When the presidential election was called for Donald Trump in early November, many were ready to fall into outright despair. But not Nick Kaman. He was already starting work on an interactive homage to KC Green’s classic comic “On Fire” — hoping for a project that might spread some empathy. His five-minute short This Is Fine is the result, and to be frank, it’s probably just the coping mechanism everyone needs right now.
The “On Fire” dog (often associated with the “This is fine” speech bubble and panel featuring a dog calming sitting in a chair while everything around them is on fire) has been given no shortage of attention in 2016, thanks to a perpetual stream of stress, anxiety, and anguish that’s been dumped on the unsuspecting world at large. Between increasingly overt class and racial divisions, ever-louder climate change alarm bells, and other horrors, this year has felt like a cruel joke. Green himself even commented on the state of things in August, saying that things were in fact not fine at all.
But Kaman’s This Is Fine isn’t about roasting to death in a house that’s in flames or having a breakdown over just how terrible today’s problems are. Instead it’s about being given the power to combat a bad situation, the flames, with love and compassion, something that came to Kaman randomly after going through a bout of writer’s block.
“I really just wanted to put something out there,” he tells over email. “It kind of just hit me as a whole on election night I should make a game where you’re the dog from [“On Fire”] and you put out the fires with love. But wait, one of them doesn’t go out because everything isn’t fine. The entire idea came at once, I don’t know how.”
Kaman immediately started working on pixel art for the fire as states were still tallying votes.
While the game aspect of This Is Fine is simple, it’s no less affecting. Once you’re able to clear some of the fire out of the apartment, some other friends — all going through their own issues — show up, allowing players to make the best of things. Kaman told me it’s been played over 10,000 times, a number that will likely continue to climb.
Like Green’s comics, Kaman’s game isn’t overtly political either, but he says people should absolutely think about it in reference to the election results.
“I was scrolling down my Facebook feed and saw fear, hopelessness, anger from just about every person in my life, especially POC friends and LGBTQ friends,” Kaman says. However, I wanted the game to be able to resonate with whoever might be struggling with something other than Mr. Trump — there’s a lot of struggles out there and the message I shaped should apply to any of them.”
It’s also why there’s no obvious Trump connection in there. Kaman says to directly reference him in a game by having players, say, shoot lasers at his face is “just kind of cheap and corny” and taking the easy way out.
In taking control over the fire with an extinguisher, players feel some measure of empowerment, even in a small way; taking those first steps was an idea Kaman wanted to explore.
“I chose to make this a game to give the viewer some agency. The first thing you do is get up and start moving around — take action to change your environment,” he says. “Being able to do certain things and not others gives this whole element of power to the experience. Are you comfortable with the amount of power the game gives you? The amount of power the real world gives you?”
For a tiny browser game, the response has been significant, and has made Kaman want to help people out as much as he can.
“One person on Facebook commented something like, ‘Thank you sir. We need artists like you now more than ever,’ and it was weird because to me I had just made a little browser game. And several people told me it brought them to tears. It’s very rewarding to be able to affect people so strongly.”
While Kaman didn’t approach Green directly before making the game, he did send him a link when it was finished; Green himself was surprised by it, which is often no longer the case with fan interpretations and references.
“I really enjoyed it, because I have seen so much fan art and other people’s interpretations of the comic and that panel that I’ve begun to feel a little numb about it when they come in,” Green says. “Parodies and the like are the most I see, so when it started I wasn’t really expecting much, and it hit me with nice feelings. Especially when all the other little friends came in to chill with you.”
Though he doesn’t read his comics, Kaman was happy to hear from Green, as well.
“‘On Fire’ has kind of transcended into memehood,” Kaman says. “I sent [Green] a link to the game on Twitter cause I figured he’d be interested — he said it was sweet and better than he expected, so that was really cool.”
For Green, it seems the difference was that This Is Fine was actively trying to do some good.
“It was a nice surprise, someone making a little playable comic with my character,” he says. “Someone who made it into something better for everyone, and can at least still have hope, unlike my two comics, where hope is forgotten or given up for a laugh. [Now] we don’t need that darkness.”