“Will love tear us apart?”: Game? Song? Artwork?

the home screen from the game will love tear us aparthttp://willlovetearusapart.com is not fairly described as a “game”. Nor is it an “artwork” as we think of them. Perhaps it is best called an “experience”: an experience of exploring the artist’s response to Joy Division’s “Love will tear us apart” by interacting with a game.

Will love tear us apart creates a simulacrum of a relationship’s sad, inevitable, painful ending. It doesn’t do so literally, nor abstractly, but impressionistically. It aims to stimulate the same emotions, to provoke the same tensions. The imagery is evocative, beautiful, and chilling. The music is eerie and lingering. The game is frustrating.

There are only three levels. On the first you find yourself facing a spectre, apparently your partner. They gesticulate and rant, apparently either angry, or calm, or empathetic. You have to choose an appropriate response in kind from the same three options. Then do it again. Then again. Then again.

a screenshot from level 1 of will love tear us apartI didn’t pass this level – and I was worried about what this says for my capacity for relationships! In frustration, I literally googled for an answer and didn’t get one, but then experimented some more and got through. The second level is more explicit about the goal, and I shortly completed it.

On the third level I was faced with a choice: will love heal you, snare you, or tear you apart? I opted for “heal”, which sounded pretty good. And yet, regardless, our relationship ended.

This is the beautiful genius of Will love tear us apart. It isn’t about every relationship, nor every break-up, nor even about every bad break-up. But it does evoke the same pathos as a certain hopeless situation, where any victory is Pyrrhic, where the only escape is through. In this sense one can’t ‘win’ this game. One can merely ‘end’ it.

The game mechanic in Will love tear us apart is ironic: the structures of winning, gaining points, succeeding, shouldn’t and can’t be applied to relationships. In the first game I eventually ‘won’ only when I stopped seeking conciliation and instead tried to beat my partner on every exchange. In the second game, just one of two lovers escaped oblivion. In the third, despite my benign intentions, my careful tread, we still parted ways.

I’ve been through a variety of unhappy break-ups and WLTUA felt to me like an honest depiction of what they can feel like. There’s the sadness that isn’t so much at the ending itself but at its inevitability; a sadness that asks whether this could have been avoided, whether there was a winning move that spared the players this fate. There’s a sad acceptance that while you can come out the other end wiser and stronger, you can’t come out the other end triumphant, nor can you choose not to come out the other end. There’s a shocking, shameful honesty: that sometimes there is a binary choice between what’s best for me and what’s best for someone else. And that there’s no nice way to make that choice.

I loved experiencing Will love tear us apart. I loved the experience of a game used so poetically to evoke emotions and explore ideas. I loved the intimacy of the implict reflections on relationships and their endings. I loved the fact that these vulnerabilities were being explored in such an enriching, provocative way. It’s chilling, it’s frustrating, it’s sad. It’s real.

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