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Last Call, a game about domestic abuse, is both devastating and healing

An autobiographical game told in poems

a box of video games packed away Image: Nina Freeman, Jake Jeffries

It’s nice to feel understood. For someone to tell you they see you, they hear you. This is a key idea in Cibele designer Nina Freeman’s latest game, Last Call. With collaborator Jake Jefferies, Freeman’s Last Call is once again an autobiographical game, “based on the lived experience of the game designer,” Freeman said in the game’s description on itch.io.

Last Call is centered on domestic violence and recovery, described through a series of poems tucked away in flickering, fiery boxes. From beginning to end, Last Call takes place in a partially-packed up apartment, in anticipation of a move. The apartment is free of others, lit only by dim windows and the boxes on fire. The boxes contain a person’s belongings: stuff like clothes, video games, and books. Some of them have a piece of paper slipped inside.

a poem on screen with a photo of a person with curly hair Image: Nina Freeman, Jake Jefferies

In these poems, scattered between boxes, Freeman reflects on the relationship that inspired the game — from its joyous beginnings to its violent end. The poems ease into the violence of domestic abuse, how quickly it can slip into a relationship and take hold. She captures the devastation, insecurity, and hopelessness of both emotional and physical abuse in these poems. Though the game doesn’t physically depict these acts, they are described in detail in the poems, and they’re often just as scary and vulnerable.

As much as Freeman focuses on the painful reality of the relationship, Last Call feels like it’s more about healing: The game uses a unique mechanic in voice recognition to create an intensely felt bond between Freeman and the player; Last Call requires players to really hear these words and to respond in turn — by literally saying those words out loud. (There is an option to play the game with this turned off, though it’s recommended if it’s possible.)

boxes on fire in an apartment Image: Nina Freeman, Jake Jefferies

I can’t remember a game that asked me to speak to it. In Last Call, it’s words of affirmation: I hear you. I see you. I believe you. In finding these words and in extinguishing these flames by packing these boxes, I felt like it was a way to let go. That I hear this story — parts of which felt reflected back to my own life — means someone hears mine, too. That, in all its intimacy, is healing.

Last Call is available for free on itch.io. It comes with a content warning for the text descriptions of “domestic violence, emotional and physical abuse, violence against women, suicide ideation and attempt, [and] sexual content.” Last Call ends with a link to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence.