Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) is a disease that causes long-term fatigue and difficulty with simple physical activities to the point where it negatively impacts almost every facet of a sufferers' life. It's been described as an invisible, almost silent illness, and it's that illness that Robin tries to illustrate.
Robin is a free-to-play experience where the user plays out three days in the life of someone suffering from CFS. A single playthrough will only take around five minutes, and every day is divided into a set of activities.
A finalist in the Serious Games Showcase & Challenge Australasia showcase two years ago and having originally appeared on itch.io, Robin was produced by a group of students from New Zealand's Media Design School. It's since launched on Steam, with a Mac version available here.
Suffering from CFS means that you only have a limited amount of energy per day. There's no way to min-max this. You can't do everything, even though a lot of your available tasks are actually pretty menial chores.
It's also thoroughly depressing when you realise what the limitations are: feeding your pet bird and doing the washing might mean you don't have enough energy to shower. Or the dishes. Or even something as menial as reading a book or browsing the internet. Because that's what the experience of having CFS is like: everything, even the most trivial of activities, is exhausting.
At the end of each day you get a summary of what you didn't do
Robin is built around the idea of the spoon theory, which comes from an essay that author Christine Miserandino penned over a decade ago. For Miserandino, spoons were a useful metaphor when it came to describing what it was like to live with lupus. The basic idea is that you have a certain amount of spoons every day, and each activity uses up one spoon.
Living with lupus forced Miserandino to basically ration her daily time, and while she wasn't always limited to "12 spoons", exceeding her daily limit meant she would have less energy for the following day:
I think she was starting to understand when she theoretically didn’t even get to work, and she was left with 6 spoons. I then explained to her that she needed to choose the rest of her day wisely, since when your “spoons” are gone, they are gone. Sometimes you can borrow against tomorrow’s “spoons”, but just think how hard tomorrow will be with less “spoons”. I also needed to explain that a person who is sick always lives with the looming thought that tomorrow may be the day that a cold comes, or an infection, or any number of things that could be very dangerous.
So you do not want to run low on “spoons”, because you never know when you truly will need them. I didn’t want to depress her, but I needed to be realistic, and unfortunately being prepared for the worst is part of a real day for me.
Robin isn't as explicit or as morbid as Miserandino's personal experience. But it's an effective way of illustrating the difficulty of living with CFS. Ordinary, monotonous tasks are suddenly items that have to be budgeted for, not because sufferers want to be hyper-organised but because it's the only practical way for them to live.
It also helps that Robin, a measly 34.7mb download, is easy on the eye. It makes up for the fact that, similar to Raven Monologue, you're playing more of an experience than a traditional "game". But Robin doesn't need more than the three in-game days required. Living with CFS is exhausting, in every sense of the word, and it's an effective way to communicate a message through a video game.
Robin is free to download through Steam and itch.io now.