Warning: SPOILERS follow for Curtain, by dreamfeel. If you’d like a fresh experience that costs whatever you feel like paying, head over to their website and download Curtain. You won’t be disappointed.
“Curtain is a lo-fi narrative about destructive relationships. It takes about 20 to 30 minutes to finish, the game will exit itself.“ –Author’s description
At the intersection of a confusing blend of room exploration, acid trip and visual novel, comes Curtain. If you’ve ever been part of or witness to a controlling relationship, you’ll very quickly feel uncomfortably at home. The story is simple, and none of the themes are subtle, but it plays true to its subject matter in a way not usually seen in games. The player is tasked with the disquieting objective of pushing through a low-res representation of a relationship gone wrong. Simple tasks like navigating the apartment are difficult thanks to the text box that fills nearly a third of the screen and the pixelated distortion as things slip in and out of focus.
At first the blurred perception of the 3D environment and the intrusive, persistent text box reserved for the abusive partner’s dialogue are cumbersome and even annoying. Within a very short time of playing, it’s almost unnoticeable, which acts as a clever analogy for the justification employed by the victim.
And a victim she is. Ally, the main songwriter for a struggling band is being forcibly manoeuvred and conditioned into a toxic relationship with Kaci, the charismatic singer. Kaci uses classic tactics of isolation, drip-fed compliments and threats, as well as victim-blaming and vague promises of change to reduce Ally to a powerless state. Ally finds it difficult to even speak to other people in a social context, let alone ask for help. Once Kaci attacks someone in public, the band has little hope for recovery and Ally is further trapped in the insular world Kaci has constructed. In the time it would take you to read this review, you could have nearly completed the game. The “gameplay” consists of interacting with objects within the apartment and, as explained by the creator, once the story is finished the game will exit itself. 20-30 minutes is a good estimation of how long it takes to complete.
Despite having the trappings of the alternative scene, Curtain crosses boundaries of age, sexuality and lifestyle to bring us a very real and very threatening look at domestic abuse. It documents the simple progression from caring, if somewhat domineering lover, to abuser within a few deception-filled months. We’re shown a couple of snapshots of life as Ally, and each shows a different stage of conditioning by Kaci. In order to progress to the final piece of the timeline, the player has to interact with every object in their shared apartment. Accompanying dialogue contextualises each item from Kaci’s and occasionally Ally’s perspective, detailing more of the role Ally is being forced into.
The game indicates an assault on the main character takes place, and an appropriate Trigger Warning is displayed on the website. The justification by Kaci and the internalisation by Ally offer more brutal imagery than a graphic depiction of the event might show.
It’s my hope that you’ve already downloaded Curtain by this point. An even greater hope is that you’ve played through the “game”, and are looking critically at your relationships.
There is always help available, and it’s an abuser’s objective to make you forget that.