Before I spent a decent chunk of time volunteering in an ambulance and hence in hospital ERs, Hospitals creeped me out. Why wouldn't they: they're scarily bright, they smell weird, and in our culture, well, they are often the place a loved one goes to die. They are also, obviously, the place people go to get better—even as a child, I understood that—but something usually needs to be wrong in the first place.
Disease is terrifying, no matter your age or life circumstances.
The reason I love horror media is because it often feels like the only genre of fiction that's completely honest about our very basic fears: of decay and death. Last week, I wrote about how Alien: Isolation was so therapeutic for me because it lets me put a big, ugly mug on my anxiety, to give some tangible substance to the things that haunt me. This week, I played a short indie JRPG that uses creepy-cute tropes to cut right to the heart of those feelings.
Compared to Isolation, SpitBlaze's Ghost Hospital is at once more playful (it's a cute, 16-bit style RPG with adorable ghost characters) and more achingly real, with "VO" from the main character's inner thoughts that is pure poison. Those are the kinds of thoughts depressed and anxious folks often have—that we're awful, that our families are better off without us, that there is nothing to love here.
It's rough, raw, ugly stuff, and Ghost Hospital pulls no punches with it.
I really enjoyed playing the game, which sets you in the role of Robin, a young woman who suffers anxiety and depression, and finds herself, inexplicably, in an ER for the undead.
Understandably freaked out, a kindly Doctor (Dr. Poe!) tries to calm her, while her blood-red inner thoughts blare on about being worthless. There's comfort here, in the helper characters—like Poe and Alex, a ghost boy who wants to help—and Carna, the main villain, putting on a face on fear that we can all recognize. But there's nothing as terrible as illness—physical or mental, or both—tearing a person apart from the inside.
It's such a cute and happy game—except when it REALLY isn't. And that's what I loved best about Ghost Hospital. It understands that those wild swings between confidence and utter panic, between comfort and terror, are only a heartbeat away. That there is no controlling them, only living with them.
Is it a little on-the-nose in some ways? Sure. But you'll know right away from the twee aesthetic and too-real red text if this is something you'll be onboard with. I know I was.