Ultra-Indie Spotlight Sunday: The Caregiver
The Caregiver follows the story of an elderly patient in an assisted living facility in Japan. Initially playing as a caretaker named Sachie, you’re tasked with performing a house call for the wheelchair-bound Mr. Souichi, who lives just down the road from the main institution. But upon arriving, you find the house in disarray, with trash piling up, foul smells coming from somewhere, and Souichi himself having become completely silent. While taking care of the old man and his home, you will determine whether or not he is succumbing to an ailment or something else entirely.
An old folks home is the perfect combination of ordinary and unnerving. Many people have visited their loved ones in one of these facilities, and much like a hospital ward, there is simultaneously a sense of familiarity and great discomfort in these places. While great care is (sometimes) taken to make the residents feel at home, one cannot escape the reality that this is where the overwhelming majority of them will spend their final days. For all the darkness that comes with this setting, it does make a great premise for a horror game.
Souichi is not living directly in an old folks home, but all the same, The Caregiver presents the player with tremendous themes of what it means to be elderly. You walk through empty silent streets to his largely empty residence, finding a poorly lit, unmaintained home of an old man entirely alone and unable to care for himself. Of course, that’s just half of the reason this setting is so creepy. The other is some paranormal stuff that seems to be going on. Still, developer Chilla’s Art has created a tremendous premise for a horror game.
Non-Wanky Game Recap:
The Caregiver is a first-person game about walking around a creepy house in a creepy neighborhood. Much of what you are doing will be exploring the different rooms in Souichi manor, looking for various objects in which to do chores or unlock new areas. Late in the game, there are some chase sequences, but for the most part, this is a traditional walking simulator title.
The most powerful element of The Caregiver for me was the sound. More specifically, the lack thereof. This title creates an incredible atmosphere of dread by keeping the audio to an absolute minimum, except in circumstances of great tension. This general silence, emphasized by the slow pacing and minimal amount of other people you encounter in this game, works wonders for building up anxiety in the player. The whole combination of exploring a city of another culture largely unknown to me in this atmosphere elevated the whole experience to Junji Ito levels of unnerving.
The game is very much reliant on the player to figure out what to do next. For a lot of my time playing The Caregiver, I was more or less walking around aimlessly because I didn’t quite grasp what it was I needed to do next. Never was this too big of a holdup, and I did appreciate the occasional confusion, but there were some circumstances where I was starting to get a little frustrated trying to find the right object in a house without much lighting.
How To Fix It:
Perhaps this is a personal problem for certain players who have extraordinary bad memories (me), but having the next objective readily available would have made the experience a little easier for myself. Though one could argue that the confusion is included to emphasize the theme of old age and for that reason, I would say this title does not need to be fixed, as it is not broken. The Caregiver is an incredible title as is.
There is something inherently unsettling about considering the realities of being elderly in the modern age. Wherein historically there would be several generations of family in a single household, nowadays the destination for elderly relatives is a room at an old folks home. The isolation, the loss of autonomy and agency, and the ever-nearing end are dire reminders of the fragility of human life, both in the literal and metaphorical senses. In many ways, The Caregiver captures this sense of mortality and turns it into a truly powerful horror experience.
You can purchase The Caregiver for $5 on itch.io by clicking here.