Fluctuation is based on the experience of bipolar disorder. Its design is motivated by the wish to communicate incomprehensible behavior of people with bipolar to their friends and families to open up a constructive dialogue about the experience and alleviate alienation from loved ones.

The game consists of three phases that have been modeled after three phrases our subject matter expert used to capture his experience with the different states of the disorder:

Phase I: The onset of mania: ‘Why can’t they [e.g. friends] keep up?’ This phase is briefly represented by a party intro scene in which the player character starts out as ‘the heart of the party’ who is first imitated by others, but then shoots off through the ceiling into the sky, leaving everyone else behind.

Phase II: Mania: ‘It feels like architecting a divine plan. Everything is in sync and coming together in perfect unison’. The player character is catapulted higher and higher up by jumping onto glass platforms that shatter underneath his feet. The shattering glass represents the damage done due to bad decisions made in mania (e.g. irresponsible relations, overspending etc.). Some platforms carry people (e.g. the friends from the party scene). Jumping on those platforms is accompanied by rainbow sparkles, representing the perception of social relations as particularly intense. The gradual loss of (game) control is accompanied by the growing fractal in the background, which represents the feeling of synchronicity and being part of a bigger whole. Mania ends suddenly and without a chance of prolonging it and plunges the player into the last phase of the game.

Phase III: Depression: ‘It feels like wading through mud, lost in the company of others’. The player finds herself in the deep, dark ocean of depression, where the broken shards from the manic phase platforms conglomerate to block her path to the surface. The player’s agency is restricted to painfully slow up, left and right movement (like wading through mud). The people positioned to the sides of the screen send out lights that gravitate towards the player character. These lights stand for well-meant but overwhelming questions such as ‘How can I help you?’. A depth meter shoes how far one is from the surface, but it is unreliable and cannot be trusted. There is no way of knowing when depression will be over. It ends when it ends.

This last phase of the game transitions into an ending cut scene that represents the end of a manic-depressive cycle and return to normality. Each part of the game is timed to decouple it from player skill.

Special Instructions: This game is best played in Google Chrome. Don’t worry about ‘winning’ (any part of) the game. FLUCTuation focuses on capturing salient experiences associated with the phases of bipolar disorder. Just pay attention to how these phases make you feel.

Controls: Move with left, right, up with arrow keys. Press ‘up’ to jump.


Design & Production
  • Doris C. Rusch
  • JJ Bakken
  • Michelle Verceles
  • James Becker
  • David Gottsegen
  • Ryan Klaproth
  • Mitch Olsem
  • Elliot Callighan