Duet is a dance. Two heavenly bodies entwined, moving in perfect unison to become one whole, inseparable and immaculate in their symmetry and differences. Duet is also a song. Somber, longing, broken and difficult. It’s a song pulled from outside the game, calling at my darker urges and insecurities. Duet isn’t a game about me, or maybe about anyone, but I was inarguably a part of it, and in its darkness and traces of beauty it found me and spoke to me in ways no other game ever has.
Duet opens like any other mobile game. Familiar buttons and lists of challenges line the screen, a pop up alerts me when I’ve earned an achievement, and links to Twitter allow me to share my best scores with the world. Duet is so entirely unassuming and blank that it’s impossible to read from the outside.
On the inside though, Duet wrestles with the problems of characters it can’t interact with. A voice whispers to me that this isn’t working. It’s my fault and this has to end. In the urgency of the moment I lose control and disrupt our dance, beginning again but unable to hide the stains of my previous failures.
There is always the option to stop in Duet. Levels are separated cleanly, allowing you to quit if you need to without fear of losing what you’ve started. At times, it’s easy to want to stop. When things become too intense and perilous, setting the game down to potentially never return feels like the most direct approach.
What I noticed was that it was always in the most difficult thematic moments of Duet that were the most challenging. The moments when I’m confronted with depression, crumbling relationships, and the inability to make sense of anything or find a way to fix it. The more I went down these roads the harder it became, obstacles jutting out and whirling dangerously as I scrambled to navigate them quick enough. It’s brutal and distressing, but I couldn’t leave things where they were.
Duet gives you the option to stop, but it doesn’t want you to use it. On the other side of that difficult barrier, there were words of encouragement. I was crawling out of this hole, rejoining my partner, and making our lives better for once. Though it forced an uncomfortable introspection, Duet was never a game about losing hope and falling into a spiral of depression. It’s about coming to terms that something is wrong. About forcing you to recognize your faults and how they affect the people around you. Most of all Duet is about moving past those moments, and finding a better place beyond your troubles. I don’t know if I’ve ever played a game that hit home as hard.