Divorce is a rough process, both legally and emotionally, for all involved. It is a straining reminder of a marriage that lost its love and luster. It’s the sign of a family falling apart.
Yet, as family-oriented as divorce appears to be, separation is a secluded, reflective process. From the introduction of her 1997 book, The Divorce Culture, Barbara Dafoe Whitehead explains that the divorce revolution shaped a new way of thinking, one that allowed people to reconsider their role in the family and their obligations to their family versus to themselves.
Beginning in the late 1950s, Americans began to change their ideas about the individual's obligations to family and society. Broadly described, this change was away from an ethic of obligation to others and toward an obligation to self … At least as important as the moral obligation to look after others, the new thinking suggested, was the moral obligation to look after oneself.
This holds true for people like confessional poet and Pulitzer Prize winner Sharon Olds, who won the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for her collection "Stag’s Leap". The winning collection focuses on what happens to the self after divorce – the tugging feeling of separation, the loss of her husband’s smile, the loss of love and the intimate fingers that linger. The collection is personal, intimate and raw. She and other writers have gone through great lengths to show the importance of reflection and self-expression after a divorce. Games, on the other hand, haven’t had much luck. Especially not an arcade game.
Yet cartoonist and engineer Tim Hunkin has created an arcade game, titled Divorce that focuses on the tug of war of divorce. Honestly, the game is not as complex as something like, say, Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat Pray Love; there’s no point in the game where you travel in search for yourself, eat good food and find a businessman to fall in love with. Rather, the game is simple: Spin the handle the fastest so when the house splits, you’re left with most of it.
Even for Hunkin, emphasis on legality had crept its ugly head into making a game about divorce.
“Initially I was thinking of divorce as a legal process,” Hunkin said on his website, detailing the making of the game. Hunkin compares the divorce of his wife from her previous husband, and to the producer of his series, Secret Life of Machines,” a series that celebrates the wonders of machines taken for granted, such as the washing machine or the elevator. The difference between the two is that his wife’s divorce felt more emotionally draining than financially, while the producer suffered from a declining amount of money due to expensive lawyers. Both felt the hardships of divorce, both in completely distinct ways. “Halfway through making the machine,” Hunkin writes, “I still had no idea what it should look like.”
Eventually, Hunkin ditched the idea of legality and decided to keep his game simple, turning the game into what it is today: a tug of war meant to see which spouse will win the entire house.
However, much like real divorce, no person is left entirely whole. As Olds and Gilbert prove, divorce is about recuperating, picking up the pieces and discovering what is left. When Hunkin took his prototype to London’s Institute of Making, playtesters noted that the best part of the game isn’t about pulling the entire house over to their side, but seeing the house split in two, and discovering who is left with what.
So Hunkin changed the game to please the playtesters, writing on the site that “one partner only gets the whole house if they finish separating when their partner has got less than 70% of the way.” Meaning, you’ll need speedy arms to pull the lever fast enough to pull the house completely to your side.
Now the game is less like visiting lawyers, signing paperwork or fighting with ex-spouses; instead, Divorce has turned into a transparent way to look at divorce: the fighting, the splitting apart, the silence, the discovery of what’s left.
The machine is currently on display in Hunkin’s arcade, The Under The Pier Show in Suffolk, UK.