To Witness: Robert Yang's "Handle with Care"
by Daren Fowler — Georgia State University
April 16, 2017 – 19:53
Robert Yang’s Handle with Care (HWC), a game about marriage counseling and memory management, tasks you with placing boxes wired with bombs in their “proper” place to keep the boxed memory repressed. The box will explode and release the memory if dropped. Depending on the ratio of successful to failed repressions, your marriage will end (explode too many) or continue (place enough). Witnessing these memories, you feel their affective trauma even as their narrative is vague and abstracted—only lasting a moment before returning you to James’s memory warehouse. HWC presents itself as a pass/fail game, but which condition is which? The marriage is a fraught one, but as the husband reminds you, they have been through so much together. And speaking trauma can be liberatory, but there may be a reason for repression. The game is not seeking a correct path, a straight orientation towards properness, but instead a negotiation of desires and needs.
HWC is a queer game not because of its characters, but because it forces the player to orient themselves differently. We are asked to witness something profound and multiple. To witness is to be present for (either the event itself or the recounting of), but it is also to be accountable for its remembrance. To witness carries the weight of exactness and correctness but always carries the assumption of inexactness and bias. To witness then is a contradiction, or even a paradox—a thing that is present/absent, demanded/contingent, full/empty, desired/meaningless. The game’s witness is the player as they haphazardly rupture memories free; the witness is James as he returns once more to these fuzzy memories, feeling the past’s radioactive remains; the witness is Dylan, the husband, who must hear these shared experiences retold through the memory of another; and the witness is the counselor, hearing the partiality of a distant patient and his struggling husband.
The game concerns the negotiation of desires and burdens—the construction of the self—that helps shape the world we feel and recount and the potentialities to come. We are asked to witness queerness—a rupturing force of indeterminacy—and to queerly witness—embrace desire’s sensous instability. HWC then is a game where the player must navigate the harsh and difficult terrain of lives lived, and the ethical weight of such a role and task.