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Less Than Love: A Story About Catherine - Destructoid

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My name is Brandon. Welcome to die.

I spend far too much time on the Internet. I run a small game blog called MINUSWORLDS that I will likely cross-post entries from in an attempt to get more people to read my rambles about toys for babies.

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Robert Wratten from the band Trembling Blue Stars once sang the line "Though there will always be a part of me hoping for a miracle / realistically I know it is over between you and me" in a song called "Less Than Love." The entirety of their debut album, Her Handwriting, is all about the failed relationship Wratten had with former band mate Annemarie Davies. That single line is the all-encompassing mantra of the album, as it illustrates the process of a person completely falling apart. It is heart-wrenching, and most of all, it is something real.

I would qualify myself as a sensitive, overemotional person. It's easy for me to get very wrapped up in the lives of characters, real or otherwise. Because of this, video games have often been a safe haven for me, letting me concentrate my emotional woes into the existence of sprites and polygons to deflect myself from falling into a heavy depression. The way I am keeps me hesitant to really get involved in relationships, romantic or otherwise. I can be very difficult to be around, and over the last few years, I've found myself going through depressive funks that last anywhere from days to months. I seldom blame anyone for not wanting to be around me, as I know it takes a certain amount of dedication and understanding to be my friend, let alone anything else.

Late in 2010, I rekindled a friendship with a girl that I had tangentially known for years. We had lived just a few streets over from one another, and ran in fairly similar circles in high school. We became very close friends in college, but her emotional issues ran a lot deeper than mine. I never really understood what could have happened to make her the way she was, but it was the original reason we had a falling out. I'd go as far as saying she was dangerous for me to be around. When we started hanging out again, she was like a completely different person. Our friendship hit it off again rapidly, and it quickly turned intimate.

I should have seen the signs immediately, but it kept going. The thought of an actual relationship came up a couple times, but the feeling was never mutual. We were constantly on different wavelengths. We'd go out, do something fun, come back to my house, annoy my roommates, wait for them to go to sleep, and then we'd end up having sex. She'd always leave around 4AM, and the process would repeat itself another day. It quickly became a routine. We became co-dependent upon one another for support, as her life started to fall apart again, and as mine started to get worse. It was a period of exploration for both of us, both emotionally and sexually, but it wasn't at all healthy.

I ended up moving back into the basement at my parents' house around March or April. I was trying to put my life back together, and I needed to save more money so I could go back to school and try and figure out what I was doing with myself. The sexy time stopped, and it quickly returned to being a fairly standard friendship. Her issues were getting worse, and mine weren't improving. My emotional state wasn't helped at all by the passing of my Grandmother in early May. We kept hanging out, but there was a tension in the air. I had become a lot more emotionally invested than I had ever intended.

Over the next couple months, I was intimate with this girl one last time. I later professed my want for a relationship with her, but it just wasn't happening. She wanted someone else, and I wasn't happy about it. Without really going into it, it was one of the lowest periods of my life. I never quite fell into living out John Cusack movie tropes, but it was bad all around. She went on a vacation, and when she came back, I was an absolute mess. The night after she came back, I spent the evening with her bawling my eyes out, not being able to understand what was so horrible that made her not want to be in a relationship with me. It wasn't one of my prouder moments. I couldn't comprehend that she just didn't want to be with me.

On July 26, 2011, Atlus finally released their bizarre arcade puzzler / visual novel, Catherine, here in the United States. It was four days before my birthday, and my family had gone out of town. Having the house to myself, I hooked my Xbox 360 up in the kitchen, and I fell into the strange tale it had to tell.

Between the high energy block puzzle segments, the story of Catherine is told through cut scenes and evenings spend in the local bar, the Stray Sheep. The lead character, Vincent is an early thirty-something with a hesitance to fully commit to his longtime girlfriend, Katherine. He falls into an illicit affair with a blonde woman, strangely named Catherine. Over the next several nights, his decisions are determined by player interaction, though Catherine sticks around whether Vincent likes it or not.

While presented and marketed as a very sexy game, Catherine is primarily about human relationships. It's about commitment, and more than anything, it really seems to be about growing up. It's about taking control of your own life, and about finding the confidence to push forward. All of these were things I lacked, and sorely needed. It is focused on adult issues, many of which I still have problems with, but overall it helped me come to terms with some of my own personal demons.

By my birthday on July 30, I had finished Catherine a total of four times. I put all of my free time into it, in hopes of distracting myself from my issues with this girl. I started realizing these issues were more about me than anything else. I don't know why I ever blamed her for any of it. I was starting to understand I had an inability to let things go, and I felt forever trapped in this loop of prolonged emotional adolescence. At the time, Catherine was my way out. I kept playing the game, and started trying to achieve the other endings. I wasn't quite ready to leave just yet.

After completing the game a total of six times, I was finally ready to put it down. I was starting to feel a little better, but those first couple trips through the game broke me down to tears. I was still an emotional wreck. I loved these characters, and I wanted to make everything work out for them. I wanted Vincent to be happy, because I wanted to be happy. Catherine involved a lot of personal reflection, something that made finishing every single level feel like an accomplishment. Catherine became a game about exorcising demons, something I did a lot of over the time I spent with it.

Catherine was my Game of the Year for 2011 because of the experience I had with it. It was also the game that secured my love for Atlus. I finished Persona 3 Portable earlier this year, and am currently trying to push through Persona 4 Golden. Both of which have been very emotional experiences for me, focusing heavily on interactions with other people, and helping me understand who I really am. It's hard to put a lot of these thoughts and emotions into words, something I'm struggling with while writing it all out. Picking up the pieces is a nightmare on its own, explaining to someone else is something else entirely, but this is a story I've wanted to try and tell for a long time.

I'm still nowhere near where I want to be, but I'm far and away better off than I was during my time with Catherine.
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