Happy (mid) October! Even though I’ve never been a huge fan of Halloween (my childhood costumes rotated between lawyer, businessman, and French businessman, all of which were just me wearing a suit that was too big plus or minus my mom’s beret) I’m a sucker for a good chill, either in the form of a terrible/great horror movie or spooky game. I have a hard time hacking the super-scary-atmospheric stuff though—whenever I get too freaked out in a movie I can kind of stare into a corner and watch via peripheral vision but if I do that in a game I end up getting mauled by a zombie and then I just have to start over. In any case, I come bearing gifts of free indie horror delights and then some.
Magenta Skeleton isn’t so much horror as it is ambient exploration (which I might be a huge fan of), but it is at times both beautiful and unsettling. The way in which you (a magenta skeleton) appear on a shore facing another (magenta skeleton) holding a torch; the small boat in the background, a dismantled bridge of some sort. It heftily implies some sort of two-skeleton invasion, but in practice it’s about exploring a texture, as lo-fi rain falls down the slopes of a mountainous island and your electric-purple skele-legs carry you into the neon future. There’s no violence or real interaction, just this weird flash-fiction/prose-poem of an environment, and you are on it. (I recommend climbing up the hilly area to the left of the bridge.)
Michael Lutz recently released a new game made with Twine called the uncle who works for Nintendo, which is campfire-story-good. It’s based off that sort of childhood legend or falsehood: the friend who claims to have a family member who works in a high-powered job at a cool company. In elementary school, I knew a kid who reached compulsive liar status by claiming he was constantly winning Nintendo-based sweepstakes, and that he was soon to receive unlimited N64 controllers, in any color that he wanted, for the rest of his life.
In any case, you’re sleeping over at a friend’s house for the night. His uncle works at Nintendo, maybe. As you make your way through the night, a fantastic use of sound and warped memory narrative create a really unsettling space that still kind of freaks me out, but not in a chainsaw murderer way, more like a clown standing in the middle of an intersection at night but really far away kind of way. The danger isn’t imminent, but it’s still pretty weird. This isn’t to make light, however: there are some trigger warnings attached. Lutz prefaces it as “a horror framework to think about misogyny and emotional abuse and manipulation” especially w/r/t children, so be warned.
This led me to discovering an older game of Lutz’s: my father’s long, long legs. While Nintendo was branching and filled with a certain modern terror, Legs is a pretty straight-forward narrative that relies on some really lovely scripting later on the story to give the player a sort of flashlight that they must use to discover text. Again, this one’s unsettling without the jumps, a kind of slow burn that I just can’t resist. I hope you’ll find it to be similarly attractive, but if not, maybe we can freak each other out later by saying some weird stuff into a mirror in the dark.
Lastly, a sort of bonus. Emily Carroll is an artist who has for a long time been making some of my favorite comics. The reason I bring her up is that Lutz cites her as an inspiration (particularly the work she did on The Yahwg, a game which bears her beautiful art) and the atmospheres created by Lutz and Carroll are very much siblings. My favorite work of Carroll’s is definitely His Face all Red, but you can’t go wrong with Out of Skin or Margot’s Room. They’re all very carefully constructed and formatted for maximum dread, and the latter relies on a prefacing poem to guide the reader to click on specific parts of what appears to be a gruesome scene, not unlike a point and click game.
In any case, I hope you enjoy. I’m really pumped to see more and more of these sorts of experiments that toy with both structure and texture, as well as the idea of “play.” In some cases, I’m not sure play is even the right verb anymore, but for now, it’s as close as it feels like we can get as we talk about “games.” This isn’t to say they’re not games. I just think they might transcend the label, and that’s a really awesome feeling. In any case, grab some cider, turn off the lights, put on some headphones, and get spooked.