IF Horror and My Aggravation

I’m a horror fanatic. Besides cookbooks, it’s pretty much the only thing I like to read these days. That being the case, it’s really the only type of IF that I enjoy playing. No matter how beautiful, masterful and moving a piece of IF is, if it isn’t surreal and horrific, I’m not buying.

This frustrates me because I can’t find any truly good horror IF. I say this with the disclaimer that I haven’t finished Anchorhead and I’ve barely started Shreds & Patches.

In searching IFDB, there are shockingly very few games tagged as horror, comparitively. When I do find it, it’s flagged as “Lovecraft crap”, basically, which I can’t understand.

Just played Shade for the first time. Just now. Just played through it. Twice. Hated it. Absolutely hated it. About five minutes into it, I already knew what the end result was and was just trying to see what profundity would accompany the actual revalation. There was none. Just a “my turn”. Maybe the game is too smart for me, but I don’t even know what the hell that means, forget being deeply affected by it. This isn’t to say the game is bad or that I could do better. I just… don’t get it and it didn’t move me. I didn’t find anything about it “creepy” or “scary” in the most charitable definition of the term.

Ecdysis… I absolutely loved this. Not because it was particularly well written, because I don’t think it was. But I do think it was ballsy. And it was Lovecraftian. Very Lovecraftian. I happen to be a fan of Lovecraft. I happen to have two plush Cthulhus on my desk at work. One is wearing a straw hat and a Hawaiin shirt and is sporting several pins of Lovecraft and Crowley. Holdovers from a younger, more ignorant day. Beside the point…

Played “One Eye Open”. Hated it. Very well executed game. Very campy and desperate. Everything eats you. The washing machine can eat you. The laundry chute can eat you. The hallway can eat you. It’s very Star Wars Meets Silent Hill. Lots of potential for an excellent psychological thriller/surreal horror. Never met that expectation for me. Tried too hard and I wound up quitting about twenty minutes in.

Games I’ve been put off playing: Lydia’s Heart, Dead Cities, Critical Breach. I tried Slouching some time ago, but for some reason got put off by it and just never picked it up again.

So to come back to my original point: why all the Lovecraft hate? And why the comparative void of horror in IF? Is it too cliche? Has Lovecraft become cliche? What isn’t cliche? What hasn’t been done time and time and time and time again? Psychiatric hospitals? Check. Hordes of random animals/insects? Check. Viruses? Check. In a medium ripe with possibility, we get “Shade” and “Gonna Eat You Up Hallways”.

I want something that’s going to make me think. Shade showed that Plotkin has an interesting take on what dying in the desert feels like if you’re in limbo or something, despite probably having never died in the desert or been in limbo. But that didn’t make it scary. Anchorhead is still the proverbial carrot. Ecdysis was perfect bite-sized horror, despite the vehicle making no sense to someone not having ridden shotgun.

So… what gives?

Also Warbler’s Nest was neither horror nor creepy. It was actually a pretty accurate jab at old world ignorance. It stuck with you. But it wasn’t scary. Plus…

I know that this is all based on folklore. I know I’m not gonna chuck a baby in the river, no matter how much the game tells me that it might be my only chance at peace. So while it tried (and tried well) to convince me that maybe I didn’t think what I had thought I thought, it still didn’t convince me to hurl a screaming infant to its watery death, so…

What Lovecraft hate? I like Lovecraft pastiches.

(To be clear, I like Lovecraft too, but he didn’t write any IF, so in that realm we’re stuck with pastiches.)

It looks like you’re saying that you only like Lovecraftian IF but you won’t play any game that’s labelled “Lovecraftian” in IFDB. This appears to be a problem, but I probably misunderstand you.

The Lovecraft-hate puzzles me, too, but there’s a lot of knee-jerk this-and-that at the vocal edges of the IF mob. I don’t take it as really representing anything but the vocal edges, though, since when IF folk do settle in to write something horrorish, it’s very often Lovecraftian. And bravo to that. Personally, I didn’t cotton to Anchorhead, but I think Shreds and Patches is good stuff.

Void of horror: Not sure, really. I’ve seen ample evidence that there’s interest in playing it.

The phrase “too cliche” does not parse. :smiley: No such thing (well, provided it’s cliche-as-language rather than cliche-passed-off-as-substance … and I think the knee-jerk reaction people have to cliche is mostly founded on the presumption that any given use of cliche will be the latter rather than the former). The letter “L” has been done. The color blue has been done. Having been done means nothing if we’re talking about tools and components, and cliche, used properly, is a pile of tools and components. It’s only when someone takes some blue paint, slaps a big “L” on a canvas, and calls it artistic license instead of laziness, that we get into trouble.

So, I dunno :frowning: I’m more of a space-opera, hardboiled-crime and trad-fantasy guy myself, and I feel all three of those are under-represented as well, at least in modern works … I gather that, with some writers, there’s such a strong apparent need to make things distinguished from genre work that good genre work becomes a bit neglected, the rarest of gems (ironically) … the people who could do it well, avoid it, and the people who don’t avoid it are often … still learning the fundamentals of their craft, let’s say.

So, yeah. I dunno :frowning:

Because he is an awful writer? I know that Duncan is going to kick me for this, but I did give the man a chance; although I had giving up on him, I was persuaded to read At the Mountains of Madness, and made a good faith effort to like it. But even that supposed magnum opus was bad. Not as bad as most of his other stuff, but still quite bad. I wrote a short analysis of it, but it is in Dutch.

Which doesn’t mean I cannot enjoy a good Lovecraft-inspired game. I loved Anchorhead and The King of Shreds and Patches, both of which are explicitly based on Lovecraft. But even there, although these games are very good and I enjoyed them greatly, it was the Lovecraft stuff that least appealed to me. Why? I tried to explain that in my analysis of King:

I don’t know if this is helpful to you, but it is my explanation of why there is such a thing as Lovecraft hate.

I’ve spotted your misunderstanding for you :slight_smile:

The simple answer to “Why isn’t there more good [genre] IF?” is just that there isn’t enough good IF for there to be a deep field of any particular genre. Horror is one of the more common IF genres, but if a few key works don’t click for you, there’s not much left.

And horror is a genre strongly defined by the kind of feeling it induces in its readers, so it-doesn’t-work-as-$GENRE-for-me is going to be a lot more subjective. This goes double for Lovecraft: if the cosmic-horror stuff doesn’t quite click for you, you’re left with something with a lot of silly tentacles, purple prose and nineteenth-century anxieties. (For what it’s worth, I don’t think that IF has a particular hate-on for Lovecraft; Lovecraftian horror is more dominant in IF horror than it is in most media, and Anchorhead heads up the canon.)

Warbler’s Nest works very well as horror if you’re not sure what the genre is. If you decide early on that it’s not a world where elves really exist, it’ll fall flat, so I can see why it didn’t click for some people. But it’s very effective as horror if you’re genuinely unsure what kind of story you’re in.

With Lovecraft himself, yes, you get purple prose and nineteenth-century anxieties. You almost never get tentacles, though; that’s just … that’s like characterizing a “typical” geek as having coke-bottle glasses that have been taped in the middle, and a pocket protector. Yes, it has happened but it’s not even remotely typical of HPL’s stories. There are no tentacles in [insert the name of almost every HPL story ever].

With Lovecraft pastiche, you get any of those things to varying degrees. In general, I agree with Victor on Lovecraft’s qualities as a writer. Lovecraft desperately wanted to be Poe and Dunsany simultaneously, and sadly for all of us, he frequently succeeded. I am not a fan of Lovecraft pastiche (here I’m using “pastiche” specifically to mean writing or games which honestly and sincerely want to emulate Lovecraft’s own work and style) because it tends to preserve the badness of Lovecraft without contributing anything like the good of him.

But then there’s a third thing (and I think one of the things that confuses the topic is that there really are these three things): which is Lovecraftian gaming which is not pastiche (in the narrow sense used above), where the goal is to plunder Lovecraft for the good bits and casually discard the rest. No purple prose, no trembling nebbishes required (optional, sometimes used ironically, or in one case I can think of used as a really fun and non-ironic contrast-study), no thanks on the tentacles (though again, maybe ironically). But still jam-packed with the cool stuff Lovecraft brought to the pulp-fantasy table. Lovecraft done way, way better than Lovecraft … and this third thing is something gamers can be astonishingly good at. Mind you, this stuff is only sometimes horror, so may not be satisfying to the OP … but even Lovecraft was only sometimes horror, IMO. Most often just dark pulp-fantasy.

That was my read of the situation as well. Then I thought that maybe I4L meant that games on IFDB were literally “flagged as Lovecraft crap,” but my search for the “Lovecraft crap” tag on IFDB returned nothing.

I largely agree with maga that there’s just not enough IF for there to be well-populated genres. However, I also wonder if it might have something to do with the way that horror* often plays either on the disconnect between the audience’s view and the characters’ (“Don’t go in the basement!”) or on complicated character tensions/loyalties (pretty much any “converting” monster, like vampires or zombies). The former seems like a waste of interactivity – though I’m sure there are clever ways to explore/exploit this – and the latter requires more NPC depth than most games have.

*as I understand it; I’m not a big fan of horror other than the extremely cheesy kind

I disagree with the premise, not the reasoning. I’d say that horror is noticeably common in modern IF games. Some of it is Lovecraftian, some is psychological/surreal, much of it is mixed with other genres (Slouching Towards Bedlam) but it’s all pretty blatantly there.

Well, he never said he couldn’t find horror IF, rather “truly good” horror IF, which takes us into entirely subjective territory.

I feel that I should clarify a couple of things…

“Shade” was a phenomenal game. I didn’t care for the delivery or the end result. That’s all. I certainly don’t believe I could do better. But I put off playing it for a very long time. I kept reading about how “creepy” it was. It kept coming up in discussions about horror. So I finally played the thing and it just… wasn’t what I was expecting. That probably colored my opinion of it. I had high hopes with phrases like “you can’t face the night” or the fear of turning off the lamp. But I don’t think those expectations were met. I get the point of them. It wasn’t that I was expecting more. Just something different.

For the record, after I played through, I looked it up to see if I’d missed anything. I had not read any spoilers, walkthroughs or the like prior.

As for Warbler’s Nest, I just couldn’t get into it. I couldn’t relate. It was a “cute” twist, but again, I expected more. The projected “fear” of entering the house intrigued me. When I got into the house and found out it was just a screaming kid… I have three kids, now almost teenagers. One of them screamed a lot as an infant, one of them yells a lot now. I also have a very diverse religious/spiritual background. So the egg thing already put me on the edge. Once the two came together, I was just done. Admittedly, I did chuck the kid into the river the first time and into the crib the second time. So I did play it through. Again, very well written game, but neither touched that “horror nerve” for me.

Anyway, to my original point, I disagree that Lovecraft was a terrible writer. To his audience, one not saturated by the glories of the silver screen and the immersive interaction of big budget video games, this was as horrifying as it got, I’d expect. The idea that something so grotesque, powerful and indescribably was sleeping at the bottom of the ocean waiting to gobble them up hit home for them. It was the things that Lovecraft alluded to, not necessarily explicitly described, that was the true fear.

What I meant was that I’ve looked through the things tagged as “horror” on IFDB. I didn’t see much that I was impressed with. I didn’t search for Lovecraftian horror, though I did see the tag. The things that I did see that caught my eye were slighted for their Lovecraftian bent.

So point being… I didn’t find a lot of horror. Or maybe you guys are right in that it doesn’t match my idea of horror. Maybe Lovecraftian horror is really my thing. Being a die hard, long time fan of King and Barker, I thought I’d be hesitant to agree. (Regardless of what criticism anyone may have of either, they’re both two of the best at what they do.) Maybe it’s my thing in IF.

Psychological horror doesn’t really do it for me because it’s too easily explained. Same with thrillers. Zombies. Virus outbreaks. Et cetera ad nauseum. Maybe I am attracted to “that which cannot be comprehended by the human mind” for that reason. People don’t scare me. Strangers breaking into my house don’t scare me. Jump scares are for teenagers. Maybe it’s pomp or pride or ego or whatever. But if I can put a name, a face or a form to it, I’ll take a pass.

Clear as mud?

I should also say that SUTWIN is what revived my interest in IF. That game was creepy. I don’t know what it was intended to be. I’ve never found what I thought to be an “ending” that didn’t involve the window breaking with unfortunate side effects. But I friggin’ love that “game”. I just wish it was part of a bigger organism.

My mileage definitely varied:

I find the concept that what I think is my baby is actually something else both horrific and creepy. And the fact that people in real life may have believed this to the extent that they actually killed their own children even more so. (Maybe this has never actually happened in the history of man, but again, the concept that it might have… creepy.)

Whether this qualifies it for the genre I have no idea.

I’d like to recommend the game that has affected my heart rate the most here, but I played it without knowing its genre, and I suspect saying “this is horror” will lessen its impact somewhat. Also, from what you’ve written in the thread I don’t think you’re going to like it:

The Act of Misdirection

Specifically, the bit:

…at the end of the magic trick. I was completely taken by surprise. (Hence the name of the game?) The second half of the game I was less impressed by.

I agree. I would argue, however…

[spoiler]… that there isn’t enough substance here to convince me that the child may be something else. All it did was cry. Granted, it cried a lot. And we’re told that it cried a lot. I think that the faerie ring may have been added to lend some “credibility” to the lore, but it wasn’t close enough for me.

The Romans just dumped their weak or sick babies in the woods for the animals. There’s a good starting point, if anyone wants to run with that. Maybe one of those kids survived? Maybe a whole bunch of 'em survived? Something I’d love to write, but I don’t know enough about Roman history (or have the time to research it) to do it any justice.[/spoiler]

The Act of Misdirection

Of course, there have been a lot of great things said about this game. It’s another one of those that I’ve never got around to playing. I will, at some point. I’ll try to keep an open mind. I appreciate the suggestion. :slight_smile:

I really like reading H.P. Lovecraft, yet I really disliked Anchorhead. shrug Go figure.

Clive Barker has always been my favorite modern horror author. There’s about as many sub-genres to horror as there are to “metal” music. My own horror game is meant to be both silly and campy but still have some creepy or unnerving elements, though I don’t expect any of those to be effective with every player.

I don’t plan on returning to writing horror IF any time soon. I’m more interested in other genres right now. If and when I do make another though I will keep in mind that many people that play IF do not seem very amused with the “campy” element.

I’m certainly not the voice of the majority. Just voicing my own personal concerns about the genre and the subs thereof.

Have you played, Ecdysis, based on a Lovecraft’s Commonplace Book? Or The two Dunsany adaptations, The Journey of the King and The Ebb and Flow of the Tide? I can’t personally vouch for any of them, but it seems to be up your street. I enjoyed Anchorhead; I played it entirely on Twisty on my phone and although I found parts of it very creepy I was never truly horrified. Perhaps horror is not best served through a bright and shiny screen. Better a paperback read by torch light, or by a small fire in the middle of the woods.

I mentioned Ecdysis as one that I enjoyed. I haven’t played Journey of the King or Ebb and Flow of the Tide. I’ve added them both to my wish list as a reminder.