Is it a coincidence that autobiographical games are the ones that seem to experiment with new storytelling ideas the most? Look at the infinite scrolling world of life and death in Passage (2007), the collage of frustrations in Dys4ia (2012), the awkward online conversations of Cibele (2015), and the interweaving of emotionally-charged 3D spaces in That Dragon, Cancer (2016).
We can now add to this list the latest game by Jenny Jiao Hsia, which recalls a night out drinking with friends, or at least the part where she had to look after one of them and get them to hospital. It’s called and i made sure to hold your head sideways, and was made for the FLATGAME Annual 2016, which tasked people with creating games that are played strictly by moving pieces around on a flat plane. The challenge also required the participants to make physical art for their entry, use no sound effects, and make it in a short time (a few hours, ideally).
Hsia’s game works by recalling the events of that night a scene at a time. It’s as if she’s relaying the information to her drunk friend the day after it all happened, as they can’t remember most of the night. It feels personal, intimate, and the scrappiness of the artwork helps with that—as the intended audience is a friend, and both of them are probably groggy, there’s no need for the lines to be drawn straight or the faces to be recognizable.
What i made sure to hold your head sideways is about, then, is piecing together fragments of memory. Each scene is found across the flat surface the camera pans across, but their arrangement is chaotic. While the camera moves from one to the next in chronological order, without its guidance you wouldn’t know where to even start, you’d be staring at a disjointed mosaic of messy lines and shapes. You’re totally dependent on the narrator to direct you through this jumbled map of memories.
The most interesting part of the game, however, is how your interaction with each scene reflects the nature of the story itself, and how it is being told. The idea is that you’re piecing together the separate components of a picture, bringing text, lines, colors, and shapes into unison so that they make sense. You do this by pressing the arrow keys and finding which one can be held to unify the image. As you do this, you press the three incorrect keys, and when you do this the parts of the picture shimmy, fidget, and shuffle. The overall effect is one that visually represents the difficulties of recollecting a drunken memory.
Hsia manages to double down on her design here too, as she uses the same method to represent the total opposite. Most the time you’re required to piece an image together, but sometimes the image starts out complete, and you press the arrow keys to send it into disarray. This reversal is used when the narrator is talking about how drunk someone is, so that they their outlined form is lost to the same kind of destruction their brain is undergoing while under the influence of alcohol. Another instance of its use is when an ambulance doesn’t show up, so rather than piece an image of one together, you press the arrow keys to take one apart.
All of this is, obviously, much better experienced that it is having it explained to you. So make sure to check out i made sure to hold your head sideways for yourself on itch.io.