Don't Worry, I'm Here

on what we leave behind

Don't Worry, I'm Here

There will be a few spoilers here for A Space for the Unbound and the BBC comedy series Ghosts. I'll give you advance notice when we get there, but I thought I'd give you a heads up!

My first encounter with Mojiken Studios was When The Past Was Around, a point-and-click puzzle game about a woman trying to move on. Guided by the ghost of her dead lover, the main character Ada relives their time together, chasing a strange owl-version of her love, trying to hear from him after he's gone.

That night, when I finished it, I held my husband a bit tighter than normal. I like it when a game gets under your skin that way; when they seep out into your actual reality, when they shift your perspective a little bit.

What Mojiken studios seem to do really well is to examine what happens to a person when they have loved, and lost. How they find themselves, how they create purpose in the second part of life, the part after that person has gone. And what, if any, imprint they have left behind.

I was pretty sure what I was getting into with A Space for the Unbound. Set in late '90s Indonesia, it follows main character Atma as he delves into people's minds using a skill they call 'spacediving'. Atma starts to untangle people's issues by solving puzzles, which involves a lot of back-and-forthing around the town, finding items, chatting to the locals, and most importantly, petting lots of cats.

I won't go into the gameplay too much because I've already talked about it on a previous post; rather, I want to talk about the story. Because delving into people's minds - and messing with time, as Atma's friend Raya does - can't end well, can it?

So this next section is spoilery. I don't give away the ending completely, but I do talk about the last act. You can quickly skip down until you see a screenshot of a TV show if you like, or you can dip out here.

Raya is a tormented soul. As the game progresses, Atma has to figure out how he feels about her; she does some terrible things. She's lashing out. She's hurting people. She's hellbent on destruction, and nothing you can do or say can slow her down. But Atma never wavers in his support for her. He'll follow her to the end, loyal to the last moment.

And even in the most painful moments, he stays. He fights for her, literally. He turns up at her house and waits for her. He speaks kindness to her when she, on the surface of it, doesn't deserve it. He waits for her to come around. And this last link to humanity, this one little thread, that's the thing that brings her back around in the end. His love for her transcends her actions. It's boundless.

What I loved about the last section of A Space for the Unbound is the sudden flip; having been Atma all along, we're now playing as Raya. Raya has to overcome her obstacles, not Atma. He can't walk this journey for her; he can't push through her problems himself. It's down to her.

There's a section in which Raya has to confront her own ghosts. Bullies, insecurities, her mistakes, her parents. Atma can't come with her. You keep moving, and eventually, he stays behind.

Raya panics. But we hear his voice:

Keep moving forward.

And she does. Raya is at her weakest, but she moves forward into the darkness without Atma, and he's only able to do it because of his encouragement.

I won't say anymore here. But it's safe to say I cried quite a lot at the ending. I wish I could experience it all over again for the first time.

Everything that's been going on recently - with both my personal life, and the wider world - has made me want to just switch off whenever I can. It's like when you hurt yourself and you kind of want to curl around yourself and protect the injury as much as you can. I've been going to bed feeling depleted and highly strung. The only thing that helps is watching comedy. So I started watching the BBC series Ghosts again from the beginning.

Ghosts is the story of Alison and Mike, a couple who inherit an old, decaying mansion from a distant relative of Alison's. They decide to quit their jobs, move in, and transform the space into a hotel. After a suspicious accident involving a head injury, Alison can see the other inhabitants of the house: a collection of ghosts, all people who have died in the house at some point over the years.

The ghosts quickly become friends with Alison after a bit of a bumpy beginning, and the couple learn to live with them (even though Mike can't see them). They start to feel like a strange and slightly dysfunctional family. Some of the ghosts have been there for hundreds of years, but dying in the house doesn't necessarily mean you get to stay forever. Some are, as one of the ghosts innocently describes it, 'sucked off'. As in, they ascend to heaven. They move on. Or something.

(You can skip to the next section if you want to avoid a season 4 spoiler. Fyi.)

And just when you're really settled into the characters, at the beginning of episode named Gone, Gone in series 4, one of the ghosts, Mary, is unexpectedly sucked off. Abruptly, she's gone. And she's not coming back.

The episode is really interesting because this is essentially death all over again. Permanent death, this time. And for the ghosts, the loss of Mary suddenly brings back the uncertainty of it all. They don't know if they'll be sucked off, or when it will happen, or what causes it. At any point, any of them could just go.

I find that really lovely and sad because it's an interesting thought. They're all already dead, but they still haven't really processed or come to terms with the concept of death. And they have to mourn Mary, and deal with their own existential fears about where she might be now. They have to figure out how to think about Mary, how to remember her, and what her presence meant to them in the first place.

I love Ghosts. I would love for everyone reading this to go and watch it because it's fantastically funny but it's also one of the nicest things I've watched in a long time. It makes me want to believe in ghosts, if I could guarantee that they were romantic poets and enthusiastic former Scout leaders rather than scary horrible ones.

Do you believe in ghosts?

I don't know if I do, as much as I want to. I wrote on an old blog about a creepy experience I once had near our old house. The conclusion I came to is that I can't trust my own mind, and that ghost stories are maybe just that. Stories.

But then I remembered something from my childhood. After my Nan passed away, we were clearing out their house in what I now understand to be a deeply painful act of service by my Mum and her siblings. We were just getting the last of the boxes out of the house, and Mum told me to hold the door open while they loaded up the van.

And I heard a voice. As clear as day. 'Don't leave me!' it said. I bolted down the path, hysterical.

'What's wrong? What is it?'

'It's Nanny,' I remember saying, in my Mum's arms, while my concerned auntie looked on. 'She said don't go, she doesn't want us to go.'

I look back on this with mixed feelings now. Grief, as a child, is a strange thing. I had already lost my Grandad and now Nanny had gone too. It was painful. Seeing all the adults around me dealing with their grief was painful. But I was still so concerned with kid stuff. I was excited that we were going to adopt their dog, Lucky. I was annoyed that my parents wouldn't let me come to the funeral and they wouldn't let me watch Jurassic Park. What did they think I was, some kind of child? I was worried, mostly, about the empty house. About not being able to go there anymore. It hurts me to think that, once, I believed the spirit of Nan was stuck there, in that house, all alone.

I was a child, and I was confused, and there is an almost 100% chance that I heard what part of me wanted to hear. I'd been going to their voice every day after school for months, following Nan's cancer diagnosis. I was used to her voice. Is it any wonder I wanted to hear it again?

We went to their grave often. Cleaned the headstone, laid flowers. I would sit on the grass and talk to them in my head. Give them a little catch-up on the important events of my life, of the boys I liked and the discos I was going to and the friendship problems I'd been having. My Mum, and her sisters, are all of the firm belief that a person can be with you, after they've gone. That you're never truly alone; the presence of your ancestors is always there, just slightly out of reach.

I'm not sure what happens after we die. Not now. I knew people - still know people - who think that death means access to paradise. That heaven is a utopia, with a home for everyone, with constant joy and fulfillment, with no suffering or pain. I even read prophetic books about heaven as an exuberant place, with paths made from jewels and golden furniture and everyone dripping with God's exuberant generosity in the form of bling. (I wish I was joking but I did read a whole book about this idea.)

And now I don't know. I like to think there's something after. That we will be reunited with people we lost, and that we will rest. My beliefs around it are wishy-washy, I suppose. I'm not sure where I land on it. And if I'm not sure where I land on it, I can't be sure if ghosts are real, either. I can't be sure that people don't hang around after they go, you know? I can't be sure that they don't linger.

After our friend died, on the way home from his funeral, I remember looking up at the night sky. (We got stuck in horrendous traffic because that literally always happens when me and Chris go anywhere together.) And I remember thinking that he might be up there, even though it didn't make any kind of logistical sense. I remember thinking if he was up there, somehow, he'd probably be really enjoying it.

I dunno. I'm not sure what happens after. I have a photo of my grandparents in a frame. Sometimes I say hello to it as I pass by. And the fact that I know they're not actually there isn't the point, really. I get to acknowledge their presence in whatever form it takes, even if it's just memories and imagination. That's enough for now. We'll all find out in the end, anyway, I guess.

That's it for now. Is that a downer to end this on? It's weird that I'm getting a lot of comfort from death-related things, but there we go. Let me know if a) you believe our loved ones stay with us even after they're gone and b) if you have any spooky stories to tell me.