It’s not easy to properly comprehend the effect debilitating diseases have on people until you experience their effect yourself. It’s easy to see them as terrible but improbable occurrences, something that clearly happens but is impossible to envision yourself suffering from. And yet, dementia scares the hell out of me. The idea that there’s this invisible force that has no cure, no prevention, that will almost certainly effect you at some point in your life and only becomes more likely the longer you live somehow feels so much more real to me than cancer, or Ebola, or any other life threatening disease that I could come in contact with.
Perhaps that’s due partly to how much dementia affects not only yourself, but the people around you. Watching your grandparents forget you along with themselves is a cold shock to reality that puts things into startling focus the way statistics and symptom lists never could. And it’s the inescapable nature of something you can’t predict or counteract that makes it difficult to just push the thought out of your mind that one day you might wake up and have forgotten who you are.
Ether One isn’t really about a hypothetical cure for dementia, or the life of someone finding slowly loosing themselves to it. To me at least, it’s about giving that human perspective to something in all likelihood we will all go through. Inhabiting the memories of someone undergoing experimental treatment, you travel through their life learning the events that shaped them and then watching them fall away as the disease takes hold and they struggle to hang onto even the moments most important to them.
It’s depressing but not in a way that makes you sad, so much as it causes you to feel empathetic as you watch a character you’ve become emotionally invested with have everything taken away from them. Reading through personal letters, town events, job descriptions, and fidgeting with character belongings, you get to know these characters to even their most mundane and ordinary level. Life is often unfair, but Ether One captures the sense of uncontrollable tragedy and desperate attempts at resolution that’s almost painful to see because it’s so understandable.
Ether One has built a world so close to our own, but given it a purpose and a life that makes every scrap of paper and ordinary item feel meaningful. I wanted to know more about these characters, to pry into their emotions and personal thoughts to try to understand what they were going through, and Ether One allows you to do this in a way that doesn’t feel intrusive or emotionally manipulative. You’re trying to help your character remember who they are; trying to put things back together in a desperate hope to save their memories, and prove the procedure a success so nobody will have to go through something so destructive
Ether One’s only real problem is that it tries harder than it probably needs to be a more traditional game than first-person exploration games are often considered, and ends up making it incredibly hard to see most of its content that it hinds behind obtuse puzzles and logic that’s often difficult to understand. There are a lot of objects you can interact with, but just enough which you can’t that it’s often incredibly difficult to know which items are for solving puzzles and which have been included just as a means of world building. My solution to this was to attempt to scavenge everything I could pick up, but that makes for an extremely cluttered and impractical playstyle that still often left me clueless when it came to solving an actual puzzle.
I say puzzle, but the projectors you need to reassemble in Ether One were often more comprehension barriers than logical conundrums. I was at such a loss as to know even where to start that even with the answer typically staring me in the face it was near impossible for me to solve anything without the help of a guide. In a lot of ways it feels very much like the sort of obtuse puzzles found in a lot of old adventure games, an I imagine people missing those games will feel right at home, but in my case I was more frustrated at trying to parse an endless stream of relevant and irrelevant information than I was satisfied by actually managing to solve one.
And it’s a shame because it makes it extremely easy to miss huge swaths of content for those less inclined to sit and ponder solutions or look them up online, content which gave a larger context to the story that I feel is important anyone playing the game experience. Were it any other game I’d have likely given up and just skipped to the end, but Ether One deserves more than that. I felt like I owed it to the game to see all it had to show me, no matter how trivial it might be because even meaningless documents and items could eventually serve some significance.
Ether One certainly hasn’t dissolved my fears of dementia, but it definitely helped show me that I could be doing more for those affected by it instead of turning away because I’d rather not deal with the emotional trauma of someone you have to reintroduce yourself to every meeting. What that might be I’m not entirely sure of yet, but I feel Ether One is important for even daring bring these ideas up, and I hope they won’t be lost on others who play it.