Just in time for the holidays, a videogame that guilts you like your family

“You never call…”

Your stomach squirms with guilt. The hurt in your [mom][dad][sister][brother][grandpa][grandma]’s eyes is like a dart, the sharp sensation of loving disappointment spreading to your chest. You know they’re right. You haven’t called. Because what your [mom][dad][sister][brother][grandpa][grandma] doesn’t seem to understand is that life keeps moving forward, even if your loved ones don’t do it with you.

What’s funny about the phrase “you never call” is that it can only be uttered in a familiar relationship. A friend can’t say it to me, because my reaction would be: yes, I don’t call. Just text me like a normal person, weirdo. 

But when uttered appropriately, the “you never call” guilt trip is as effective a tactic as any. I find myself powerless to that slight wobble in my family member’s voice, as I come to realize I am actually the worst human being on the planet. And that I also need to call my damn [mom][dad][sister][brother][grandpa][grandma] more often.

Like real life family gatherings, things get complicated quickly. 

This past Ludum Dare, based on the theme of “connected worlds,” featured a puzzle game exploring the exacting motivation of this phrase. As a jam entry, You never call took around 72 hours to make and was created as a collaboration between David Selassie, Nathan Hinchey, Cosmo Ray, and Helen Ip. The premise is simple: your family has been separated, scattered across several islands connected through wooden bridges. By burning and rebuilding more and more of those bridges each turn, you must try and reunite your constantly shifting block family.

Like real life family gatherings, things get complicated quickly. Certain family members stubbornly refuse to go where it is most convenient for everyone else to go. Some of them form cliques, meeting in the middle and then looking on (seemingly with distaste) as you try to make paths for them to join the others. No matter how many times I tried, I couldn’t coax more than four of them to come together at once. One—a periwinkle-wearing, white-haired avatar who I just know is grandma—remained willfully ostracized, not moving around the islands much at all. Presumably because her oven was on, or because she had to finish crocheting a sweater first.

But really, grandma, ever thought that maybe I don’t call more often because you’re just too busy not getting with the program

While You never call didn’t win any of the category prizes from Ludum Dare 30, it was a game I found myself coming back to in spite of myself. When I was little, I used to be called my family’s “peace-maker,” because I’d hysterically step in between fights and yell at everyone to just cut the shit and love each other like families are supposed to. As I grew up, I came to understand that burning and rebuilding bridges is just a natural cycle for people who care for each other as deeply as family does.

But it appears we never really gave up the fantasy, no matter what. So, excuse me. I’ve got a date with a periwinkle-wearing grandma—who will join our love cornucopia if it’s the last thing I do.

You can play You never call now on your browser, or download it for PC, Mac, and Linux.