2021 Indie Games Week 17: Eliza
Eliza is an incredible visual novel about the ethical implications of apps and tech culture trying to commodify human health. I think that’s how I would put it. The topics it covers are complex and the writing is, overall very good, so it’s hard to really capture in a short description exactly what it’s about. There’s several themes/ideas/questions in play:
- tech companies stealing people’s data
- tech companies commodifying health/mental health services into a profitable “easy” product
- how we choose to spend our time and where we work
- how ideas can be taken and used for something evil by companies we work for
- how we can think an idea is morally good and it turns out isn’t
- how to live a fulfilled life and have good mental health
- how to actually help people struggling with mental health
- how human beings are far more complex than any technology can predict
- can technology surpass human thought?
- how to grieve death
Eliza covers a lot, and it does it beautifully.
One of my favorite parts of the game are when you take on the role of the Eliza app. I really felt just…depressed acting out the generic mental health responses created by the Eliza app. The premise of the app “helping society” is that people want to be listened to — and that is true! But people need actual help and support, and the money society wastes on these evil stupid tech companies run by narcissistic babies could actually be spent helping them — by buying them homes, giving them healthcare, improving communities, addressing inequality and bigotry, etc. The game never directly states tech is evil, but it’s impossible to play it and listen to Evelyn’s inner thoughts and not come away with that feeling.
Evelyn is a fantastic protagonist, the shifts in her conversations with people, her self awareness, and her inner dialogue on what she sees around her is incredibly fluid and well done. It makes the game feel incredibly human, which stands as a STARK contrast to everything the app is doing. It’s a disturbing mirror of the present.
The games endings are very….gamey. They make an obvious point that kinda undercuts the complex emotions of the game prior, but overall they’re basically fine. Some of them, the bad ones, definitely go full blast with painting a dystopian future for the player. To me there’s only one real good ending, and that’s going out on your own and figuring out what you need to do for yourself. I didn’t really like any of the characters you met, not as people anyway, they were all great characters, so the idea of choosing to get closer to any of them at the end just seemed ridiculous. Even the more sympathetic ones I thought “I can definitely do better than this”.
Overall, Eliza is fantastic and it’s definitely going on my GOTY list. The voice acting, something I didn’t mention, is phenomenal and gave the game another layer of depth. I could play games like this forever. It just really hit me and made me reflect on some of the larger societal issues we face today in a personal way.