Content Warning: This article discusses depression and suicide.
Despite it’s seemingly silly and lighthearted name, The Cat Lady is not a fun game. Thinking perhaps to get a small game about feeding cats, I instead was faced with a woman’s suicide. Emotionally taxing, draining, and heartbreaking, I found myself taking frequent breaks to just do small things, to get away from the game. Wash the dishes, put out the laundry, knit. Anything to make this feeling that the grime of The Cat Lady hadn’t yet infected my life.
The Cat Lady returns to the macabre gothic horror reminiscent of something Poe or Lovecraft would write. Lacking any jump-scares except when thematically appropriate, the horror isn’t dressed up. Unnerving and unsettling would be the best descriptors. It takes you through not only the horrors of humanity and what people inflict upon each other, but also the psychological torment of giving a suicidal person the ‘gift’ of immortality.
At first glance, The Cat Lady is about the horrors of living with depression, and surviving in a world refusing to take you seriously after a suicide attempt. And in part, it is, but unlike any of its predecessors trying to approach this difficult subject, it talks about the side only one who has lived through this understands.
When the protagonist, Susan Ashworth, dies from a sleeping pill overdose, she finds herself in a strange world where she must confront her own dead bodies, killed in various ways. Susan remarks that she feels unaffected because her bodies look peaceful, sleeping happily for once. Going through this strange world of death and decay, she meets an old woman, who tells her she’s been waiting for her, and is here to give her a second chance, a chance to heal.
The old woman implies that she is death, referring to herself as the ‘Queen of Maggots’, because she infests that which is dead. She tells Susan that she is specially chosen because the Queen of Maggots has been with her since the start of this depression, brushing her hair when she cried and standing behind her while she threw away happy photographs. She gives Susan the power of immortality in exchange for ridding the world of ‘parasites’, humans so inherently awful that they cannot remain on the earth any longer. She forces our protagonist to accept or never find peace.
Now, naturally, giving someone who just tried to kill themselves the power of immortality might seem unnecessarily cruel, but as with anything about mental illness, it’s a metaphor. Not so much about how bad it is to have depression, we’ve seen that before, but how sometimes it becomes your only motivator.
The Queen of Maggots is not death, she is Susan’s own depression, taking her when she is at her lowest and making her go on. Pushing her well beyond her limit for a goal that after a while in the game seems to trickle off in importance in favour of helping others. Because sometimes, when you’ve hit that low, when you give it all up, your brain always seems to turn around and cling to literally anything to get you to keep going.
That’s not to say it’s a good thing – any depressed artist can prove that motivation through pain is not the healthiest motivator. The Cat Lady allows you to sit through someone else’s transition to motivation to continue from depression to self-possessed motivation. To live for someone or something else. From a friend to some cats.
It doesn’t feel the need to sugar coat anything for you. It talks about how her cigarettes and coffee helps calm her down, despite being a self-destructive habit. Susan is drugged, mistreated, ignored and left alone, always against her will, an often all too real reality of mentally ill people.
Regardless of your mental wellness, The Cat Lady is a unique gaming experience. The controls are simple, the puzzles are traditional adventure game style (i.e. sometimes complete nonsense and you’ll end up adding items together randomly in fits of rage). With Sin City aesthetics and a hard gothic soundtrack reminisce of Nine Inch Nails it creates the perfect environment for a troubled mind and story to shine.
Words by Savannah Ferguson