There can be no greater pleasure in life than being the person you want to be. It doesn’t sound like a profound statement, but for many people the pursuit of the self is more than some grand existential journey or traveling abroad. For too many marginalized folks out there, the quest to accept oneself and be accepted is as simple and as complex as sitting down for dinner with your family or requesting that those who love you call you by your real name.
It should be easy to support those you love. It should be easy to give people the respect they crave and to house their identities in the comforts of acceptance and praise. Despite the fact that we’re all human, we’re all weird, we’re all different, the hegemony of normalcy across societies and across time has been (and continues to be) dangerous and violent and sad.
My Name is Kasio
If Found…, a striking visual novel created by Dreamfeel and published by Annapurna Interactive, seemingly does what a lot of games in this strictly narrative genre seek to do. It tells a story that can be accomplished in a single sitting across a couple of hours, motivated by dramatic pacing and storytelling cohesion. If Found…begins beautifully, introducing its curious gameplay mechanic from the start, tasking the player to move things forward by erasing the screen one panel at a time. With each measured movement of erasure we are shown the developing narrative clip, starting with the dramatic introduction of an astronaut who is exploring the event horizon of a black hole. From here the story pulls back, its parallel dynamics shifting to a rather simple and familial tale set on the Achill Island of Ireland.
Kasio is a transgender woman. She’s young and bright and motivated, and left home in pursuit of her Master’s Degree in Dublin. In December of 1993 she returns home to see her family in celebration of the Christmas holiday. Her relationship with her family is strained — her older brother Fergal is a difficult, smarmy asshole and her single mother Brid is hard working but brittle. Their family (and the entire island of Achill) is unused to the shifting social norms and political dynamics of Ireland in the 1990s, and the mood is rife with tension. Despite all this, Kasio is home to demand one single thing: to have her mother see her for who she is.
Kasio’s journey to find herself and her family’s acceptance takes her across a colorfully sketched version of Achill island, where the game’s erasure mechanic presents the narrative devices mostly in the form of her journal entries. This artful, poignant agenda is backed by a gorgeous whisperwave soundtrack, with the most important narrative beats expertly laced by the game’s ever-shifting art style evocative of the works of Tillie Walden. In moments of bright clarity, everything becomes sharp and angled. When Kasio is experiencing a particularly rough go of it, the lines blur and dismember and the colors become chaotic or muted. After a time I became completely immune to the clicks and drags of my mouse as it felt like the game’s narrative had complete and terrific control of my attentions. If Found… is, by no small regard, a storytelling masterclass.
After things quickly go south in a conversation between Kasio and her mother, she dips, finding solace in “The Big House,” an abandoned and decrepit squatter’s paradise lived in by her friends Colum, Jack, and Shans. As Kasio quickly grows accustomed to her new temporary home and finds comfort in the jocularity of the three bandmates, she grows close with Shans. This is one of the game’s highest points, where we are treated to the simple pleasure of Kasio’s joy in finding people who love her just how she is. For the first time she comes out of her shell, comfortable in a loving and queer space.
Sadly — and as things go with the frictions of humans — things do not stay this way for long. As Kasio’s life slowly unravels further and she reaches a breaking point, the game juxtaposes these dramatic moments with the story of the astronaut and the black hole, bringing round the dual narrative devices that hammer through the game’s terrific emotional depth.
High Cost of Living
I played through If Found… in one sitting (I try to do this with similar games, such as Gone Home or When the Past Was Around) and highly recommend everyone do the same. The game is a visual and auditory treat, and handles its subject matter with such brilliance and care that I found myself overcome with emotion for the characters and their situations. It’s lovely, poignant and most of all, sweet. If Found… wants us, I believe, to simply see those around us as we would want to see ourselves. It’s an incredibly important piece of transformative fiction that is desperately needed during our turbulent times. When the pieces fall together and the game shifts into its final tonal moments, I challenge anyone to not shed a tear or two over Kasio’s extraordinarily beautiful story.
What works in this game is how it handles each of its characters with the utmost care, giving remarkable time and attention to each across the brief two hour run time. No plot thread feels rushed or abandoned, and as the game comes to a close we are even treated to satisfying epilogues that tie each character to the future. The level of gracious thought put into the pacing and flow of If Found… is striking and lovely, and once again I am taken aback by the substantial gulf between the storylines of indie titles and big budget AAA games.
It’s games like If Found… that give me profound joy to experience the capabilities of storytelling in this medium, and it’s games like If Found… that will, I believe, continue to push forward the incredible importance of inclusive storylines that deserve such a permanence. At its most thrilling moments, the clever fusion of auditory and visual delights tease the senses and force the player to think abstractly about what it means to pursue your true self while your life is crumbling around you. Kasio is such a sweet and passionate soul, and by the end of the game, If Found… felt like a painfully unique experience. I cannot recommend it highly enough.
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