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Ape Out helped me survive the holidays

Sometimes you just want the world to leave you alone

Ape-Out Gabe Cuzzillo/Devolver
Ryan Gilliam (he/him) has worked at Polygon for nearly seven years. He primarily spends his time writing guides for massively popular games like Diablo 4 & Destiny 2.

On a cool night, sandwiched between the holiday drudgery of Christmas and New Years, I played Ape Out for the first time. My experience was destructive, making the game the perfect outlet for holiday stress.

Ape Out begins in a small hallway, and I am the titular ape. I have to escape the clutches of those who have imprisoned me — the story is not very clear about how this happened — and that’s the entire setup. There are legions of armed guards in my way, which is unfortunate for them. I burst out of my restraints, and barrel through the maze-like hallways to find an exit. The percussive score and simple art style keep me focused on my rampage. Every aspect of the game reflects my rage and single-minded intent to escape.

I can kill every guard I see by grabbing them, pushing them into walls or each other. But I don’t need to smash anyone — only those that get in my way. It’s not an entirely dissimilar feeling to the rage you may feel the ninth time one of your relatives asks you your opinion on Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker over some Christmas lasagna.

I keep thinking, deep into my second hour of explaining my issues about Palpatine coming back with no explanation of how it happened, that it didn’t need to be this way. They could have just left it alone. They did not need to stand between me and the sweet freedom of not talking about Star Wars.

They did this to themselves, in other words. I am merely trying to escape, and they won’t let me.

I’m not saying I want to cause bodily harm to my relatives, I just don’t want to talk about Babu Frik anymore. Yes, it’s my fault for having a Star Wars tattoo, and yes, I could just lie and say I liked the movie to get the conversation over with. But that’s not what the holidays are about. They’re about high-tension conversations that could break into a violent screaming match or a loving embrace at any moment. High risk, and a sigh of relief when the last person walks out the door.

Ape Out didn’t alleviate that high holiday stress, it replicated it. I don’t want to hurt these scientists, and I don’t want to hurt my relatives — I want to push them away from me and get the hell out of here. To escape into the jungle; away from discourse and away from people. The ape and I have the same goals; the biggest difference is that he’s given a better soundtrack.

Holiday stress caused me to play through the first 20 levels of Ape Out in a single sitting — alone, in my office, while everyone else was asleep. I felt stressed when I sat down, and I felt stressed the entire time I played. But by the end, I was surprisingly relaxed, even ready for my next holiday adventure. I had made enough bloody stains on those virtual walls to leave my angst behind.

Ape Out - enemy aiming at the ape with multiple spotlights on it Gabe Cuzzillo, Bennett Foddy, Matt Boch/Devolver Digital

The ape and I differ in a few key ways. I love my family, and it doesn’t even know the names of these scientists or why it’s imprisoned. But nobody likes feeling trapped, poked, and prodded — that’s something we can both relate to. We all have moments — especially around the holidays — where we just want to push people away and have our own little moment. But if you come from a big family like mine, or part of you genuinely lives for that holiday stress, pushing people away isn’t an option. But oh lord, I found the game that gives me at least the illusion of doing exactly that, when the stress feels like a bit too much.

So for now, Ape Out is a stress ball, a tension reliever, a simulator of what life might be like if I could make people leave me the hell alone whenever I wanted. I may not need to escape into the jungle, but for now at least, I feel a little more comfortable returning to my life.

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