Neverending Nightmares, a game created by Matt Gilgenbach, takes players into the terrifying world of mental illness—specifically Gilgenbach’s real-life nightmares associated with his OCD and depression.
Gamers play as Thomas, a young man caught in a dream only to wake up and discover that he’s still dreaming. There is a never-ending sense that you’re doomed to roam the halls filled with giant mutant babies and blind monsters with bleeding eyes forever. Being forced to hide from these monsters or tiptoe your way around them adds so much more suspense to a world you just want to escape from already.
This game is unlike anything I have ever seen before. Although there have been games based on real-life struggles in the past, there’s something about Neverending Nightmares that is so much more interactive. Complete with black and white 2D line art, the only things given colour are objects Thomas can interact with, and the blood. The unique art also draws attention to the fact that everything in the game moves: the shadows move, the creepy dolls blink, and the darkness has a pulse. Everything you encounter is gut-wrenching and made all the more horrifying by the fact that it’s based on a true story.
There are three possible endings with about two hours of gameplay. Gilgenbach said in an interview that this was done because he wanted players to have an authorial control over the game, but I was scared to know that one wrong step could lead me to a cutscene of Thomas prying out his own veins. You feel like you have control until you don’t anymore.
You can also tell that this game wasn’t built for people to have a fun horror game experience with—the situations are real, the things you see are real, and mental illness isn’t a game. Thomas is not a particularly fast character, so he can only run for so long. He walks relatively slowly and there are a limited amount of save points. These things remind the player that mental illness isn’t something that can just be outrun, and the lack of save points makes Neverending Nightmares less like a game and more like its title.
The game gives players an all-too-real glimpse into the world of mental illness and people are meant to leave the game with a better understanding of what depression and OCD are like. The game is an experience more than anything else, and Gilgenbach’s bravery in creating it has helped others know that they are not alone.