Air Pressure: Romance or Pain

It is recommended that you play the game here first before reading. 

At first glance, Air Pressure seems like a fairly standard choose-your-own-adventure centered around your relationship with a girl named Leigh. The two of you have been together for several years now, and she’s been close to your side the entire time. This particular day is the anniversary of when the two of you first met, but it seems as if you are unsure about how things are turning out in your life. A part of you believes that you were happier before meeting her, but another part can’t imagine life without her. As you talk to her throughout your day, your choices determine how the relationship will continue. The next day, your relationship with her will either stay the same, get closer, or break apart. It seems like a simple relationship story, but then you notice something, something that appears to hint at a deeper meaning. In all three endings, she’ll start to appear “glitched”, with parts of her body flickering back and forth from existence. And in the “get closer” ending, you inevitably wake up in a hospital, with a nurse telling you that, “You’re lucky this time. You didn’t hit any nerves or arteries.” Clearly there is something more to this story than a simple relationship.

Many players, including myself, believe that Leigh is not an actual person, but the personification of some sort of pain. The type of pain, however, varies on the player. Some people believe she is the personification of an addiction to drugs. Others believe her to be the personification of self-mutilation or harm. There is plenty of evidence to support both theories. For example, the second line of the game states that “From the second we met, she wrapped herself around my left arm, and has stuck there ever since.” In the drug addiction theory, this would be a reference to the protagonist injecting his left arm with some sort of drug, and him continually doing so later on. In the self-mutilation theory, this would be a reference to a scar on his left arm caused from his first attempt. As the day progresses, many other hints are thrown around that could fit either theory. This includes the protagonist thinking his life was better before meeting her, his uncertainty surrounding whether or not he can survive without her, and his inability to be rid of her for good. But then there are clues that seem to only really fit one theory or the other.

One of these one-sided hints would be when the protagonist is talking to Leigh in town. He mentions that the noise of the crowd is giving him a headache. This by itself doesn’t mean much, but he only gets this headache when he is trying to get away from Leigh. If he tries to walk away, but eventually stops and talks to Leigh, he comments how his headache is going away. For the drug addiction theory, this makes a lot of sense. It can be interpreted that the protagonist is trying to get away from the addiction, and is experiencing withdrawal symptoms. Headaches are typically among the common symptoms for withdrawal sufferers. When he gets the drug again, he no longer experiences the withdrawal symptoms. For the self-mutilation theory, this headache doesn’t really fit.

However, self-harm has its own hints. One hint would be during the hospital scene. In it, the nurse tells you that you were lucky not to hit any nerves or arteries. He then comments “As if I would be that stupid.” For self-mutilation, this is easy to explain; he cuts himself pretty badly, and almost severely injures himself. The protagonist’s reaction to the nurse’s comment implies that he knows what he’s doing and that he wouldn’t hurt himself that badly. For the drug addiction theory, while it is possible to accidentally injure yourself while having an injection, it would be a little harder. Also, I can’t think of a reason why he would say, “As if I would be that stupid.” When you’re injecting yourself with a drug, one most likely doesn’t think “Hmm…I probably shouldn’t hit an artery or nerve.” If you’re cutting yourself, you might not directly think that, but you’d definitely be more careful.
It’s difficult to determine which theory is correct. Both theories all boil down to the same thing: whatever Leigh is, she is something that the protagonist can’t imagine life with, even though it is ruining his happiness. My opinion fits neither theory exactly; I believe Leigh to be a personification of any sort of addiction, not just drugs, and this addiction is causing a large amount of pain to his body. What’s your opinion? Does she represent a crippling addiction to drugs? A personification of a man’s desire to injure himself? Or something else all together?
  1. springsteen1 said:

    Once again, I have not played this game. That said, it seems to strive (in comparison to the last 7 to 10 posts on this blog, including those from the first 7 weeks of the semester – before we started in this course) towards the harmony and balance which I mentioned in my post on “Everyday/dream” and in my former comments this week. Relationships are a great way to be successful in tapping wide audiences – personal/friendly, romantic, or otherwise, relationships are a pretty wide target, and I agree a successful mechanism for achieving such balance, harmony, and success.

  2. Thanks for letting us know about this game. It’s really well written and designed. After playing, I thought that it is entirely possible that neither of the two theories are necessarily right. The protagonist is obviously not mentally well, so it is conceivable that by presenting the player with differing conclusions, the developer is implying that no conclusion can be drawn in the protagonist’s circumstance. He may be a drug addict, or not. He may have harmed himself, or maybe the entire scenario is imagined.

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