My Divorce

my divorce

A computer game by Brett Douville
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This game is Windows-based and has been tested on XP, Vista, and Windows 7 machines. It may also run on earlier versions.
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Background

Several years ago, Rod Humble released "The Marriage" -- an art-game experiment of what forces he felt came into play in a marriage. At the time, I had been divorced from my ex-wife for some six or eight months, and I remember snarkily thinking that someone should do "The Divorce", an investigation of what happens to people during their divorce. It would be fueled by the anger and pain I was feeling, and attempt to impart that to the audience.

"my divorce" is *not* that game. I'm not interested in making that game, though making it (and perhaps not releasing it) at the time may have been therapeutic.

"my divorce" is my own attempt at the forces I feel are at play in a divorce, and specifically a certain kind of divorce: one in which there are children. Like "The Marriage", it is intended to be art -- it is meant to explore, through game mechanics, a set of human interactions or a piece of the human condition.

I chose to represent my thoughts in as close a manner to Humble's as I could; I have a lot of interests in games, and one of them is the way in which games specifically speak to the games that preceded them. Here, I adapted many bits from "The Marriage" -- most obviously, the visual representation, which I reproduced more or less whole-cloth, but also some of the gestural control. The background colors change in much the same way, though the meanings of the colors chosen are different. The game has similar endings, and those endings have similar meanings.

There are some gestural additions and similarities:
  • The game starts slightly differently from "The Marriage". In "The Marriage", the player places the mouse over the title text, which is between the two starting blocks. In "my divorce", the game begins with what I call the split: a quick drawing down of the mouse through the title. This will create a 'wall' on the screen between the two larger blocks at start.
  • The green, grey, and black circles may be moused over. This will cause them to disappear, and in the case of the black, this will impart a penalty to those on the same side of the wall.
  • The squares may be moused over; this will draw in the blue (or pink) circles if they are close enough. It will also cause the squares to shrink while the mouse is over them.
  • Quickly gesturing a circle around all of the blue (or pink) circles will send them to the other side of the wall. I call this the round-up.
Like "The Marriage", the core ideas of this art game were implemented fairly quickly, in a matter of a few hours one afternoon a few months ago. The remaining time was in polish.

"my divorce", however, is not intended to represent solely my own divorce, which was finalized a few years ago. It is my earnest hope that people will experiment with the game and personalize it, either to explore the mechanics or their own divorces, imagined or real. There are notes included with the game explaining how to do so, available through the menu. While there are limits to the variety of individual experiences which can be explored, I hope that the explorable space is sufficient to be accessible to a large number of people.

If you have not played "The Marriage", I highly recommend you do so before playing "my divorce", including reading his artistic statement. "my divorce" is intended to be part of a conversation, not a free-standing statement. Like "The Marriage", "my divorce" is somewhat difficult to "win".

Acknowledgments

I am indebted to comments and playtesting from Andrew Kirmse and Jamie Fristrom, who played early versions of the game. My thanks also go to friends with whom I discussed the idea, helping to solidify my thinking, in particular Tammy Fowler Britt, Tim Longo, Meghan Thomas, Melissa Mullen-Bomango, and my father, Gary Douville.

I also thank Rod Humble, whom I've never met, but whose art games have been an inspiration, not just for the current work but in renewing my hope that games will grow in how they touch upon the human condition. In a similar vein, I thank Brenda Brathwaite for making me aware that games can address any topic. Thanks also to those who work tirelessly to promote a meaning-full agenda for games.

Thanks to all of those who have been part of my professional life in the games industry, and all those players who have picked up one of the games to which I've contributed.

Finally, I am ever thankful for my sons, who haven't seen or played this game, but who remain the two most important people in my life and the reason behind so much of what I do.

Rules and Meaning

If you have not already played the game, I recommend that you do so. This section contains information that may detract from your own interpretation of the game.

The pink or blue circles roughly represent the children of the ended marriage. To succeed at the game, they must be your primary focus. The pink and blue squares roughly represent the parents though, as in Humble's game, they can represent masculine and feminine elements.

Rules:
  • When moused over, squares slow the pink or blue circles and attract them in. This shrinks the square being moused over.
  • Collision between a pink or blue circle and a square results in the circle gaining in color, if the square is of the same color as the circle, or gaining in size, if the square is of the opposite color.
  • After time spent away from a square, the pink or blue circles will begin to shrink or fade. Similarly, the pink or blue squares will begin to shrink the longer they are away from the pink or blue circles.
  • The green, grey, and black circles impart changes in size or color to the pink and blue elements. A pink or blue square will generally change more when one of these circles hits a pink or blue circle on the same side of the wall. Mousing over these circles will mostly not have an impact, though mousing over the black ones is an exception.
  • "Rounding up" the circles to send them to the other side of the wall comes at a small cost to the children.

Meanings

There are a collection of different interpretational elements at work in the game. Here are a few of the important ones, at least, to the artist.

  • The pink and blue elements represent people somewhat; like Rod Humble's game, they are not purely representational though the "children" are definitely moreso. The "parents" are the larger squares and the "children" are the circles.
  • The background color changes were deliberately chosen to represent the likely internal state of the "children" over time. The grey background which occurs immediately after the "split" is meant to represent the uncertainty of the initial period following a separation or divorce. The background next becomes pink as they seek nurture and reassurance, and then blue as their own needs assert themselves. Finally, one hopes that a balance is achieved and a mix of the two is the final background color.
  • The green, grey, and black circles represent outside forces -- life events, I've taken to calling them. They are unpredictable though weighted in various directions. Roughly speaking, they grow, intensify color, slow, and shrink the pink and blue participants.
  • A "parent" is more impacted by its children hitting a life event while in its care than by hitting one itself.
  • The playing field is not evenly split; the left side is three-sevenths of the screen. This reflects the division of custody in my own divorce; I have my sons three nights a week.
  • My experience (and intention) shows that the game can only be won by constantly focusing on the "children", often at some sacrifice to the parents.


Brett Douville
August 2010
Olney, Maryland