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Escape Your Home in a Game About the Anxieties of OCD

Scene from 'Obsessive Compulsive Disorder' by Brian Adams Douglas (GIF by the author for Hyperallergic, via Instagram)
Scene from ‘Obsessive Compulsive Disorder’ by Brian Adam Douglas (GIF by the author for Hyperallergic, via Instagram)

You’re running late to work and need to get out the door in three minutes if you have any chance of making it to the office on time, but did you leave the stove on? Will the whole house go up in flames? Will the dripping faucet flood the rooms with a sudden tsunami of water? As a player in Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, you have the choice to address as many of these anxieties as possible or just walk out the door and leave the place to its potential doom.

Scene from 'Obsessive Compulsive Disorder' (screenshot by the author for Hyperallergic) (click to enlarge)
Scene from ‘Obsessive Compulsive Disorder’ (screenshot by the author for Hyperallergic) (click to enlarge)

The free mobile interactive is the first from Endgames, a new project by Brian Adam Douglas. The artist is perhaps best known for his street art under the name Elbow-Toe, and he creates incredibly intricate collages that have the textural depth of paintings. He’s also worked as a professional programmer, although this is his first time experimenting with programming in his creative practice. The focus on OCD was inspired in part by his own experiences with its impact on daily life.

“I suffer from it to a certain extent, and the impetus for this game came one day at work, years ago, when a friend of mine kept coming back into the workspace over and over and over, checking to make sure a candle was not lit,” Douglas told Hyperallergic. “It was at that moment that I was aware of the absurdity of it all.”

It’s “horribly tragic for those that suffer from OCD to a debilitating degree,” he added. In the game, which can only be played online on a mobile device, you guide your pixelated character as it walks through the expanding floor plan of a house.

“The game engine I built out for OCD was an attempt to merge the top-down games of my childhood with a sensation I have playing first-person shooters, where the world revolves around the player,” Douglas explained. “I like how limited the screen is on the phone, because you have this whole environment spinning around you that you have so little reference for, because you only see a slice of it.”

A video posted by @elbowtoe on

Thought bubbles pop up to illustrate mundane frustrations, like chairs misaligned at a table, or more dramatic scenarios, like falling into the toilet. It’s only after you play through a few times that you realize you can ignore these alarms and just stroll out the exit before your time’s up.

“That’s the real kicker about OCD,” he said. “You can just walk out the door on all of these repetitive thoughts. They aren’t real, though they feel completely present.”

Ultimately, Douglas is interested in the game inspiring empathy, and subsequent interactives released through Endgames will concentrate on the psychological distresses that leave many of us feeling isolated. “I want my players to leave the artworks stressed and feeling like they can’t win so they keep trying, even though they are designed by their very nature to lose,” he said.

As the tagline for Endgames goes: “Nothing is funnier than unhappiness.”

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is available to play for free through Endgames.

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