When you open Kind Words, you are greeted by an adorable dear postal worker, called the Mail Deer. The Mail Deer welcomes you to the game and asks you to write a letter to them, giving them encouragement on their first day on the job. I spent, far too long writing this deer a letter. I put time and thought into it; writing something that both emphasized how much the deer’s work benefits others and how much I appreciated that work. This adorable interaction introduces the main focus of the game, writing letters to people and responding to the requests of strangers.
Kind Words was released in 2019, and while I had seen some coverage, it wasn’t a game that I leaped on at the time. It seemed like a sweet concept, but I didn’t really feel the need for it personally at the moment. One year later, Covid happened. After months of worry and uncertainty, Liverpool had gone into a second lockdown. Currently, instead of living on campus, I am choosing to stay home from university to protect my family, and all my learning that would traditionally be in person has been moved online. While there are still in-person lectures, all I can access is a microphone feed that covers the lecturer when they’re close and makes it difficult or next to impossible to hear the other students in the room. In general, this form of education has made something I already struggled with, keeping up with work and motivating myself to hit deadlines, even harder for me.
So, because of this recent difficulty, I have fallen into something of a depression over the last week. This weekend I barely left my bed and did not get changed for two days because I just didn’t have the energy. So, when I saw Kind Words on Itch.io on Saturday, the premise of a game where strangers respond to your requests for validation and empathy, was a thing I thought I needed. Having now written multiple requests of my own, and having responded to as many requests from others as I can, I feel comfortable in saying this game might just be one of the most meaningful, or certainly the sweetest, games I’ve ever played.
As previously mentioned, letter writing is the main interaction you have with the game. You can either write your own letters and have them receive replies from strangers, or you can reply to their letters, attempting to pass on some wisdom or simply validate them in their feelings. The game also allows you to send stickers that can be used to decorate your room as 3D toys. You start with one sticker out of one of three packs, but as you either receive letters with stickers attached or are thanked for your responses with stickers, your packs start to fill up. These stickers are mostly adorable and have limited interactions through small animations. I have found myself hoping folks will give me new stickers, and while completionism is not the aim of the game, it is something I have begun to obsess over and I am not sure how to feel about that. For instance, I recently received a little frog friend from a stranger and since then have attached them to most of my letters, giving people this little frog to comfort them in hard times. I love this frog, and I hope others do too.
The game has a simple, 3D look with a character you cannot customize. You have a room that you can decorate with the stickers you obtain, but it is impossible to mix and match. Each pack represents a different style of room and you cannot have a room with stickers from both packs active. The customization in this game is limited, but it’s sufficient in letting you tailor the space in some small way with elements you find comforting. Every day the Mail Deer gives you a song that plays on your radio. If you have listened to those “lofi hip hop beats to study to” live streams on YouTube, you know the vibe the soundtrack is going for. The soundtrack and the visuals of the game are comforting, setting a tone that is welcome in a game about kindness, and they act as a chill and charming wrapper around a game that could have just been text on a screen.
I have received a lot of helpful responses from people so far, with genuine advice and sentiments that have generally made me feel better about my problems. However, at the same time, not every response is equally positive. While so far, I haven’t come across any outright trolls, both in the requests and in the responses I’ve received, I have had some less than useful advice sent my way. One person, in response to my letter about my worries that I will struggle to handle deadlines, just told me to follow them as they’re assigned. Technically, this is good advice! But in reality, this is completely useless. My problem isn’t knowing about the deadline, but planning and handling a large workload without falling apart.
Another person, in response to my anxieties around wherever or not these very writings will ever actually be read by anyone, told me I needed a gimmick. Specifically, they said I should try to build a personality like the Angry Video Game Nerd has and honestly, what were they thinking! If you got that joke then you, like me, spent far too much of your childhood watching an angry white man in a button-up shirt shout at retro games, and have hopefully moved on to better things. So yeah, not every response is created equal. But when you receive a genuinely heartfelt reply, the game shines and has in some small way, improved my mood in the last couple of days.
I do worry that I will come to rely on this game too much and that it might begin to have a negative effect on me. It can be disheartening to receive bad faith advice. It sucks to receive nothing at all. This game is not therapy. The people on the other side are anonymous, you have no way of knowing if their advice comes from a place of expertise. I have read people talk about subjects as serious as suicide or abuse and while yes, words from a stranger may be able to help in some way, much of my advice often ends with a plea to seek local mental health recourses. This game is not a replacement for therapy, though it is certainly cheaper at around five dollars. While I believe this game has had a positive effect on me, I know that once I collect every sticker I will not have one hundred-percent mental health and that something as anonymous and short term as this may be a comfort, but it will never be treatment.
In conclusion, Kind Words is sweet, and I think it is a genuine attempt by Popcannibal to get players to help others and seek help themselves. Links to resources are provided within the game, which is good as for even how comforting this game might be, it is not a replacement for mental health care. Kind Words at its best is a game that reminds me I am not alone, and that there are others going through the same issues in these difficult times. To be honest, right now, that comfort in knowing it’s not just me was all I needed.
Kind Words isn’t perfect, but any game that encourages players to care for one another and gives them the tools to do so is worth playing.
- Simple and easy to play
- Incredible music & visuals
- Charming and heart-warming
- Encourages both self-care and the care of others
- Occasional bad faith posters and responses
- I sometimes felt worse rather than better when I didn’t receive a response