“Sym” Balances Two Worlds in a Game About Social Anxiety Disorder
Sym is engaging but not particularly fun, inducing anxiety even as it explores the topic. To play Sym and solve the puzzles, gamers switch between an external and internal world…but be warned: what might be meaningless in one realm can be deadly in another. And, of course, some monsters have the ability to cross the barrier.
If I describe Sym as clever, that might give the wrong impression. Sym’s cleverness comes into play not through tricky puzzles but through its subtlety. The lidless eyeballs watching you jump and duck across the screen are unnerving, but they don’t do anything to you–but even so, don’t they cause your shoulders to hunch a little every time you come across them? Strange, disconnected phrases float in various rooms, adding an extra level of discomfort. The game neatly avoids becoming too on the nose and therefore irritating, but it’s pretty easy to recognize the metaphors–switch worlds, retreating into what’s familiar and private, but the internal landscape is far more dangerous.
Ultimately, Sym is about helping you recognize and manage social anxiety. To that effect, the developers have promised a level editor that will allow players to tell their own stories.