Have you ever played a game where the premise of it just sounded so absurd that you have a hard time believing that someone came up with it, let alone that it would actually work as a video game? Well, Catherine was that sort of game for me. Of course, I didn’t question its existence. It came from Japan, and this is exactly the kind of quirky out there game that I knew would come out of Japan sooner or later. I just didn’t expect it to have such an effect on me.
So, for those of you who have for some reason never even heard of Catherine, it’s a 2011 title from acclaimed Japanese developer Atlus, the developers behind the Shin Megami Tensei and Persona franchises as well as the brand new Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE game for Wii U. It follows the exploits of Vincent Brooks, a 32 year old Systems Engineer who spends quite a bit of time at a bar called “The Stray Sheep.” He’s been in a relationship with his girlfriend Katherine for the past 5 years, but despite living very carefree for the entirety of his twenties, Vincent still fears the responsibilities of adult life and as a result had never made any concrete future plans such as settling down with Katherine, a subject she brings up often. One night, while drinking at the bar, he meets a blonde bombshell named Catherine, and wakes up next to her in bed the next morning, naked. And thus begins the most chaotic few weeks of his life.
The gameplay of Catherine, a series of “climb the tower” puzzles, is surprisingly good, but the real weight of the game lies in the questions Vincent is asked to answer in between puzzles. Each question is related to relationships and you, the player, are given two answers to choose one. One corresponds with Order(Blue), while the other corresponds with Chaos(Red). Once you’ve selected your answer, provided you’re connected to the internet, the game will send your response off to a server and come back with your results so you can see which side you fall on and how many other players shared your response. Of course, these results aren’t 100% accurate since I imagine a lot of people didn’t play through the game honestly, instead picking the answer they thought would lead them to a desired ending or moral path.
But there lies the brilliance of Catherine. If you play the game honestly throughout its entirety, the game will ultimately tell you what kind of person you are when it comes to relationships. If the meter tips all the way to the left, then you clearly favor freedom over commitment and responsibility. Likewise, if the meter falls all the way to the right, then you’ll do whatever it takes to make the relationship work, even if that means giving up your freedom and tieing yourself down. And of course, the woman that Vincent ends up with is determined by your choices. Do you prefer the sexy Catherine that loves to live free and do what she pleases with whomever she pleases and when she pleases? Or do you believe that the conservative and serious Katherine is the only woman for you? Two sides of a coin.
Of course, there’s also the middle of the meter, the gray area that represents indecision. Landing here essentially gets you a neutral outcome and what it says about you is not very flattering. It essentially means that you have absolutely zero idea what you’re doing in life and you have no idea how you want to live your life. You’re simply living day to day not giving it much thought at all and riding by the seat of your pants. It’s a less than ideal way to tackle life.
So after all of this, you may be wondering where I ultimately ended up on my honest playthrough. To be honest with you, I’ve never been in a relationship. All throughout Middle School and High School I had girl friends, but I never once had a girlfriend. No one was interested in me and anyone that was usually turned out to be either extremely needy and forceful or a complete mental case. So I don’t know what it’s like to be in a relationship, I’ve never had to deal with these problems before. But Catherine asked me all of these questions and with no prior experience, I had to answer based off of, not what I’ve done or said in the past, but using my heart to tell me which response was the one that best reflected what I would be like in a relationship. Ultimately, it kept to the far right side of the meter, the Order side associated with Katherine. However, it did tip to the left a few times when one of my booth responses, and quite a few of my text responses, either aligned with Chaos or were not to Katherine’s liking(The latter was likely due to the fact that I’m socially inept and I’ve never really been sure what the right thing to say in certain situations is, often resulting in many a misunderstanding in reality.).
In the end what the game told me about myself was this:
I’m a faithful man and if I step out of line I’ll do whatever it takes to make it right, but I am prone to bad decisions and those decisions could make or break the relationship if I’m not careful. Luckily, my honesty and good natured heart trump my social shortcomings. When it comes to commitments, I’m willing to sacrifice my freedom for long-lasting happiness with the woman I love.
And that was honestly a big relief to me because I feared that the meter would tip all the way to the left with Chaos. I’m smart, but socially I’ve never been able to say the right things to women, and that lands me in hot water. So maybe I would have preferred living a life of freedom where a woman can come and go as she pleases and I don’t have to worry about any sort of responsibility. But this game more or less confirmed the opposite. It’s because I’ve had such a hard time finding even a single woman willing to date me that I’d avoid anything that could ruin it in the interest of hanging onto the one woman that truly matters.
On a side note, I liked this outcome even more because I found myself drawn to Katherine. Catherine may be sexy and alluring, but that’s really all she has going for her. Katherine on the other hand is beautiful, intelligent, motherly, dresses in clothing that compliments both her appearance and her personality, and she’s caring. She’s the kind of woman I’ve been looking for and that likely also contributed to the overall outcome.
But I’ve rambled enough. Now I’m curious to hear from all of you. Have any of you had a similar experience with Catherine or another game? It’s amazing what video games of all things can make us realize about ourselves, and I hope that I can play another game just like it.