Image Source: The Missing Press Kit
Often when I review games for Bandersnatch, I don’t finish them. I’ll sit through one or two sessions and then write my opinion. The Missing is the first game I’ve finished in a while. It was a very personal experience for me. It is one that has stayed with me even after I’ve set the controller down.
SWERY is a very unique voice in the industry. His games are very niche and only beloved by people who like his weird and distinctive style. They are very pulpy and as such don’t mesh well with the mainstream. He likes to explore themes outside the box. It’s clear that all of his work tries to explore topics of vulnerability that are rarely presented within the gaming medium.
The key theme of The Missing is self-identity. The way we see ourselves and the reflection that others see of us greatly shape our lives and how we develop as people. As angsty as this sounds, we often inflict pain upon ourselves or get harmed by others for who we are.
J.J., the main character of the game, is under a lot of stress not only because of college life and the pressure placed on her by her mother, but also herself. Over the course of the game, we discover that J.J. is trans and might have romantic feelings for her best friend. Sadly, she is closeted and afraid of being outed or found out by her conservative mother. Her identity brings her a great deal of pain in this way.
This aspect of pain sinks into the gameplay. The setting takes place in J.J.’s mind as she walks through a mysterious dream built from her memories while trying to find her best friend/love interest Emily. It’s a pretty standard 2D puzzle-platformer—only the puzzles are integrated using Emily’s body parts. Puzzles are solved through self-mutilation. J.J. will cut off an arm and use it by throwing it at a button, or she will light herself on fire to illuminate a dark cave, or she will use the momentum of being hit by a heavy moving object to propel herself vertically. While this might seem a bit edgy at first, this gameplay mechanic fits into the themes of pain. J.J.’s inflicting pain onto herself, but she is constantly moving forward through her head and her perception of self. Even though she is experiencing immense grief, she continues to push through and slowly grows to accept herself but also learns self-worth is invaluable.
I think this game is important. On the top of my head, I can barely name any games that have good LGBTQ+ representation. The Missing really does feel like a project of labour with extreme care given to trans acceptance. A lot of LGBTQ+ characters are defined by stereotypical traits especially in the medium of games. Queer people need good representation and I think WhiteOwl did a good job at handling these characters with a good weight of respect and sensitivity. I believe any person can relate to this story and come out with it their own message of self acceptance.
Originally Published in Bandersnatch Vol.49 Issue 10 on February 26th, 2020