This Won’t Make You Happy by Mike Gillis
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COVID times were, and are, dark times. Times of instability, anxiety, and frustration. In these sorts of times, art can turn inwards, reflecting upon other times, other places. Art can also be cathartic, lashing out at the darkness. As I got comfortable in “This Won’t Make You Happy”, I prepared myself for the latter sort of experience.
This Twine game is about exploring the Caves of Despair, hoping to find happiness. And, of course, you won’t find it. You will find in the spartan caves a number of choices, spanning the spectrum between silly and sarcastic. You might have a dream of Roadhouse Patrick Swayze. You might try to eat a rock. You might mercilessly murder Grommo the Gremlin, who has a wife and family, you know.
You won’t, however, find happiness.
Mike Gillis pulls out every possible Twine special effect along the way. While this is fun to explore as an author, and neat to see as a reader, Twine games live and die on their writing. For me, it was silly for a bit until after the Grommo encounter, the fourth wall gets punctured and you get perhaps an insight into Mike’s intent. He was learning to code to get some sort of stability in a world that was falling apart.
This moment of honesty and reflection was quite effective, and I was hoping that the sophomoric earlier cave would disappear into the background and the true author would come forward and chat some more. After some Twine-enforced meditation, you are offered a way out. And then you’re trapped in an endless cycle of reaching for the Jewel of Happiness, but never getting there.
You can alternatively call a friend for some extra fourth-wall breaking, but all roads either lead to the same place or to explicitly quitting.
The metaphors are blunt. Where I expected the game to continue and draw out some more wisdom and insights, it just stopped dead. I expected the silliness at the start to be a cover for the author, allowing him the room to get to the bottom of the cave of the last few years. To tell me one truth. But it didn’t.
This game won’t make me happy. This game won’t make you happy. This game won’t make Mike Gillis happy. The protagonist definitely isn’t happy. Robert Pirsig says, “The only Zen you can find on the tops of mountains is the Zen you bring up there.” I couldn’t find cartharsis in This Won’t Make You Happy because it wasn’t there to begin with, and I never brought it along.
My experience left me empty. Either I or the game needed to do more work to earn the experience. And even now, I can’t tell which of us should have.