It Came From The Escapist

It Came From The Escapist
Dreading the Shadows on the Wall

Michael Zenke | 27 Jun 2006 12:05
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Since 2000, two very notable titles have surfaced on mythos-lovers' radar. Eternal Darkness: Sanity's Requiem filed the serial numbers off of Lovecraft's work to create a truly disturbing experience. A compelling story of old gods and their avatars woven together with time travel and rune-heavy ancient magics made for one of the most compelling story- driven games in recent memory. The clever use of meta-game trickery added a layer of real confusion to the play experience: As your avatar's sanity declined, your external perception of the game environment was compromised. Like the protagonist of "The Shadow Out of Time," prolonged exposure to horror begets new illusory horrors meant just for the player.

Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth is the most modern mythos-themed title on offer, released just this past spring on PC and last October for Xbox. With yet another nod to Alone in the Dark, you take on the role of a private investigator searching for clues in the quiet little town of Innsmouth. Something fishy is going on there, and the protagonist seeks out that which man was not meant to know. Dark Corners, a highly underrated game, gets the feel of the mythos correct by forcing players to run when face to face with otherworldly adversaries; in Lovecraft's universe, man was far from the dominant race. It's easily the most "accurate" Lovecraft-inspired game to date.

Beyond the directly mythos-touched games, it's easy to see Lovecraft's influence on many popular non-horror titles. As with tabletop gaming, horror literature has shaped many of the minds that make the games we play. Homages to Lovecraft have been littered throughout videogames since people started putting code to compiler. The best-selling Xbox 360 title this year, Oblivion, even contains its own small nod to the master of horror: The quest "Shadow over Hackdirt" has the player rescuing young Dar-Ma from the "Deep One" worshiping cultists south of Chorrol.

Lovecraft has sparked the imaginations of countless horror enthusiasts since his death. The time you spent dreading the shadows on the wall after reading "The Call of Cthulhu" shouldn't embarrass you. You were affected, changed, by the words of a writer who knew that the shadows were more than they seemed. That night, touched by his words, you saw that there were things you didn't know and were shaken. In a way, your love of gaming today may be because of a writer from Providence. After all, the fun part of gaming is the mastery of the unknown, the conquering of the darkness; the stock and trade of Howard Philips Lovecraft.

"Cthulhu still lives, too, I suppose, again in that chasm of stone which has shielded him since the sun was young. His accursed city is sunken once more ... He must have been trapped by the sinking whilst within his black abyss, or else the world would by now be screaming with fright and frenzy. Who knows the end? What has risen may sink, and what has sunk may rise."

- The Call of Cthulhu

Michael "Zonk" Zenke is Editor of Slashdot Games, a subsite of the technology community Slashdot.org. He comments regularly on massive games at the site MMOG Nation. He lives in Madison, WI (the best city in the world) with his wife Katharine.

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