The Town of Light is a game that seems undone by the scope of its own ambition. When you play The Town of Light you’re exploring a real place, the psychiatric hospital at Volterra in Italy. The game has recreated it in it’s current, falling-down state; abandoned in the 70s, the real place still contains wire bed frames and wheelchairs. In The Town of Light it also contains memories.
You explore the present day Volterra as Renée, a (fictional) patient who was treated there in the 40s. Exploring different parts of the hospital triggers different memories in Renée, a jumble of events from her time there that don’t appear in chronological order. But she’s confused and dissociated from her own, traumatic life, often referring to ‘Renée’ in the third person. Renée’s story can end in four ways depending on what you find and how you react: reading through another person’s diary contradicts Renée’s own recollections, and may upset her. She questions herself, and you can choose answers that direct her confusion and anger to different people. How this mechanic works is never really explained in game, though, you have to figure out what the symbol ‘single person next to group of people with a red cross through them’ means for Renée’s mental health.
The story touches upon many upsetting subjects: child abuse, sexual abuse, physical abuse, and mental abuse. The tragedy that befalls Renée in Volterra sometimes seems so terrible as to be unrealistic, though it’s sadly based in fact. Nurses at Volterra were not obligated to speak to patients, or deliver correspondence between them and their families. Patients were restrained and kept sedated, subjected to electroshock therapy, or lobotomised. Renée put up with these things and more from the time she was committed, at the age of 16.
Source: Video Gamer