Sym: Navigating social anxiety in a unique way

This video game offers an interactive experience of what it is like to live with social phobias.

Sym is a PC video game that follows the journey of Josh. Josh, the protagonist, suffers from crippling social anxiety, a concept that forms the basis of the gameplay. The player guides Josh through the obstacle courses born inside the character's own mind.

We previously looked at video games that tackle other mental disorders such as the effect of severe paranoia through virtual reality testing, or measuring the ramifications of dementia in Sea Hero Quest.

This game explores the duality of social anxiety in an engaging way. Sym demonstrates the private, interior life that someone who suffers from acute social anxiety leads in solitude, versus the life that must be shared with other people – exposed and socially uneasy.

Sym gameplay

This duality is demonstrated by the black and white colour palette of the game as both a visual reference to the melancholy essence of social fear, as well as an integral mechanic of progress in the game. The inner dialogue of Josh forms part of the game’s visuals, as his personal thoughts are written across each level. The messages are sometimes instructive to the player and sometimes revealing of acute social anxiety’s destructive nature.

The protagonist is urged to manoeuvre the dark (isolated) and light (exposed) parts of each new landscape in Sym – an exercise that gradually allows Josh to beat his deep-seated anxiety.

Lead designer Sebastiano Murando spoke to Rock Paper Shotgun about the driving concept behind Sym, emphasising the metaphorical nature of the game’s stylised puzzles as they represent the protagonist’s journey to cope with his own social problems.

“The protagonist has a personality at a crossroads. The black part is the side that wants to overcome his problems and resolve things; whereas the white one is the side which wants to hide more inside himself. It comes from Yin and Yang, the two faces of the problem. The protagonist wishes to live inside of his mind, but also outside of its constraints alongside others,” he said.

Sym was published by Atrax Games and is available on Steam.