This coming December I’ll be graduating college. After four years of essays, exams and research, and having two of those years be heavily impacted by a global pandemic, one thing that became a recurring feature was burnout. That constant feeling of being tired, overwhelmed, and wanting to take a break but battling the feeling of not thinking you deserve it, or that you even really need one at all. Throughout this period where breaks are slim between full-time school and part-time jobs, games have always been a comfortable spot to rest and catch my breath between everything.
Recently I began my first run in Have a Nice Death after trudging through midterms. At first, I thought it was a pretty fun and cute way to pass the time. The official website for the game describes it as a “2D Action Roguelike where you play as Death, CEO of Death Incorporated, who currently finds himself teetering on the edge of burnout.”
And there’s that word again: burnout.
Burnout is, simply put, being very emotionally, mentally, or physically exhausted to the point where the motivation to do even the most regular of tasks plummets to zero. It can affect your work, hobbies, and even your relationships; it’s a frustrating thing to deal with and is a reminder of why taking breaks is important. Have a Nice Death satirizes this by making the game revolve around corporate burnout and having the solution be something extremely ludicrous– like storming through your whole company from top to bottom to get things working again.
The gameplay highlights these ideas in the most engaging way. Since it’s a roguelike, the whole point is going into levels, gaining upgrades, and trying to make every subsequent run better than the last. The game challenges you with a wide variety of enemies, and while new abilities are far scarcer than in other games like Risk of Rain or Hades, there is still a solid base kit and a dash that helps keep the action going at a quick pace.
With all of these things, I found myself alleviating my own burnout while Death was struggling with his. The repetitive nature of the genre also works in tandem with the burnout theme. Having to constantly reevaluate your work right after you think you're done, or having to move on to the next assignment, can keep you locked into a vicious cycle of overworking yourself, but the game makes these fun. It's no longer a matter of "I need to get this done" and instead "Time to dive back in."
The game is relaxing, between the dark, cartoony aesthetic, fast gameplay, and the pick-up-and-play nature of the roguelike genre. The dialogue is witty with plenty of tidbits and conversations covering mental health topics. Even the elevator that the player uses to transition between stages has some of the best downtime music I think I've ever heard in a video game.
Have a Nice Death is a great game for sitting down and hitting the grindstone in a way that doesn't feel draining. In a world where a lot of us are plagued with burnout and heavy workloads, it's important to find the things that make our time away from them really relaxing.
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