DivCircle attempts to capture the experience of hiding your true self whenever you are in a public space, such as pretending to be straight or trying to fit in at school. Despite being a simple game it actually captures a lot of the emotions and thoughts of someone in this position completely through it’s gameplay.

The game opens with a single line of text: “You are different but afraid to stand alone. So go on, touch the screen and rotate, so you can blend with others.” The words then fade out and the player is given control. The objective of the game is to rotate the inner portion of the screen so that it is in line with the outer portion. This normally wouldn’t be challenging but the outer portion moves sporadically, changing speed and direction without notice. Being out of sync causes the screen to fade to white while staying in sync brings the color back. The player loses when the screen fades out completely.

DivCircle is an endless game and uses score for a sense of progress. Score is gained independent of how well the player is doing, just as long as the player hasn’t lost. In a sense, the score acts more like a timer. The game over screen is unique in that it provides inspirational words for the player to play again, that the next attempt will be better.

DivCircle contains plenty of parallels with the societal pressures of conformity. Let’s first look at the gameplay. The entirety of the game is trying to keep your part of the screen lined up with the rest of the screen. There aren’t any indicators of how fast the screen is rotating or when it will change directions either. The player is stuck in a game of catch up, always one step behind the game, and despite all efforts the screens can never be perfectly lined up for too long. At best they are close enough that the game doesn’t begin to fade the screen out. As someone who has tried fitting in before, all of this rings too true. It is a race without a finish line, struggling to keep up with what is fashionable. Perfect assimilation is a fantasy that can never be achieve. The only rational goal is to get close enough to perfect that nobody notices the facade.

As with most tasks, repetition breeds mastery and fitting in is no different. The more often one attempts to fit in the better they will get at it. This progress can be measured by the procedural changes in wardrobe or diction. This is a dark road to walk that often leads to the loss of oneself. The need to be accepted is overpowering, toxic at times, and always assures a superior future with better friends and more confidence. These are, of course, false promises. The inability to be myself always yielded an injured self-image as I accepted that my true self wasn’t good enough to show the world. It also led to my gradual disappearance, fading into the throngs of the assimilated with no way to discern myself from the rest.

Being a skill based game, a player gets better at DivCircle by playing it as well. While the game doesn’t give any indications to aid the player, strategies can still be formed. For instance, I noticed that I scored higher when I rotated the screen in quick, short segments rather than trying to keep a fluid rotation. After a few high scoring games I was presented with an “ending.” It acknowledged how great I was at blending in, so much so that I am no longer visible, just another face in the crowd. That despite how much I wanted so much to be loved by those around me, I have made myself hidden to those very people.

As I stated earlier, the game over screen in DivCircle contains inspirational messages to do better next time. It is very much akin to being found out. Maybe it is around a family member or friend but a small slip up happens, a moment of vulnerability, and the true self is revealed. “It’s just a phase” are commonly uttered words in these scenarios and while they are usually said for laughs in a sitcom or movie, the words tend to sting more than they should. The game, just as loved ones who don’t understand, continues to push the player to get a high score — to fit in better — despite it feeling wrong.

An aspect that some might gloss over is the audio in the game. The music is pensive, if not a little melancholy. For me, It represents how much attention I paid to other’s perception of me mixed with constant personal belittlement. Ideas of being odd, weird, or even a freak get internalized, sometimes to the point that the external degradation isn’t needed anymore. I discovered it was too easy to slowly come to hate yourself because you can’t be “normal” regardless of any effort and attempts to be. Getting close to the lose state in DivCircle sees the music become distant, replaced with the sound of overlapping voices and static. For me, this induces a bit of panic. The plethora of voices are reminiscent of a social gathering — something I am not very fond of. For those who haven’t come to terms with who they are and are still blending, social events create anxiety as every interaction could lead to a slip up. Tailoring one’s actions and words to fit the present company is exhausting and increases in difficulty with the number of people around. The anxiety brought up by that sound effect makes playing the game difficult, which is the worst thing to happen when I’m already losing. So too with life, anxiety doesn’t help anyone to fit. Quite the opposite in fact.

Every aspect of this game was perfectly designed to encompass the feeling and thoughts of not fitting in but wanting to. That guilt that leads to suppressing your self in lieu of finding solace in acceptance. It rarely works out though. Very few people can keep themselves hidden for a lifetime without going insane or becoming emotionally robbed. Some might end up fitting in with those around them — reaching that high score — but it never ends. They will continue to play the game forever until they quit or lose.  The only real way to win is to stop playing entirely.

About The Author

Contributor

Bryan is fascinated with the potential of video games as a story telling medium, both through narrative and mechanics. He loves playing games with deep systems and mechanics, giving players lots of room to tinker in the games in search of optimization. This has led him to favor fighting games and RPG though he has a soft spot for fast paced FPS titles and their twitchy, reaction based skill set. Outside of video games he enjoys programming, fiction writing, and music composition and performance.

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  • I don’t think there is a real justification for why people labor to “fit in”. It’s one thing where there are clear cut criteria, and you stand to gain or lose something, but it’s another when you struggle to make sense of what you are even supposed to be doing. Social anxiety feels like a rationalization instead of an explanation.

    I think the way the mind works is it can only run one main program of two, that is its general strategy. One useful strategy is make rational sense of things and act accordingly. The other strategy is to ape what is happening around you. I think without realizing it our brains get slotted into one or the other track depending on different factors. These two strategies are completely incompatible. Switching tracks is difficult to say the least.

    We don’t usually think of our brains as “running programs in the background” so we think instead, oh I’m failing to blend in, and not oh, my strategy for making sense of the world around me is failing.