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TW: Loss of a child; this article contains sensitive details from the game A Song for Viggo.

Tragedy and depression are themes not often fully explored in videogames, yet are quite frequently in other mediums. A Song for Viggo is an attempt to explore that taboo—with both respect and caution—by breaking down player barriers and broaching discussion. It’s a game about a family who loses their child too soon, and must learn to cope and move on with their everyday lives through guilt and depression. It’s a game made of real paper, constructed alone in a six-and-a-half square-foot closet by a single man with a stop-motion camera. A Song for Viggo is a game about the fragility of life.

“The idea of portraying everyday life turned into A Song for Viggo.”

In collaboration with Fredrik Martensson, a worker with children who suffer from neuropsychiatric disabilities, Simon Karlsson is doing his best to keep A Song for Viggo’s story legitimate, going so far as to interview families who’ve lost their children—one of whom even shared the same fate as Viggo in Karlsson’s game.

“It’s not that hard being alone,” Karlsson says, “but the interviews are hard. The one I remember mostly made me cry; a woman ran over her child, Simon, with her car on his birthday. When I told her how Viggo will die in the game, she poured her coffee over herself.”

Karlsson explains his own suffering from depression and how A Song for Viggo is a way for him to expose his own anxiety and to create something with it, and, by working with tactile paper, he hopes players will find the game more “real,” “more direct in some way.”

a paper car driving through a paper town at night in A Song for Viggo

A Song for Viggo is split into five chapters, each an indirect representation of a stage of grief—Karlsson understands and respects that grief does not always take the same shape: “My game is merely an interpretation of how I think a family could handle tragedy.” Chapters consist of scenes of set dialogue, point-and-click gameplay in which players control Viggo’s father, Steve, and moments which Karlsson calls “invisible choices.”

“Steve can make it worse, or less worse.”

Karlsson outlines many moments in which players will choose to make compromises that will affect Steve’s family: Feed his daughter her favorite sandwich, despite her allergy, to ease her mind, or don’t and suffer even more temperament from her; take the time to warm up the car on an icy, winter day, or don’t and risk walking on a path of black ice. More choices include those that will directly affect Steve’s relationship with his wife—choices that put players in pits of realistic conscience.

“Some things may seem mundane, others more interesting. Probably like real life.”

A Song for Viggo has an undoubtedly heavy atmosphere, but Karlsson’s production values make the game stark and beautiful, approachable and playable; original piano compositions, stunning design aesthetics, and a dedication to telling the story right shape the game with honesty rather than with gimmicks.

Despite all this, Karlsson isn’t just trying to make another art-house indie—it’s the story and the emotion that matter.

“People say about my game: ‘this is art.’ To them, it might be but, to me, it isn’t. It’s not my intention to create art.”

A Song for Viggo is my way of telling myself and the industry that you can tell other kinds of stories with gaming as a medium… But A Song for Viggo is, as it says on the Kickstarter, something simple as a game made out of paper about depression.”

This article was originally published on indiegamemag.com on June 04, 2014. For more on A Song for Viggo, please check out my full interview with Karlsson about the limiting definition of “videogame,” how fashion photography influenced his love for game design, and more.