When videogame protagonists die, they don’t die. Death for them is not merely impermanent but utterly unlike death as we experience it in life, or even in other media. Once killed, they’re quickly back to where they were, maybe even as they were.
Dark Souls makes this text: You come back, eternally, but if you lose your purpose or your power or both, you lose your sentience right along with it. So as long as you’re willing to keep pursuing your quest—which is to say, keep playing the game—death isn’t death.
Wario Land II did this weird thing where death itself disappeared. Wario would get crushed and, rather than rebooting to wherever he was before he got crushed, he stayed crushed-but-alive, waddling along flatly, unable to do some of what he could before but newly able to, say, squeeze under things. The text accounted not only for the fact that Wario couldn’t really die, but also for the increasingly weird things that happened to him instead.
The Missing: J.J. Macfield and the Island of Memories takes that same concept and goes pitch-black with it, replacing the cartoon violence with something closer to real violence and reframing the should-be-deaths as self-harm. You’re exploring by hurting yourself or allowing yourself to be hurt, exposing yourself to pain and trauma in order to continue in your chosen direction. (Pitch-black, as I said).
Hidetaka Suehiro, better known as SWERY and known better-still as the writer/director of Deadly Premonition, is the main creative voice behind The Missing. He continues to wear his Twin Peaks obsession on his sleeve, blending surrealism, dusty Americana, and grotesque horror imagery—but The Missing is also more or less his take on Limbo (the “trial-and-death” platform game, that is, though it is of course also his take on Limbo, the religious and metaphysical concept). You’re progressing left to right, and you’re looking for someone, and you’re going to find far more than you bargained for. All that.
But by making taking the horrible things that happen to you and making them necessary, asking you to do them to yourself intentionally rather than tricking or trapping you into failure states, The Missing covers bleaker tonal and thematic ground than Limbo ever did (which is saying something). It explores the horror of having to live with horrific experiences, the horror of wanting to annihilate yourself, and the horror of not quite being able to do either.
If self-harm or suicide are triggers for you to any degree, then I cannot advise you strongly enough to stay away from this one. It comes with a big old warning right at the top, and that warning is not, I assure you, just posturing. But if SWERY’s brand of the bizarre is your jam, and if you enter this one fully aware of what you’re getting yourself into, then you’ll find The Missing strikingly strange, studiously intense, and very likely a permanent resident in your imagination.