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Indie game developer explores life after tragedy in newest title

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Swedish Indie game developer Simon Karlsson's may be another in a long line of designers who hope to get their game project off the ground through Kickstarter but unlike other antagonist/hero, good vs. evil gaming themes Karlsson's subject matter is...well, depressing.

A Song for Viggo is about depression and within this depression we are taken through a "game" of moving on after tragedy and worse, simply moving through life, which is perhaps the greatest challenge of all.

Karlsonn's creation is artistically designed solely from white paper-which gives the game a solemn sterility and appears to be the appropriate visual against the backdrop of a tragically vivid story.

Viggo was a child accidentally killed by his own parents and after his unthinkable death the game begins with a stillness in the world not only for his parents but for the gamer who enters their own virtual depression and are quickly faced with the choices of survival of the mundane.

While one in ten Americans suffer from depression (according to the CDC-Centers for Disease Control) depression is certainly not unique to any country, gender, culture, ethnicity or socio-economic status-it can touch anyone.

Simon Karlsson sat down with us to discuss this very unique concept and how he faced his own inward battles while taking on some rather uncomfortable topics.

Jesse Tannous: Can you tell me a little bit about the origins of this project? What started as the catalyst for this idea?

Simon Karlsson: The origins of the project probably came from being fed up with usual games. I got into a depression a couple of years ago and I played a lot of games during that time. However, none of those really affected me. And I got an idea one night, like "hey, maybe I should do a game of paper". Of what? My brain said. "Of everyday life".

So it went on in my mind, nudging every corner of the brain. I wanted to try to experiment creating as boring a game as possible, while still keeping the players into the experiment. But, then I understood that I was bored myself with the project. So I went to my therapist and she said, "You gotta expose your anxiety with anxiety", and then I figured that I might as well do something about anxiety, with my own feelings. And that’s where the depression and tragedy got a hold in the concept of the game.

JT: While interviewing the various parents and families you mention in order to do your research what was their reaction when you told them you were making a game about this subject matter? Did they support the decision or reject it?

SK: Some parents were hesitant. It's harder than you think to tread lightly, with uttermost respect. Weigh every word back and forth. I don't want the parents to see me as a guy who tries to make money with their tragedy. It's not my intention at all. I'm very much explaining the word "game" to them, and what a game could be. That this is more a simulation of grief than a game - game as a word is defined as "win or lose", which A Song for Viggo isn't really.

A lady I interviewed spilled coffee on herself when I told her about the subject, of a parent backing over their child. She had done the exact same thing. It's hard stuff to muster up. I wasn't myself for the rest of the day.

However, they have all been true heroes in regards to deciding to join in and talk with me. It's not an easy subject, and who am I to ask them to dwell on tragic events? But hopefully it can be for the greater good. People are mailing me every day now telling me that they lost someone they loved or a child, or got depressed, and that they are really helped by this project. So it's not always about the game itself, but about raising the awareness of stuff we don't always want to talk about.

JT: Because of the subject matter did you ever think that you shouldn't make this game?

SK: I don't know. I've been considering certain elements in the game, but as a whole I guess that I've been quite "this is what I'm gonna do", mostly because such a game needs to exists. I think so at least. If it helps anyone who plays it, to feel the similarities in the struggles, and that they're not alone, that would be good. But I have considered that some parts might be too dark or too dark too long. So it's much of a balance, that there should be hope at the end of the tunnel to keep struggling.

JT: What experience do you hope people will walk away with after playing this game?

SK: I'd say every feeling possible, but that's not realistic. I do like to give a people a sense of emptiness. You know, when you've seen a really good movie or a good show. I think that the second season of “Twin Peaks,” has the best ending a show ever could have. Giving such a "what just happened?" feeling afterwards and then the show went off air, forever, making a dent in people’s minds.

JT: What was the particular reason you decided to tell this story using paper-craft? Was it simply the materials and expertise you had available or was it something more?

SK: I've never really worked with stop motion for real before, so it was at first the only material I had. And paper is cheap, and quite easy to plan and manage. I did consider both clay and carving it out of wood, but wood, well that would just be time consuming in every single way. And clay is messy. I'd probably just end up removing a character’s face and get angry or something.

But as for paper, I really really like the minimalistic feeling it gives. Being a material that everyone recognizes, and people might feel when trying out the game that "hey, this is game made of real material, about real life". And the pure whiteness of the material does contrast the darker story. While exploring the darker topics I still want the player to explore and see "hey, this is crafted and nice".

A Song for Viggo may not present the typical blockbuster visual and deals with a subject that many people would just as soon ignore. But if gamers are looking for a unique challenge and a distinctively different approach to facing some real-life demons…Viggo has the potential of providing gamers with perhaps the most compelling confrontation of all.

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