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Homemade RPG seeks to teach acceptance of decline and death

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A therapist who works with people suffering from psychological challenges is writing a game that seeks to offer coping skills.

To Ash is an RPG Maker project from Santa Ana, California-based therapist Kyle Ballentine. It's a simple, old-school RPG but with a twist: The player begins the game with a lot of powers, but loses them as time goes by.

"Instead of getting stronger, you get weaker as you go along," Ballentine told Polygon. "The main character is old and dying, so you actually level down and lose skills as you go." He said that the game is about choosing to accept decline and death.

"I work at an outpatient mental hospital for severe mental illness," he added. "I work mainly with schizophrenia, severe depression, suicidal patients, bipolar and anxiety disorders. A lot of coping skills for anxiety and depression involve accepting what you can't control.

"I work with schizophrenia, severe depression, suicidal patients, bipolar and anxiety disorders."

"When we start discussing death in group, acceptance comes up even more. I think it's important for everyone to think about those existential questions like purpose and the afterlife. There's no right answer, but if you don't live in great fear of death, you can stay more present."

Ballentine said one of the challenges in designing the game is keeping it engaging for the player, who loses powers instead of gaining them. The main character Demetri is a fading warrior but he will have a few partner characters throughout the game to help balance battles. "When you lose some good skills, you may need to rethink how you fight," Ballentine said.

Various locations in the game are based on different stages of grief, like denial and anger. "I'm trying to drive home a message about accepting what you can't control, primarily death," he said, adding that the game will take around six-to-10 hours to complete. To Ash is due to be released in February for Mac and Windows PC.