an immense amount of hatred coming from both sides of the religious/atheist debate, and I feel like it’s pretty suffocating and not at all constructive.
Me: It’s clear that you’ve put something very personal into this game – do you find that games are a useful medium for expressing oneself, like others might in poetry or drawing?
C.Y.: I do, I really do. Dear Mother happened because I sat down at my desk, in my new house, alone, and tried to process what had happened. Moments later I was booting up Stencyl and Pixen and going to work, because it’s what I do to occupy and express myself. The fascinating thing about games as a medium in comparison to most of art is that they’re interactive by default, and as a result of that you’re allowing people to live your experiences, to a certain degree. That’s a priceless advantage over poetry, or cinema.