Look, I get it; Catherine doesn’t look like a game. Its main character doesn’t have a buzz cut, there’s no cover system and, uh, its box art is unapologetically pink. But, god, please play this game. It might just change your life.
Take me, for example. I’m 21, I’ve only ever been in one serious relationship and am generally of the opinion that, while I’m young at least, it’s better to be single, or at least not commit to anything along the lines of a long-distance relationship or, dare I say it, marriage.
Catherine, then, despite its set story and charming characters, puts you and your ideals to the test.
Playing as 30-something Vincent, Catherine is part lifestyle quiz, part dating sim, part puzzler. The shaggy haired protagonist packs plenty of charm, but his indecisive nature leaves a hole in his personality that’s filled by the player’s own beliefs in terms of relationships and similar topics.
As anyone mildly interested in the game should know, Vincent is experiencing a bit of a mid-life crisis. He’s unsure of his future with long-time girlfriend Katherine, which isn’t helped when he meets Catherine (note the different spellings), a young girl that seemingly invites herself into Vincent’s pants. As our hero’s affair develops, he finds himself facing challenging block-climbing nightmares in his sleep, ones that he won’t wake up from should he fall.
Yes, it sounds odd, and it is, fantastically so. But it’s when the game challenges your perceptions of relationships and their importance that Catherine really stands out from the pack.
Back to me, then. I find a lot to relate to in poor ol’ Vincent, as I suspect a lot of gamers from my age and up do. I’m just mere months away from leaving university now, and the uncertainty of the future is constantly luring in the back of my head. I got out of a relationship two years ago and have made the conscious decision to stay out them since then. I work now, and most of my money goes to videogames. While I’m around this age, I figure that’s perfectly fine. Another person in my life would be a distraction from my work and my hobbies. And, it sounds selfish, but I like spending my money on me. If I were to start seeing someone again, it would have to happen naturally rather than me going out of my way to impress a girl.
And with this frame of mind, I found an easy solution to Vincent’s troubles at the start of Catherine – get free. If I was Vincent, with my worries about the rest of my life and the pressures of a girlfriend that wants to take things to another level, I know I’d want to get back to how things are for me now; uncomplicated and unpressured. So I went about trying to set Vince up for a big break up, replying harshly to Katherine’s texts and acting like all I wanted to do was be by myself, and that any other form of commitment was just extra baggage.
And hey, this other Catherine was moving much more at my pace, keeping a casual relationship. I didn’t see the harm in her sticking around for a while.
But as the game went on even Catherine began to grate on me. She was clingy and overreactive, so I started to distance myself from her too. Surely Vincent would end up much happier with his mind free from these worries?
He didn’t. In fact Vince’s continuing spiral into depression (obviously not helped by the fact he was coming close to death in his sleep every night) left me feeling a lot emptier than I thought I would. Something had to change; I couldn’t condemn Vincent or myself to this loneliness.
And then it hit me that maybe sticking with Katherine was the right choice. There was a time when these two would have been happy, in a stable relationship that worked for the both of them. I know that if I could just simply return to the way things were with my ex-girlfriend before I broke up with her, when things were easy, then I probably would.
So, at just over the halfway point, I started to try and make things up with Katherine. Some plot developments had helped make the decision a little easier, but if Vincent and Katherine had been happy for five years leading up to now, then surely it was worth fighting to regain that happiness?
By endgame, I found myself somewhere in the middle of the games’ ‘morality meter’. And when the shit inevitably hit the fan, I started to see the repercussions of my own indecisive, unconfident actions.
At key points in Catherine the game adds up your past actions to decide for itself how Vincent is going to react to certain situations. In the end game, as his relationship with Katherine hangs in the balance, it’s literally a game changer.
And so I had to sit there, frustrated as the Vincent that I’d zig zagged back and forth throughout the game struggled to come up with the right words to describe to Katherine how he felt. And even though I knew what I wanted, putting it in a way to explain my selfish actions just didn’t seem possible.
That was the moment that just completely struck me – how much of a reflection this babbling, sweaty, panicky idiot was on me. Too often have I found myself too scared to really say what I feel to the people that really mattered to me. And it’s because I’ve never been good at figuring out what I want. That’s why I’m worried about my future post-studying, and why I’ve kept away from serious commitment, because I’ve never been confident enough in myself to really stick to a chosen path.
And I have to stop being like that. That’s what Catherine has helped me understand. I can’t end up like Vincent in ten years from now. I instilled my same indecisive, unconfident nature in a character that I could easily relate to and put myself in the shoes in and look what happened. I’m not saying that I’m going to go out on the hunt for a girlfriend first thing tomorrow morning, but I’m going to work on gaining the confidence to make commitments like that and sticking to them. And, hey, in the end it actually sort of worked out for Vincent, and hopefully it will for me too.
That’s just one aspect of Catherine, which is really a game I could talk about for another 3,000 words. No, it’s not the sort of game that provides the conventional charms that I’ve come to love from the medium, but instead it challenged me and pushed me in a way that no game, or indeed any medium has before.
Catherine is an absolutely amazing experience that’s helped me change my outlook on things. So, god, please buy it. You never know, it might do the same for you.