Metacognition: Avoidance

We’re back with our “thinking about thinking” series! If you’re interested in our previous deep thoughts, check out the Metacognition series.  Join us for some deep thoughts (and maybe the occasional not-so-deep thought) about gaming. If you find one you’d like to answer, you can either comment below or write a post and share the link so we can all read your fantastic thoughts!

What game are you afraid of playing?

What an odd question.

Well, I’m not a fan of horror games, so I guess that means that I’m “afraid” to play them, but I don’t think this question is really that superficial.

I’m afraid of playing That Dragon, Cancer.

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In therapy, there is something called “transference” and “countertransference.” Transference relates to something that occurs in the client-to-therapist dynamic and isn’t really pertinent to this conversation, but countertransference is, basically, when a therapist has an emotional reaction to one of their clients. This can be anger at a client for exhibiting certain behaviors, or a feeling of protectiveness because they, themselves, wanted a “protector” in a similar situation, or any number of emotional reactions that could happen.

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Some people say that this is a bad thing, and it’s certainly not something that is ideal for any therapist to experience, because then their focus has gone off of their client and on to themselves. But emotions happen, as inconvenient as they can be. The most important thing is that the therapist recognize it’s happening, and receive supervision for themselves.

But, when left unchecked, countertransference can cause a therapist to become too attached, too close, and – bottom line – unable to maintain that professional distance that is required for the therapeutic relationship to work. It holds up a mirror to the therapist, not only switching their focus onto themselves, but also showing the therapist the marks and cracks that aren’t as healed as they thought they were.

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What does this have to do with That Dragon, Cancer?

Well, I’ve never had cancer, or had a child with cancer. Growing up I had something called ulcerative colitis, which bla bla bla long story short is an autoimmune disease that attacks the large intestine. I won’t horrify you with details, but most of my childhood was spend in pain, very sick, not able to go to school, and with an incredibly limited diet and fun medicine side-effects. To make up for what I didn’t have, my life was filled with a lot of hospital time, medical procedures, and medicine with multi-syllabic names that no child should have to learn how to say. I still deal with the fallout of taking some of those medications, even though I’ve been off them for over 15 years. All this to say, it was a pretty serious thing I had going on.

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In case you were wondering, there are no novels out about brave children and teenagers battling ulcerative colitis. There are, however, many books about children or teens with cancer.

It’s a special type of betrayal, when you start off healthy only to wake up one day to find that your own body has turned on you. And I saw myself in those novels, even though the disease name was different than mine. Interestingly, cancer and ulcerative colitis even have medicines in common, so I saw these characters not only as betrayed as I was and their lives in similar upheaval, but I saw my medicines, too.

I’m afraid to play That Dragon, Cancer because I’m afraid of not being able to maintain that distance that keeps us “safe” from what happens on the screen. Sure, it’s a sad game and I’m sure many people have cried at the plight of the family, and may mourn for the loss of those pixel people (or the actual people whose story the game is based upon). But I’m not sure I want to play a game that could force me to mourn myself again. I’ve been there, I’ve done that. Many times, in fact.

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To contrast, there are other games that have hit close to home for me that I have played and enjoyed, and sometimes games have surprised me in the middle with something that just pulled a little too hard on my memories. I’m certainly not against a game making a person (or me) feel things.

But I suppose, at the end of the day, I’m afraid of a game holding up a mirror and showing me cracks that, deep down, I’m afraid aren’t as healed as I like to think they are.

What about you? Is there any topic you’re afraid of seeing in a game? Have you ever avoided a game because of the emotional reaction you thought you’d have to it? Let me know in the comments!

Thanks for stopping by, and I’ll see you soon,
~ Athena

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  1. I honestly don’t know if I have ever not played a game for psychological reasons. I know I was afraid to beat Resident Evil. I was terrified as a kid when I first played it and I have never been able to beat it. I have beaten 0, 4, 5, 6, and 7, but never the first three.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. If there is any game to be frightened of, it’s Resident Evil, in my opinion. I’m not a horror fan, and so I commend anyone who is able to play through any game in that genre. You have a very impressive RE resume, though!


  2. What a great question, and sadly I don’t think I can answer it. When I think of games that scare me, I see things at face value lime resident evil stuff, jump scares etc. I’ve played some psychologically frightening things but nothing that as you said held up a mirror infront of me.

    I think the things that could hit me hard aren’t typically done in videogames and I encounter them more in movies or TV.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I will never, ever touch this game or any like it for reasons of my own. Seems like a pretty natural response to me. Fear tells you that you probably shouldn’t stick your hand into an open flame so you don’t pointlessly hurt yourself, this is just the mental equivalent.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. And that’s very, very fair. There’s something to be said for confronting feelings like that, but there is a whole lot to also be said for listening to your gut and avoiding the thing that can hurt you.

      Obviously, I opt for the second one in this case, too.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I will be staying the hell away from that game. I’m terrified of cancer, seeing people dying in hospitals, and surgery. If a game is advertised to have any of those things in it, I’m going to stay far, far, far away. Sometimes I come across those things unexpectedly in games (the ending to the Last of Us comes to mind). When that happens, I break the mirror and it hurts me a lot. Took me a few days to recover from The Last of Us 😦

    In conclusion, yay for cheerful Mario games! 😀

    Liked by 1 person

  5. While I don’t know that there is, or ever has been a game that I’ve avoided solely on emotions, I’m reluctant to play Papers, Please. I have it and do *want* to play it at some point, but I’ve been avoiding it because having to make decisions concerning the welfare of others (even fictional others) reads to me as super stressful. Like, I think I just need to be in the right frame of mind to play it. (Though, I guess I first have to figure out what frame of mind that is!)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Papers, Please was surprisingly emotional! That can definitely be a stressful or uncomfortable position to be in, for sure, and I can see that it’s a game to be in a “frame of mind” for… I’m always interested in knowing what people avoid at all costs and what helps them overcome that fear, so if you figure out what frame of mind is needed, please come back and let me know!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Apologies beforehand for the wall of text.

    Like Imtiaz Ahmed, I find myself avoiding series and movies (and booksm in my case) more often than games. Maybe this is because games are still made for the kind of enjoyment associated with play, for the most part. Certainly, there has been a turn for slow-paced and reflective works, but titles like What Remains of Edith Finch, Emily is Away, or the game you mentioned in the post still are relatively new.

    I tend to avoid authors/directors based on their previous takes on some (personal) sensitive topics. I mean, I know I will not be watching that upcoming Star Wars series by the same guys that brought us Game of Thrones and I will never read an Alan Moore or Frank Miller comic. However, outside of the indie sphere, games do not make it easy for us to identify a single author or distinctively personal point of view. I think that there are two things that could explain this:

    1) Games are a massive undertaking with loads of people working to achieve it. Unless a big name like Hideo Kojima is on board, you will not get an “auteur” videogame.
    2) Publishers will try to appeal to as many people as they can, so, in general, they will make sure that developers steer clear of themes or takes that might alienate players. At best you can expect studios and developing companies to have a signature way of telling stories.

    There are exceptions, of course. I was ready to suffer through The Witcher 3, given how horrible the first two games were with regards to women and the books’ characterisations.

    On further thought, there are two topics I do avoid. One is child abuse, I could never play the Binding of Isaac, even though as far as I understand, the game’s ending does not trivialise the topic. I am still on the fence about playing Papo & Yo, because it uses fantasy as a way to address child abuse and poverty (and because I want to support South-American game developers). I also avoid games about modern and contemporary armed conflicts, especially if they are shooters. Up until I read this article I just thought war didn’t interest me as a subject. But I have played games about war, only not the ones that glorify it or present the setting as a little playground where the playable character can grow at the cost of the destruction of a country. Games whose setting are so called “third-world countries” or “banana republics” are at the top of my s***-list. And I guess the reason is I live in one such country. While I was not alive during my country’s dirty war, my family’s stories about the atrocities they witnessed and lived through are not something I can compartamentalise for a game.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Walls of text are always welcome!

      At the end of the day, topics that are very personal to us and make us feel most vulnerable are going to be the ones that we try to avoid It’s only natural to want to protect ourselves, after all. It seems like you avoid games that trivialize the lives of individuals who are helpless or less powerful. And from your story, it’s no wonder. Personally, I don’t think you’re missing anything other than frustration, but you’re right that when things are personal, they are, well, personal.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Lately my energy for frustration is at a premium, so yay for not getting unnecessarily frustrated. I liked the idea you and Aether were talking about down the thread: that considering the media we do and do not consume can help us in the quest for self-knowledge.

        I just realised I sort of stole part of my explanation for not liking war shooters from Chinua Achebe’s take on Heart of Darkness. That is: the novel uses Africa as a tool to make you consider the humanity of the main character and the morality of European dudes benefitting from colonisation, all the while stripping the place and its people from any humanity (funny how Spec Ops: The Line did *exactly the same* as the novel it was inspired by, instead of improving on that). So no original thoughts there.

        Liked by 1 person

  7. Games, movies, shows, whatever media, it does often hold a mirror up to ourselves. Have us take a look at things we may rather not, some of which do bring up some negative emotions in ourselves.

    I’m in the habit of avoiding suicide scenes. It’s not a complete deal-breaker for me, but if it’s something a work revolves around, not really interested. Especially with how cavalierly some works treat it, it’s just a bit I’d prefer not to have on my mind.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Absolutely. I think that’s one of the most important things about any art: giving us (forcing us) to deal with issues that we might otherwise ignore.

      Having said that, I think it’s perfectly reasonable to avoid art that makes us face things that are too difficult for us at a particular time. It makes us realize/consider that avoidance, as well.

      On a slightly unrelated note, I agree that there are some topics, like suicide, that should not be treated lightly, period.

      Liked by 2 people

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