Friday, March 1, 2024

Looking Back at If Found in 2021

There is a common phrase I’ve heard throughout my life: the older you get, the faster time goes by. Days become shorter, years of the past meld together.

Five months ago I wrote how If Found gave me hope in not asking me to be anything more or less. I found hope in a game about just being.

Five months ago feels like a lifetime.

Since then the game has released a port on Nintendo Switch. I’ve also moved across the country, stumbled through understanding how to socialize remotely during the pandemic, and had to relearn how to be myself. The girl I want to be, but have never been able to be.

Moving means losing all of your foundations. All the work I put in, to fight for respect in the spaces I exist in. All the work to get accustomed to the reactions on the train line when I wore a dress. All the work rejecting the notions of my voice not being high enough, or going into the wrong bathroom door. The understanding that comes from a community seeing each other do that work together, and the care that forms. So much of that is lost.

That loss has been hard, as it pairs with my anxiety and depression. Emotional hardships have been hitting me harder, leaving me incapacitated for days, unable to function. Dysphoria has become two demons on my shoulders, stabbing me with each reminder of what I am not.

For these reasons I have found it hard during my second playthrough of If Found. I was scared to return to this game, because I feared my cherishment. When we come to love something for the first time it’s a unique resonance that can only happen in that specific moment. Then when we return to that piece later it’s susceptible to either disappointment or romanticized nostalgia.

The first time I played this game, I cried because of how touching the scenes of joy were. I remember just being so elated with how many thoughtful decisions were made around the navigation of being trans and how it related to my own experience. It wasn’t in the erasure which I found this, but everything surrounding it.

Being trans means coming to terms with the self, confronting assumptions, decisions, emotions, and thoughts. The erasure mechanic is the primary example of this, with nothing helping the player move forward but their own choice to expunge. Many times I find myself staring at a black screen thinking that Kasio’s story will continue, but it is up to me to make that decision…until it isn’t.

This all falls apart when those choices have to be perceived by someone else, when we want them to be accepted by others. How we may want that acceptance to form may vary, but a large pain comes from the gap of the self-facing work being explicitly rejected and disagreed with.

In If Found, the story isn’t always controlled by the eraser, it’s taken away in moments like the conversations with Ma late at night. She interrogates Kasio, rejects her clothing, and makes her feel alien. It’s at this scene that I start to feel achingly dizzy. Trauma is not evoked, but an embodied defense mechanism comes out in reaction to this reproduction of conflict. I can’t handle another one sided conversation about being a freak. Not right now.

If Found 2021

Even when I move past these painful moments, I have found my time returning to mostly be made up of a struggle between my own coping and the game attempting to navigate through pain. Some of my favorite scenes in the game come from the happiness shared between Kasio, Colum, Jack, and Shans. Making breakfast in the morning, running away from Kasio’s house after breaking in to go have fish and chips, going to a gay punk concert together. However, I find myself so lost in the remnants of the previous painful moments that I only find dread overbearing the glee I once found, preparing for the worst that is yet to come.

None of this experience is an argument that If Found is bad or problematic because of these painful moments. I’m also not saying any of this to negate my original experience.. Rather, in this second time playing I find that I don’t always need a trans story. When I connect with some form of media, I go to those spaces to enter a certain frame of mind. Maybe it’s a film that gives me creative hope. Perhaps it’s a puzzle-fighter game to bond with my loved ones. In If Found‘s case, it’s a story that connects with my own experiences as a trans person, knowing other trans people, whether that is happy or painful. With any of these media, there is a time and place where they make sense in our lives. These are times where we are sensitive and responsive to emotions and ideas. And in this moment, If Found is much more difficult for me to experience than it was for me the first time. For you, reader, maybe that’s now, or maybe thats a couple days, weeks, months, or years from now.

But if you do decide to give it a go, maybe check out the Switch version so you can touch it all with your finger instead of a mouse.


[She/They] Waverly is a trans game artist and freelance writer. She has written at Uppercut, Into The Spine, and Paste. You can find her on Twitter @hotelbones.