[WARNING -- This article contains Catherine spoilers] After spending the last three years of my life slowly being consumed by my grave misstep, I've finally come out to say it. I cheated on my ex-partner.
I've never been one for using video games as escapism–I like games that force me to face hard and ugly truths, uncomfortable subjects and unconventional angles. At least, I thought so. When the prospect of Catherine arrived, a game whose entire plot rested on a huge, secret source of anxiety for me, I hesitated. Was I really about to play a game that had me repeating a mistake that had so much impact on me, I hadn't spoken about it to anyone for years?
Yes. Yes I was.
In the critiques following the game's release, I saw people claim how unrealistic and stereotypical the whole thing was. Yet, as I played the game, the parallels seemed eerie. Vincent, becoming frightened at the prospect of a serious relationship with his long-time partner, makes an irresponsible, and frankly repulsive, choice.
Heh. Easy–and perhaps hypocritical–to condemn when it isn't me, eh? ‘It doesn't matter what the context was, Vincent!,' I thought to myself. You are responsible for your actions, just like any other adult!
And yet I think back on my own situation, and it wasn't as easy or simple as it sounds.
Catherine explained: Catherine tells the story of Vincent Brooks, a man-child who lives his life on cruise control. In order to cope with a pregnancy scare that threatens his complacent lifestyle, Vincent makes the mistake of falling into the arms of the seductive Catherine. The player must then help Vincent take a stand, for once in his miserable life. Does he do the 'responsible' thing and commit to his current girlfriend, Katherine? Or does he chase temptation with the girl of his dreams, Catherine?
I don't know exactly what led me to that unfaithful night in real life. I can tell you the context, though. I had been going out with my then-boyfriend for years. It was about as serious as these things can get - we spoke of marriage, the future house, kids, careers, the works. An engagement almost happened, even.
Really though, think on that for a second. 19. Marriage? I saw my future laid out neatly in front of me. Me, the kid that wasn't even out of her teens.
I couldn't. I just couldn't. And one night, I acknowledged that insecurity and uncertainty in the worst possible way. I cheated.
I considered myself -- up until that point -- a person of strong moral character. The cheating, however, turned my world upside down. What kind of a person was I becoming? What kind of person cheats? I've never really been able to answer that question–I ran away from what it might say about me, hence it taking me years to even acknowledge -- but playing Catherine made it impossible not to dwell on it. Seeing everyone condemn Vincent for the type of person he is made it impossible not to dwell on it.
Vincent isn't a likable character–I'm sure this is a universal sentiment. He comes across as a spineless, milquetoast sap. As you play, you're practically screaming at the TV over the choices he makes.
I didn't just dislike Vincent, though. I absolutely hated him. I hated how he stalled. I hated how he ran away from his problems. I hated how he strung both Catherine and Katherine along. I hated how he acted as if the problem would fix itself.
Or was it that I hated watching Vincent commit exact same mistakes as I did, for being exactly the same as me? I can't say.
As I played, I asked myself why I would go so out of my way to ruin something positive I had going for me. I came up with no answer. There was no logical reason for it. And yet the error felt so..human? I can't expect you to understand that, especially if you're cemented on the idea of pure, unwavering love. But I can tell you I felt solidarity for Vincent as he stumbled through the ordeal himself, and that's something that most people did not relate to.
Actually dealing with it
Telling my ex I cheated was terrifying, especially considering how solid our history seemed. In fact, telling him this summer was probably the most difficult thing I've ever had to do in my life. There's no perfect moment for it. There's no segue. There's no straightforward way to do it. It's easy to give Vincent shit over how he handles his situation, but as someone that's been there, a week or so is swift. It took me three years after the fact -- it took breaking up first, even -- for me to tell my ex.
But I told him.
I decided that I could not deal with the issue in a stupid video game and not actually deal with it in real life. Waiting so long to do it was reprehensible and ridiculous enough as it was.
The revelation didn't go over so well with my ex -- unsurprisingly, of course.
It was during this back and forth between the ex and I that I started using the game's puzzle segments as therapy; problems were straightforward, logical, had solutions that fit neatly into place amidst all the chaos. I could pause when things were tough. I could make mistakes, and there was an undo button that let me have another shot and doing things the right way. Better yet: it was possible for me to achieve the results I wanted, by saying the right thing. The right choices are so clear when it's just a game and I'm meant to be the hero. Katherine can come around. I can get married. I can get the happy ending I wanted -- even if I didn't deserve it.
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I don't mind happy endings, but the way the game resolves the situation was disappointing.
Spoiler begins: Catherine is actually a succubus, and not actually real. To us players–especially the ones that voted for an emotional tryst being worse than physical cheating in the polls–that distinction doesn't really matter. Vincent still cheated, right? And yet at the end, I couldn't shake the feeling that the game's creators at Atlus pulled a fast one on me, that they undermined the seriousness of the situation by how much they pushed that Catherine was only in Vincent's head. ….Vincent didn't actually cheat! It's true because he says it and everyone around him accepts it! Yeah, right.
Hence, I felt that the fantastical elements that contextualized the game also undermined the otherwise serious nature of the game. The gravity of the situation is lessened, and in it's stead we have a ridiculous, fantastical situation that is being orchestrated by powerful deities that uphold archaic values. This plot is straight out of the Atlus playbook, and while some persistent elements worked well in Catherine -- the tower, alternate sexuality, dreams, etc -- the fantastical element used as an absolution of Vincent's responsibility did not. Spoiler ends.
Nonetheless there's a small, niggling hope inside me. Maybe, just maybe, Vincent's courage and (eventual) resolve mean that Vincent is still redeemable in spite of what he did, who he used to be. Or maybe it's just wishful thinking on my part.