I’m going to preface with the fact that I don’t want to dive into an entire debate about what can be considered a “game”, so I will use the term to define everything I played through this week but know that I’m not really completely decided about how I feel about it. Let’s start with KittyHorrorShow’s Haunted Cities 4 pack, featuring Lethargy Hill, Exclusion Zone, and Grandmother’s Garden, and Tenement. The first 3 are games which can be more easily digested through the lens of horror – Grandmother’s Garden features a jumpscare (the only one of the pack though, thankfully), Lethargy Hill features absolutely nightmarish sound design and visuals, and Exclusion Zone brings about fear of a tragedy that you know nothing about but can feel in the air. All three of these, especially Lethargy Hill and Grandmother’s Garden, are things that’ll keep me up at night for a while. But I think Tenement is most interesting in that while there are certainly horror elements, especially with the ending, it wasn’t nearly as scary for me. It wasn’t comforting either, but it was just there, a space that existed with its own quirks and charm. There are moments when the apartment blocks combined with the lighting are beautiful and serene, and the music that plays can be actually almost uplifting in certain scenes. I came to almost enjoy the residents of the tenement and their stories, however gruesome. Geller’s video speaks on the player having the ability to constantly reset to trigger its more horror-esque ending, but without rewatching the video for myself, I never actually figured out how to do that (it was the F5 key, something not shown on the menu), and so I simply explored the environment in its different stages and learned their stories, and after a certain point, I stopped playing. Perhaps for those residents, it was the best.
To cap out the experience, I ended by playing 2:22AM late in the evening, with the lights out, just as the developer intended. I came in with the expectation that I would be unnerved – I had already played through the Haunted Cities pack and the opening lines seemed to suggest as much, but I ended up having a far different experience than what I was expecting. Rather than feeling frightened, I had a strange, almost nostalgic feeling overwhelm me as I watched and played through the different scenes. The scenes felt like strange, uninterpretable dreams, and felt incredibly detached from my own life and stressors that it was almost peaceful. The closest feeling I can describe it to is that strange, ephemeral sensation that you get after you wake up in the evening after falling asleep in the early afternoon – that weird mix of euphoria of waking up from the dream, tinged with the melancholy of knowing that you won’t get that time back, as the sun sets on another day. I don’t know. These games felt far more emotionally impactful to me than a lot of the games we’ve played over the course of this quarter – despite how minimalistic they are, and I think for that they are amazing, no matter what anyone might call them.