The Town of Light – First person Psychological Thriller
Last night I played The Town of Light. I put it on and played the entire thing from start to finish with no breaks. I was hooked. The game did have a few of glitches. The loading times were torturous, the frame rate dropped from time to time and screen tears were a common occurrence, but I couldn’t put it down.
You play as Renée, who was admitted to a mental institution in Italy in the 1930s. Renée has suffered from mental illness from a young age. As a little girl, she would have anxious thoughts and hallucinate. She struggled with her demons, she called it the light. As she got older she was sexually abused and her mental health became more severe, she was hard to manage and so she was sent for evaluation at age 16. In the current day, the asylum is derelict, and you get to wander around the space, interrupted only by your own memories. There are a few small puzzles to work out, nothing remotely difficult. You find memories, medical notes, diary pages and you have your experience then and there. All these four aspects of the game help you to learn about Renées story.
Avoid if Easily Triggered
The topic is dark, it’s hard going and it’s not for everyone. There isn’t a ray of sunshine to be found. I’m not going to ruin the story but I am going to say it will linger in your thoughts. Despite the technical problems and the deeply traumatic topic of mental health care in the 1930s and 40s, The Town of Light is a game that was worth playing. I wanted to know what happened to Renée; I wanted to learn about how she and others like her, better or worse, were treated back in the day.
This is a historic game; it’s based on real stories. The psychiatric asylum is the Ospedale Psichiatrico di Volterra in the real world that was closed down in the 1970s. People went there and were not often able to leave. It was overcrowded and understaffed. Mental health care was cruel, insensitive and terrible to read about let alone live through.
As someone with a history of mental health issues, I find the story and the historic nature of The Town of Light absolutely fascinating. It’s bizarre to think that if I had been born earlier, I too could have easily ended up being treated in a similar hospital. In the game, you see signs and paperwork that share information. One of the ones that fascinated me listed some of the “female deviant conduct whose treatment requires special severity and rigor”. The list included: masturbation, homosexuality, unnatural mothers, women who didn’t develop the instinct of motherhood, refusal of conjugal duties and adultery. It’s just heartbreaking.
I hope I don’t put you off playing the game. I do appreciate that this isn’t for everyone, but if you have an interest in history, find psychiatric asylums interesting and enjoy derelict buildings and exploration, you’ll enjoy it. The narration was good, the artwork appealing and the atmosphere builds up well. There are scenes that are a tad too long and one scene that I found impossible to watch. The speed you move around is frustrating at times, but I understand the purpose of it. It’s far from perfect and definitely isn’t for someone that isn’t a fan of walking simulators. You have little to do but experience the story and the asylum. All that aside I can honestly tell you I enjoyed the experience. I do recommend it and I can overlook the flaws.
It’s a really quick game, but I did miss about 10 achievements, so I could go back and delve further. For now, I’m going to leave it. I’m going to be thinking of Renée and the many like her who were not given the care they should have received. I am thankful for the improvements in mental health care, even though they are still lacking. At least they are moving in the right direction.
The Town of Light is now available on the Xbox One, PS4 and PC.
Publishers: Wired Productions