(Content note: spoilers for Hate Plus and The Cat Lady, talk of depression and suicide, and strong language.)
The Cat Lady is the most challenging game that I've ever seen. Not so much on the level of gameplay, but emotionally it was hard to get through. It was written by someone with clinical experience dealing with depressed and psychologically damaged people, and it shows.
For me, the most nervewracking scene was not any of the confrontations with the "parasites." It was when Susan Ashworth got home after the fight at the hospital, and you had to walk her through cleaning herself up, getting dinner, and feeding her cats. The game warns you that any tiny failure you make will cause her stress meter to rise, and if it reaches the top she will have a nervous breakdown. And along the way you run into hidden traps that trigger her despair, and things (like microwaving a goddamn cheeseburger) that were a lot more complicated than you expected because it's not you, the abled gamer, who's doing them. It's a suicidally depressed person, and it really is this hard for her.
There's almost no way to keep her from having a nervous breakdown (and your having to watch it happen). Not unless you have meta knowledge of what's going to happen, and plan out your route very carefully. Even if you do, and you get the game's "good ending" several chapters later because of it, almost nothing changes. It's in some ways less satisfying than the normal ending, because of how inexplicable it is.
Even if you go back several times and reload saves and keep trying and losing, though, you don't feel cheated by The Cat Lady. Even though the scene gives you hope that you can avoid something terrible, and then cruelly takes that away from you. You don't feel cheated (or at least I didn't), because that's really what depression is like. Clinically, suicidally depressed people are set up to fail, by the things everyone else takes for granted. Including the neurotransmitters in their own goddamn bodies. It really is that cruel and horrible, and "winning" today is no guarantee you won't have a breakdown tomorrow. This scene shows us that, and makes it clear what the stakes are, and maybe even makes you -- the player -- wonder if Susan's life is worth living.
The Cat Lady, in the end, is one of the most uplifting games that I've ever seen. Not despite its horrors, but because of them. When she gets a friend, or a reason for living, or learns strategies to cope, it feels so empowering ... maybe even outside the game. I'm not sure everyone can get through it, but for those who can I think it's worth it.
I'm not upset with Love for not being able to tell a story about suicidal despair that's that powerful or authentic, or for not drawing on clinical and life experiences that she may well not have had. I'm upset with her for her glib handling of an issue that real people struggle with. For writing a story where the main character kills herself, and not making it a story about suicide. For telling me, on Twitter, to "give [New *Mute] a chance!", and having the game try to get me to go through the rest of the logs with her, as though *Mute's death were just a speedbump and the game hadn't fucking ended at the start of day three. With fuck all in the way of warnings, and fuck all in the way of emotional payoff or resolution.
The tragedy of *Mute's route is not that a person you cared about died, and there's nothing you can do to save her. The tragedy of *Mute's route is the way the game not only deprives you of the chance to find out if you could have saved her -- by witholding Oh Eun-a's logs in *Mute's route for no apparent reason, and having her suicide note be unchanged even if you don't view the log with *Star's death -- but taunts you for wanting to save her. With the Level Four Revive Materia achievement, and with "LOL SPOILERS *MUTE DIES," and with *Hyun-ae's Take That speech which puts down the harem route's dealing with *Mute's issues as "wish fulfillment."
And with New *Mute, and the game itself for the whole of day three, not really seeming to get what just happened.
As a clinically, sometimes suicidally depressed person, The Cat Lady showed me how unfair life was and then helped me see I could go on for another day. Hate Plus made me seriously question whether I ought to do so or not, until I realized it doesn't say anything about what suicide and depression are actually like. Just that Love has contempt for *Mute, and contempt for *Mute's fans, and contempt for people who've gone through what *Mute has.
Hate Plus doesn't depict an unavoidable tragedy. It just is one.