Last Week at Gamescom, Kotaku UK went hands-on with Twin Mirror, the next game from Life is Strange developer Dontnod. The game features a protagonist who solves crimes by way of a near-magical ability to problem solve inside a space in his head called the mind palace. There's also an invisible man called The Double, who the protagonist knows doesn't really exist, but he can't stop seeing or hearing.
After my hands-on time with the game, I had a chance to sit down with narrative producer Hélène Henry, lead writer Matthew Ritter, and game producer Fabrice Cambounet, and one thing I was desperate to ask about was if these detective abilities were intended to be seen as mental health analogues. There are real world conditions where people obsessively catalogue and recall information, as well as mental health conditions where one might see people who are not really there.
According to lead writer Matthew Ritter, the intention was never for either of these to be read as mental health analogues, more as special things about this individual.
"I would say for the most part we’re staying away from them as mental health analogues," says Ritter. "These are more just narrative devices; our character’s supposed to have a very good memory and the Mind Palace is meant to be a representation of his very good memory and also letting you see inside his psyche – the same thing with the Double; this isn’t a representation of mental illness so much as a narrative way for the character to be able to talk to themselves and hear that part of themselves that might be slightly more selfish or sarcastic rather than any direct commentary on mental illness."
I asked about researching these mental health conditions, and the risk of creating a work that misrepresented mental illness or offended people who experience these things in reality.
"It’s definitely something we think about and we do our best to handle properly," says Ritter. "And this is also very old narrative ground; fictional characters often see people who aren’t there and are not actually crazy, just sometimes someone talks to their dead father because – just watching someone sit there and just think to themselves is just boring in a visual medium. It’s not necessarily us trying to go down that path, but more of a tool."
Having played Twin Mirror at Gamescom, it does feel like there's a tension between how the game presents these tools, and Ritter's contention that they're not intended to be read as mental health analogues. Still, it's good to know this isn't the intention, and keep our expectations for the game in the right place. You can read our full thoughts on Twin Mirror here.