“The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown.” – H.P. Lovecraft
This quotation, perhaps more than any other, has shaped the media I consume and the art I explore, acting as a crimson thread tying me to an unspeakable, unknowable fate. From the games I play to the books I read to the films I watch to the music I listen to, I find myself returning most often to the eldritch realms of Lovecraftian fear. This pursuit of the oldest and strongest of emotions has even shaped the articles I have written for this very blog; during my tenure here as curator of the more noxious and bizarre facets of media, I’ve explored weird fiction, horror shorts, subversive films, transgressive art, alarming media experiments, deviant games, and some of the strangest, most disturbing corners of the extreme music spiderweb. My journies take me to uncanny places, but thankfully, many of you have often been there with me, plumbing the obsidian depths at my side. Friends, I ask you once again to venture with me into the unknown. Today, we explore the obscene, even perverse world of Kitty Horrorshow’s interactive horror stories.
I first encountered a hint of the miasmic conjurings of Kitty Horrorshow on a Metafilter post discussing the intrepid creator’s recent abomination Anatomy. The post description called the game a big, bold exploration into body horror and interactive storytelling, and the comments echoed with a resounding furor of panic and fear:
“I have opened and closed this game 8 times tonight because wow, this game’s atmosphere is unbelievably terrifying. That fear of taking a single step forward is better than even PT.”
“Maybe tomorrow, in bright light, I’ll get through it once, perhaps more.”
“I bought it but now I’m afraid to even play round one.”
Obvious hyperbole aside, the concept of an interactive experience that evokes both body horror and that certain je ne sais quoi that makes tales of eldritch terror so powerful intrigued me, so I answered the clarion call and navigated my way over to Horrorshow’s webpage. There I discovered a cornucopia of perversions, with a number of free-to-play games available alongside the inexpensive Anatomy. I decided to test the waters with a different game first, so after a brief installation, I set foot into the barren, primal landscape of CHYRZA.
When you awaken in the monochromatic, potentially alien netherworld of CHYRZA, you find yourself in proximity to a stark, likely abandoned village of some sort. Within the center of the village you find a glowing crystalline shape seething with arcane mystery; touching the artifact begins the narration of the story, and clues within the hollow, somehow fearful dialogue guide you to your next objective. As you wander around the pyramid-shadowed desert, exploring cyclopean monuments and coming to terms with the atrocities that seem to have gripped this small community you begin to assemble the scattered pieces of an unlikely puzzle. There is no HUD, no instruction, no guide other than your senses. Nothing is true in the world of CHYRZA aside from the black pyramid that forever lurks with brooding malice on the periphery of your consciousness. As the narrated soliloquy reaches an emotional peak, the game approaches a final showdown with the pyramid, one that leaves you in perhaps deeper ambiguity than before.
CHYRZA as an interactive story is effective because of how little it gives you. Every detail, every hint, even the controls themselves must be gleaned through (albeit brief) exploration into the unknown. It is a game of meddling in the dust of an unclear past without a clear resolution. There is no absolution or revelation. Only darkness.
If you enjoy staring into the void of the unknown and have a spare 20 minutes or so, CHYRZA is most definitely a worthwhile diversion. The music is minimal yet subversive. The subtle drones and monochrome static accentuate the fevered, reclusive dialogue that evokes the spoken-word sections of Pig Destroyer‘s Natasha. The restrained color visuals and creeping audio work in tandem to perpetuate a mystifying glamour that never truly answers the questions it asks you; some may find that frustrating, but for adventurers who seek the thrill of exploring the deepening mysteries, the experience is a brief but wholly enjoyable (in a twisted way) one.
I encourage you to play through the game yourself, though you can also watch a video if you so desire.
If CHYRZA was a vaguely tangible descent into fear and doubt, 000000FF0000 is a naked rebirth into full-fledged insanity. Where the former granted you space to breathe in the dust of rot and panic, 000000FF0000 corrals you like a rat in a glitchy, corrosive labyrinth of irrational design. In this realm where the sky bleeds and the air pulses with malice, all concept of reality is abandoned at the altars of alien deities shaped like plague doctors.
Of the two games, 000000FF0000 feels fresher, albeit directionless, a more modern take on the age-old premise of fear of the unknown. Much like the Sad Satan interactive experiment I covered, Horroshow’s creation seems more intent on bewildering you with a dizzying graphical approach, nonsensical gameplay, and unintuitive design. From the download page that looks more like a malware installation to the veritable ziggurat of poorly labeled files you must navigate to even find the installation application, the game is a byzantine wreck that in my mind captures the paradigm-shattering effect a revelation of eldritch horror would truly have. As the game forces you between angles and squares you off against grim, sanguine specters, it certainly feels like a modern incarnation of Brown Jenkin’s witch house.
Whether you find the game effective or merely annoying is entirely up to your tolerance for being bombarded with vertigo-inducing imagery and walls of noise.
Although the sound design of both games is perfectly serviceable, I’d like to take a moment to suggest a potential release that you may also use as a soundtrack. Mhönos are a droning doom band on French label Necrocosm, and their new album Miserere Nostri seems the perfect accompaniment to the buzzing of the maze and the scorching of the desert sun. Split across four tracks, Miserere Nostri revels in slow-burning, malicious release. Riffs bubble to the surface like black tar amid swaths of sickening reverb and callous, perilous percussion. Throaty, apocalyptic vocals ring out like chants of the damned welcoming you to a subterranean, forgotten tomb. Though there are moments of levity, they serve only to lower your guard before dragging you back into the depths with hulking, juddering, alluring, and mysterious doom. Miserere Nostri, then, is the perfect eulogy for a final exploration of an alien catacomb.
Kitty Horroshow and Mhönos have certainly granted me an experience and slaked my thirst for unsettling atmosphere. I find myself wanting more, and I fully intend to wind my way deeper into Horrorshow’s primal, arcane world. Perhaps my own hunger for the thrill of fear will be my downfall. I hope you’ll join me for the ride.
If you like Kitty Horrorshow’s games, you should definitely consider supporting her work here. You can find Mhönos on Facebook and Bandcamp. If you try any of Horrorshow’s other games, let me know what you discover in the comments below.
(All Photos VIA)