Actual Sunlight is a short interactive story developed by Will O’Neill that was originally released in 2013 but after a successful indiegogo campaign the game gained new life with original art and music. It offers a glimpse into the life of Evan Winter and his struggle with depression. It’s a different type of game,if one at all, that plays more like a short story that deals with mature topics such as loneliness, debt and suicide. Actual Sunlight isn’t a ‘fun’ game but rather a linear story the player unfortunately cannot deviate from.
Actual Sunlight is one of the most painfully real games to have been released in the last few years. It shows the harsh truth of what depression is like and doesn’t try to minimize darkest aspects of it. What differentiates Actual Sunlight from other mature games is that it's hardly a game at all, with interaction limited to a few clicks and key movements to make up the core game play.
Actual Sunlight follows Evan Winter, a 30-something businessman who is miserable at his job, bald and completely alone. The player watches Evan go through three periods of his life where he spends every day debating whether or not to jump off the roof of his apartment complex.The days consist of Evan interacting with his environment and the people around him with his thoughts conveyed through text monologues and dialogues.
I think it is easy to say that games such as Actual Sunlight, which explore mature topics, are groundbreaking or revolutionary to the gaming scene but just because a game tackles a more taboo topic does not make it a great game. While Actual Sunlight brought to the gaming world a very real image of depression it failed to make an impact on me. The use of text boxes as the only ‘game mechanic’ pulled me out of the experience and it felt more like reading someone’s journal ramblings rather than a coherent narrative.
This is where games like these become hard to review, it’s hard to criticize games that tackle mature topics since most of my criticism could be chalked up to design and one could say “Well that is how depression is or that’s the only way it can accurately be explained”. However I think it is possible to explain these mature themes without sacrificing game play. Maybe as more games approach these topics we will find the right blend of mature themes and game play but for now Actual Sunlight is a step in the right directions.
Actual Sunlight is a very short game(1-2hrs) that isn’t for everyone to say the least. However if you are willing it would be worth the play and at $4.99 on Steam it is definitely worth the experience. Will O’Neill successfully gave players a way to see the forms depression takes place and how it affects whoever is dealing with it.