This is usually the part where I make a knob joke to break the tension, but I guess I’m not feeling all that jocular. You see, while tackling genuinely disturbing real-life issues in the video gaming medium is hardly a novel concept in and of itself, there seems to be a quaint juncture at which the appropriateness of a crudely-lodged phallic reference goes by the wayside in favour of a more sombre literary tone.
Tourette’s Quest, an in-development title from actual Tourette’s Syndrome sufferer Lars Doucet, marks one of those departures from the unwritten rule of ruthless satire and crosses the “Oh, cripes, I don’t know how lucky I am” boundary. A game that’s being pitched as a pastiche of the dungeon crawling and semi-roguelike mechanics seen in the likes of Nintendo’s 8-bit Legend of Zelda offerings, Tourette’s Quest is an interactive embodiment of Doucet’s perceptions of the tics and symptoms he faces on a daily basis, and it’s a bit of an eyebrow-raiser to say the least.
It’s well worth noting that “Tourette’s,” rather than merely resulting in occasional involuntary outbursts of profanity, is actually more of a blanket term for the kind of neurological irregularities that can manifest themselves in a wide variety of different forms. Indeed, in an interview with NBC News, Defender’s Quest alumnus Doucet explains that his own frequent symptoms may typically consist of “throat clearing, eye twitches, sniffing, complicated hand gestures, coprolalia, corpopraxia, echolalia, and more,” all of which may bubble to the surface without prior warning. Furthermore, he states that this lack of circumstantial uniformity can also have considerable implications towards both a consultant’s ability to diagnose the affliction and the challenges faced by the sufferer in terms of adapting their social skills to account for their tics.
SLAYING THE DEMONS
Putting down a phenomenon so lacking in scientific clarity on paper, then, can’t be anything other than a tall order. But Doucet? He’s giving it a Hell of a go. More specifically, he’s decided to make his player character an eccentrically joyful-looking yellow circle, who, armed with a sword and a short supply of droppable bombs, must make its way through a series of corridors without falling foul of each floor’s motley crew of patrolling enemies. These aforementioned weapons are required to break through the doors barring access to the subsequent floors, each of which predictably employs an incrementally higher level of gameplay difficulty.
Although Tourette’s Quest makes use of a conventional health system, its major focus of attention is on its positive and negative stress meters. Slaying enemies evokes another respectful nod towards the Zelda saga by yielding a supply of collectible coins, which reward the player with positive stress, whereas negative stress emanates from close encounters with either said antagonists or the kinetic noses not-so-subtly roaming the vicinity. A low stress level increases the chances of the player’s tic, shown at this early stage of development as a particularly irritating cough, or “KOFF,” as it’s enunciated in-game, culminating in a greater chance that an enemy will be alerted and proceed to attack.
Combining the necessity of stepping gingerly through the game’s environments with a surprisingly deftly executed approach towards influencing the player’s precision of control at times of hectic madness, Doucet appears keen to replicate the sense of helplessness experienced by many Tourette’s sufferers the world over. And while I can’t exactly pinpoint whether or not his efforts to do justice to the disorder’s specific effects on the lives of those affected, I’m nonetheless hopeful that it’ll shed new light on some of the oft-misunderstood ramifications it carries in today’s culture. “Bravo,” say I.