Posted October 27, 2016 by Marko Swanepoel in Feature

Four games that made me ponder about life


Existentialism is a strange thing to go through. You sit there for a moment and think about the trajectory and outcomes of your life and evaluating where things went wrong or right. You contemplate your place in society and then, ultimately, the universe. Most “normal” people don’t concern themselves with such deep lines of thought because they are too busy focusing on what is happening at the present time. But when an existential crisis hits, it hits like a cement truck barreling down Hell’s tallest mountain.

The most innocuous things can make you start pondering about your life. A passing comment, a dumb Tumblr quote on Facebook or just seeing some random human interaction as you are going about your business. For me, the strongest moments of self-reflection has happened when I played certain games. You know, games. Those things where you’re meant to have fun and shoot dudes or something.

Media that has some personal message is nothing new. Any number of novels or movies can make you think more deeply and cause you to look at the world in a different perspective. Sometimes those thoughts are unwanted, causing you to confront things about yourself that may scare you or that you hide from yourself. But having something be so provocative and impactful is beautiful on its own. Something a bit more essential than that dumb popcorn flick you wasted your money on or that romance novel that relies on a formula to tell a story.

Games are new ground for more impactful stories and it’s sort of difficult to tell those stories amongst the horde of gun-totting masculinity and the “target this demographic” narratives. But they are out there and it’s very possible that you’ve never even heard of them. What follows is my personal list of games that made me think about my life the most. Games that made some sort of impact and made me think outside of my little comfortable bubble of existence.

Persona 4


Persona 4 was a rollercoaster of a game. From the outside, it looks like a cheerful game with Japanese teenagers fighting evil and trying to get through school, but once you’re deeper into it, things start to get very real. The game has a huge focus on interpersonal relationships and throughout these interactions with various personalities, you witness the absolute mayhem that their minds are going through. If I can put it plainly, basically everyone is going through an existential crisis.

Some of the issues that these characters go through can be easily relatable. Things like not being able to fit in, having trouble adjusting to a new location and handling loss. But then there are some stories that venture into the darker recesses of human existence. Stuff like suicide, feeling worthless, struggling with your personal identity and so on. Some of these stories didn’t apply to me, but after this constant barrage of characters baring their soul, I started questioning my own reality as well.

During the later parts of the game, when all of these stories reached some sort of crescendo, I was an emotional wreck. One particular story hit me very close to home and it left me with thoughts that lingered for literally weeks. Persona 4 is a masterclass game in many ways, but because it has made me think such powerful thoughts, it will remain revered in my mind for a very long time.



Firewatch is a strange game to quantify. It’s a personal journey, but it’s also one about companionship, but it also has a story layered in intrigue and tragedy. It’s tough for me to properly convey how this game managed to make me think since most of the points I want to make would spoil the game in some way. Firewatch plays with a lot of hard-hitting themes that you can directly relate to in your life. Themes of love, loneliness and trying to run away from your past.

What makes it special is the choices that you have to make throughout the game. The choices you end up making depend on your personal experiences and they can even be seen as a reflection of your personality. It does a masterful job of making you think about the situations you are in and as you continue through the game, you start realising a lot of stuff about yourself. Deep rooted stuff that the game manages to dig out of you.

Actual Sunlight


This is by far the most depressing game you can possibly play. Created by Will O’Neil, Actual Sunlight is an exploration of the deepest and darkest recesses of the human mind. Every single depressing thing you can think of, this game tackles. Suicide, not belonging, feeling worthless, lost love, feeling pathetic, you name it. There isn’t a single moment of respite or levity throughout the whole thing and it was designed to make you feel incredibly uncomfortable.

It delves into some cutting social commentary, turns the world on its ass and challenges the social norm. This game also turned me on my ass. The things that were said and the scenarios that were explored related directly to my life to a point where it started to become freaky. Most of the game is just text on a black background, but the things that were said made me look away from the screen, turn my head, close my eyes and mutter “shit”.

Needless to say, it hit me like a ton of bricks right in the crotch. After it was done, I just laid on my bed and stared at the ceiling for a bit. Contemplating, mulling and processing what I just experienced for hours after I was done. Remember when games used to be about having fun?

The Beginner’s Guide


The Beginner’s Guide is a very short experience made by the same developer who made The Stanley Parable. But unlike The Stanley Parable, it’s not that funny. Rather, it is a personal exploration of creativity and the troubles that are faced throughout the creative process. Since I am technically a creative person, I was the target audience, and let me tell you, you will feel some stuff as you play through this game.

Things that you don’t want to encounter about yourself, or that you’ve been hiding from everyone else. Like many of the games on this list, it is hard to exactly explain what I felt without spoiling it entirely, but The Beginner’s Guide is something you should play for yourself, especially if you classify yourself as a “creative” person. The game made me cry uncontrollably. I’ve cried because of games previously, but this was something else. Something much more personal and deeper.


Phew, I need to go hug my cat now. It pains me when people say that games have no artistic value whatsoever when, as you can see from the list, they most definitely do. Games aren’t just corridor shooters with a bunch of burly men screaming at you, they have the ability to get into the deepest recesses of your mind and make you confront stuff about yourself that you never confronted before. Just don’t play these games back-to-back or you might just be stuck in an existential crisis forever.

Marko Swanepoel