I just made a meal for an adorable rabbit. However, I failed to account for all its food allergies and pretty soon the bunny vomits. Then, I think, it dies. Disoriented, I click my way out of the scene—one of 20 or so “pages” that make up the body of the game I’m playing—and stumble into another. In the next minigame, I offer a pep talk to a creature while a parasitic worm in its mouth whispers anxious fears that I can’t ever talk over. In another, a different bunny is sliding its way down a massive spike, and I offer platitudes as it ruminates on the meaninglessness of life. Yet another has me, as a small, desperately optimistic worm, trapped in a conversation with two “reasonable” friends who seem determined to crush my hope where it stands. The only way I’m able to get myself out of that conversation is by closing the window.
Every moment in Everything Is Going to Be OK is abrasive. The art style of Natalie Lawhead’s game (though that term feels a bit limiting here) is deliberately crude and noisy, bright reds and oranges in jagged patterns in all corners of the screen. The game, which is available as a pay-what-you-want title on itch.io, simulates a computer desktop, but one that’s been soaked in all the most aggressive parts of the last decade and a half of internet ephemera. Lawhead’s expressive, rough-hewn animals, along with her penchant for implied gore and audiovisual noise, give it the flavor of an old-school Flash animation or Newgrounds game—internet art designed to confront and shock as much as entertain. Everything Is Going to Be OK feels like a deliberate revision of those old styles, used as a precision tool to elicit discomfort from anyone playing.
That discomfort, in Lawhead’s hands, is used to explore themes beyond just unease. The game’s home screen looks like it came from an anxious hell, a world where everything is just a little too loud and painful to handle, where your skin is never quite thick enough. It is, in other words, a potent portrait of living with trauma, or mental illness, or the weight of existential angst. The vignettes that make up this computer’s “pages” oscillate from meditations on pain to tentative moves toward optimism and connection—a dating sim where failed relationships burst into literal flames, or a quick and dirty cult-building simulator. It comes together to present the computer as a kind of mind, a nervous and disordered one just trying to survive and taking what pleasure can be had in that. It’s encouraging in a grim way, which is sometimes the only kind of encouragement that feels real.
In an artist’s statement that accompanies the game, Lawhead calls Everything Is Going to Be OK a type of “power fantasy,” a fantasy reveling in the power of surviving, making do, and making something good out of a world that’s difficult to manage. As an antidote to the more violent power fantasies in big-budget videogames, it’s a compelling, personal success. Go in expecting catharsis, and maybe a headache (though it’s worth it). Just don’t expect escapism.