Morality. That little voice in your head that tells you to do or not to do things in different situations. The compass of decency, pointing out the obvious choices that the righteous people would take in the day-to-day in order to live as peacefully as possible, with ourselves and others. In Catherine, we are tempted so many times to ignore that voice, that I felt the urge to confess in a church at the end. Well, maybe not, but it was pretty bad. To be fair: I never played this game before, even if it’s considered a PlayStation 3 classic, so I was eager to dive into this one. And boy, I was rewarded. But, as I said, since it’s already a classic, talking too much about technical aspects or how it plays would be futile. Too many folks covered that already, and I found something more important to talk about from my personal experiences around choices in life.
Players take the role of Vincent Brooks, a good-for-nothing 30-year old dude with a dead end job and no plans for life beside the habit of drinking every single day with his friends. Surprisingly, he has a girlfriend named Katherine, with a respectable job, polite manners and plans for her future life who, honestly, I just couldn’t figure why would she want a relationship with this uninterested and alcoholic douche bag.
One day, after too many beers, he wakes up with a woman in bed. A naked woman in the bed. Then he remembers. Last night he hooked up with her in the bar he frequents, and now she’s under the impression of being his girlfriend. And of course, her name is Catherine. That’s when the emotional roller coaster starts its journey into the depths of lust and betrayal. This beautiful blonde seems to be everything that Katherine isn’t: sexy, extrovert, openly affectionate, and why not, a little overly attached, but not that much, right?….. Right?
It doesn’t take a genius to notice shortly after that Catherine is a darker and scarier person than she seems to be, to the point where we see dialogues of true toxicity and even physical abuse on Vincent when he breaks up with her. On the other side, behind the seriousness and her introvert personality, Katherine genuinely wants Vincent to be a better version of himself and loves him, sincerely wanting to spend her life with him; even if he is just a failure in every aspect of his life, she still has hopes for him and their future together. At the end of the day, she’s just a mature person who wants a healthy life with the person she loves.
Day after day on this hellish week where the game happens, every night we end up in the Stray Sheep, the bar where Vincent and his friends drink the hell out of themselves. That’s when we interact directly with both Catherine/Katherine via mobile messaging; we choose the answers and watch the responses unfold. We also get to see the background stories of our group of friends, which are kind of sad in different ways, and take part of various mini games and dialogues with customers. But every night ends around the same thing: Vincent and his inability to call off his alternate, unwanted relationship with Catherine.
God. What annoys me the most about Vincent is his way to react in every important moment in the game: He doesn’t react at all. He doubts, shudders, even screams and ultimately says and does nothing, only to get deeper and deeper in the hell that represents this double life where he doesn’t even want to be. Vincent just keeps lying to his girlfriend, in hope that he “will fix this soon” and ends just drinking and feeling sorry for himself while doing nothing. He could just call it off and tell the truth to Katherine, but he doesn’t until it’s too late. And is there, at that point, where the game lands its heaviest blow. The humanity of the characters presented to us is stunning. One can say “this guy should do this and that” and Vincent’s personality is, for real, annoying to the point of disgust, but you would be a damn hypocrite if you don’t feel related to him in some level.
After he meets Catherine and every night after spending time at the bar, Vincent’s nightmares start: there we are being asked questions in confessionals, generally appealing to our decency and honesty (or the lack of those) before taking us in an elevator to the next floor. We are forced to spend the night climbing floors of a tower, pushing and moving boxes in our way to freedom. As Vincent, it’s an excellent metaphor for his daily struggles. Not that he has another option if he wants to live the day after, though.
The climbing of this tower literally means the freedom of this mess for Vincent, but not only that: After the truth of his cheating is uncovered, climbing over those floors may be the only way to redeem himself for his sins. And, to my surprise, that’s when I truly felt into the skin of this poor idiot: Messing something up and trying to fix it during his journey looking for redemption is something that I can totally relate to.
There is no light without dark, and vice-versa: In real life people contains wide different scales of grey in their morality and take decisions that we may not be able to relate to, and this game translates that idea very well. Life choices aren’t easy to make, relationships and break-ups aren’t easy to face, and in those moments of doubt, in that cold sweat we see in Vincent’s face, even if we never cheated on someone or even if we wouldn’t take those decisions that Vincent takes, we can relate to that struggle, we can relate to the toxicity of the relationship with Catherine, the doubts about spending his entire life with Katherine, and the auto boycott Vincent provokes on himself running from the moment of truth and drowning himself in self-pity and alcohol. To be fair with the guy, I’ve been there, and maybe some of you did as well. That doesn’t make his decisions any better, but this is what this game is about.
We choose all the time what to do with our lives, with our jobs, with our passions and relationships: we meet the consequences of those choices, and if we fail to ourselves or other people, we must be mature enough to work on that, grow up and try to fix it, if we can. Or maybe we just don’t do anything at all, which sadly, is a choice too.