This is the utterly intriguing premise of Holding On: The Troubled Life of Billy Kerr – the characters play nursing staff caring for an anonymous patient who suffered a massive heart attack on a flight from Sydney to London. He has been given days to live, and we have to piece together his hidden memories so that he can die in peace.
There are times when I talk about games as art, about the way that games invite us to deeply examine ourselves and each other, reflect on our lives and our choices, become better people. It is hard to do this without sounding pretentious, frankly, and I’ve seen enough eyeballs roll back in heads to know this.
Based on this premise, and on a handful of game components photographs that have been released, I’m prepared to call Holding On one of the games that does all of these things, and dares to push the bounds of games as art experiences.
In fact, this goal is the stated aim of the publishers of Holding On, Hub Games, who promote themselves by this very idea:
We make games with HEART. We believe games can be more than simple entertainment. Hub Games releases always have something more beneath the surface if you want to delve deeper.
In a theme that recalls the brilliant Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind or the enchantingly heartbreaking To the Moon, deals maturely with the themes of memory, regret, death and redemption. It touches on that great existential motif – there’s something extraordinary in the deeply examined ordinary life. There’s a rich vein of pathos in this theme, and the early impressions suggest that the designers have approached it with sympathy and sensitivity.
As terminal care nurses, players co-operate to provide the mysterious patient with appropriate care, responding to medical emergencies while gaining his trust. We learn his name is Billy Kerr, he is sixty years old, and that he has three regrets in life that he needs courage to confront. The game consists of replayable scenarios, which each reveal a further glimpse into the lifetime of memories as players are drawn deeper into Billy’s troubled past.
Holding On: The Troubled Life of Billy Kerr is designed by Michael Fox and Rory O’Connor, and published by Hub Games. I think it is fair to say that this game signals a bold new direction for Hub Games, who are best known for Rory’s Story Cubes – an excellent storytelling experience, no doubt, but quite different from what is on offer here. I’m hoping that it pays off – this has every right to be a break-out success.
It is scheduled for release on Thursday, 25th October in Essen at Spiel – the world’s largest gaming convention.
There will also be opportunities to preview the game at Origins (June 13th to June 17th – Columbus, Ohio, USA), Q-Con (June 22nd to June 24th – Belfast, Northern Ireland) and at Gen Con (August 2nd to August 5th, Indianapolis, Indiana, USA). The designers are bringing advance copies that allow attendees to play through the first Scenario.