So with the Patreon fee fiasco stuff going on I closed my Creator page. I didn’t have any Patrons so I’m not leaving anyone hanging there. It’s hard to try and create a base and move towards a sustainable income through crowdfunding. And I did not have confidence in the scale of what I was doing and succeeding on Patreon, especially after the fee changes.
I still have a day job and as much as I want to have source of income that just lets me spend my time and energy on writing and other content creation that’s not how things are right now. I’ll try some other crowdfunding option after the New Year some time. Until then just enjoy the stuff I do.
Like last year I decided to put together a list of horror games to recommend for people to play. There are not too many entries this year as my back log of games has built up nicely, which means I have not played as many horror games as I have wanted to. The games this year are also all adventure games. No action horror games for this year. Again these are just personal choices I have decided to recommend, not some sort objective list of horror games everyone should play. The games are listed in no particular order.
Fran Bow is the most stylized game on this list. It is a more traditional point and click adventure game. You play as Fran, a ten year old girl, who is dealing with the mental fallout of seeing her parents murdered. Fran is determined to escape the asylum she is in and get back home. She is provided a drug that when consumed transforms the environment around her, usually for the worst. This transformation of the environment allows you to access areas/things you couldn’t access before and is what most of the puzzle design is structured around. The game offers up plenty of disturbing imagery and leaves off with a pretty ambiguous ending that will leave you questioning a lot of things.
Conarium is the latest Lovecraftian game from Zoetrope Interactive. Heavily influenced by At the Mountains of Madness, you awake in an arctic base with a bit of amnesia. As you explore trying to figure out where everyone else has disappeared to, you discover more about the experiments taking place and your part in them. The imagery and atmosphere of this game is really what the game is about. It also prioritizes narrative experience over complex gameplay mechanics. It’s a first person adventure game with simpler puzzles. Lovecraft can be hard to do in games but I thought this game did a decent job. I did a review of Conarium earlier this year. Head over and check it out if you want to know a little bit more about the game (there are spoilers).
Layers of Fear
Layers of Fear came out last year and got a bit of coverage as one of the “scariest” titles out there. I don’t know about scariest but it does have a good amount of jump scares and the atmosphere of the game creates a good fearful tension as you play. You play as an aging artist returning home to finish his final piece. The game is a bit of a walking simulator with a few puzzles strewn about, some of them optional. Much of the game is walking around dreamlike or surreal environments of your home. What I really like about this game is some of the game design. The way the game plays with physical space while you play is fantastic is something I would like to see show up in other horror titles. There are multiple endings dependent on different paths you take or whether or not you look at certain things. There is a decent amount of exploration in this game if you don’t mind the walking simulator aspect.
Observer is a game done by the same people who did Layers of Fear. It is billed as a cyberpunk horror and it lives up to that description. It is more of a traditional first person adventure game and less of a walking simulator that Layers of Fear was. There is more interactivity and better puzzle design. I really really liked the puzzles in this game. Their design felt unique and utilized the atmosphere of the game really well. The premise is that you play as a detective that can enter people’s minds and access their memories. Most of the horror comes from the memoryscapes you experience. For the moment this game feels like a unique one out there and highly recommend it. This is another game I did a review on earlier this year (again spoilers).
This game will definitely not be everyone’s cup of tea. It is very minimalist when it comes to gameplay. The only reason I am including it on the list is because of the first story you play. Untold Stories is an episodic game with four stories bound together by a narrative thread revealed in the final story. Each story has its own horror elements but it’s the first story, The House Abandon, which really blew me away. It’s hard to describe. You are someone who has come home and you start playing an old text adventure game and then everything starts bleeding together. The game narratives, reality, it all just bleeds together. It is a horror experience I have not experienced in any other game. Go play this game.
The Cat Lady begins and ends with suicide. Video games have continued to mature as a storytelling medium over the years. We have seen an increasing number of titles sincerely grapple with the tougher aspects of the human experience. The Cat Lady, released in 2012, is a game with depression and suicide at the core of its narrative. The player takes part in a story whose characters struggle with their depressive demons, stepping into the shoes of a woman who is healing from her own depressive and suicidal experiences.
You play as Susan Ashworth. The game opens with you committing suicide. You appear in some sort of afterlife. Meeting an entity who refers to herself as the Queen of Maggots, she tells you she is sending you back to kill five people, who she refers to as Parasites. She is also sending you back as an immortal.
After your exchange with the Queen of Maggots you are sent back to the living world and you wake up in the hospital. Working to get out of the hospital you face off against the first Parasite, a deranged doctor that tortures people for artistic pleasure. Returning home you are greeted by a young woman, Mitzi, who wants to become your roommate. As you continue to play out the story, it is revealed Susan used to be married and had a daughter. Her daughter died and her husband drank himself to death. It is revealed that Mitzi is dying from cancer and is tracking down someone called The Eye of Adam. The Eye of Adam convinced Mitzi’s boyfriend to commit suicide. And Mitzi wants to confront him for her own closure. Susan agrees to help. In your quest to hunt down The Eye of Adam you confront the remaining Parasites until you are face to face with the last one, The Eye of Adam. The game can end a few different ways depending on your choices.
One of the interesting things about The Cat Lady is it establishes a legitimate afterlife and at least one supernatural entity. This creates an interesting discussion around the themes explored in the game, especially suicide. The afterlife space presented in the game is more of a limbo space belonging to the Queen of Maggots. It is never made entirely clear who the Queen of Maggots is. She is old and claims to go by many names. Her role and motives are left up to interpretation. We don’t know why she tasks Susan with hunting down the Parasites, though there are lines later in the game that might provide some hints.
Towards the end of the game the Queen of Maggots suggests she is a part of Susan. This implies she may be a personification of something that exists in everyone. Remember this bit because I’ll bring it back up when I discuss suicide in the game. This also explains the Queen of Maggots’ mission to kill the Parasites. The Parasites are humans who could be said to have no souls. They kill and torture with no empathy. They often draw people in with a false sense of security. The Queen of Maggots wants them dead because in a way they feed off of that part the Queen of Maggots represents.
The player is greeted with the full weight of Susan’s depression from the very beginning. As she experiences what she thinks are her final moments she laments that all she has are the stray cats she has cared for. But they will understand. They always have. When she finds herself in the realm of the Queen of Maggots she can only express weariness. She just wanted it to be over but the Queen of Maggots pushes her back to the land of the living. The Cat Lady is in part a journey of acceptance.
The game for the most part makes no attempts to provide a cure for Susan’s depression. It isn’t something that can cured. It can be treated. It can be coped with. A wheezing beast living in your mind. Somedays you can sit peacefully with it in an uneasy alliance and other days it runs rampant taking away the energy you were saving to deal with anything but it. The Queen of Maggots promises happiness at the beginning of the game. At first this seems like a promise for a cure. But it isn’t. Susan is in a better place by the end of the game but she isn’t cured. She herself says that she will always have the “invisible illness” with her but her opening up and friendship with Mitzi has allowed her to better cope with it.
After Susan wakes up in the hospital she has to go through a session in order to assess the risk to herself. Here the player is allowed to choose some of Susan’s history. The player is able to choose whether Susan grew up with both of her parents or neither. The player is able to choose what kind of parents they are. Later in the game Mitzi asks Susan what depression feels like. After Susan answers Mitzi describes what it feels like for her. Each describes their depression in a different way. There is an underlying message that regardless of circumstances depression can infest your mind and that each person’s experience with it is different.
Your time at the hospital presents perspectives on how those who need help view treatment. Susan is pretty hostile towards drugs and therapy. The game doesn’t delve deep into society’s view of drug treatment for mental illness but Susan’s own attitude does reflect a stigma people have of drug treatments. Admitting you need drugs is an admission of defeat. You weren’t strong enough. There is also the unwanted side-effects that often come with drugs. The game at one point tries to portray the lethargy and skewed perceptions caused by drugs. And society doesn’t try hard to dispel these unhealthy antagonistic attitudes towards drugs. When you’re on the edge of a mental knife though those drugs can be a life saver. In the end Susan moves on without any drugs but this doesn’t mean this is the right choice for everyone.
Returning home introduces an interesting mechanic for one chapter in the game. You are given two meters. A red one that fills up when something upsets Susan and a green one that fills up when something makes Susan happy. Neither cancels the other out. If the green meter fills up Susan can sleep peacefully, if the red one fills up she suffers a breakdown. Things that cheer Susan up are things like having coffee or a burger cooked just right. Things that can upset her are things like being startled in the dark or seeing unpaid bills. This conveys the fact that what may seem small to other people can make or break the day of someone suffering from depression.
The day after Susan gets home Mitzi enters her life. At first Susan is distrustful. But over the course of the game they open up to each other and form a friendship. Mitzi tells her story to Susan and over time Susan reciprocates. Susan tells Mitzi about her daughter and husband. Mitzi may not be a professional but she’s the only person who Susan makes a connection with. When it comes to depression being able to open up and connect with someone is one of the most important things. Mitzi is able to help her in way no one else had due to that connection.
Regardless of which ending you get, in the final scene of the game Susan expresses how she has learned to cope with her depression through her friendship with Mitzi. Susan admits she will never be rid of her “invisible illness”. Depression isn’t something that can be cured. It can be managed or lessened through drugs, therapy, or other lifestyle choices. But the ghost of that melancholic beast will always hang over you waiting to get you when you least expect it. In two of the endings, where Mitzi dies, Susan is able to meet new people. She goes out with them every once and a while. She allows herself enough of life to not be completely boxed in and alone.
I can’t think of too many games that deal with suicide as directly as The Cat Lady. It isn’t a single plot point that just sets off the events of the game. It is a continual thread that appears again and again. Susan encounters a ghost that wants to commit suicide. Mitzi’s boyfriend committed suicide. Susan commits suicide at least one more time, and possibly another after that. The final antagonist of the game, The Eye of Adam, is a man who encourages and helps people commit suicide online. The climax of the game is a choice between letting your friend commit suicide for revenge or convincing her to move on and living the rest of her days with Susan.
Susan’s relationship with suicide mostly takes place in the first half of the game. The beginning of the game starts with her suicide. To her horror she finds herself in the realm of the Queen of Maggots, faced with the prospect of continuing to live. On replaying The Cat Lady I was caught off guard because the Queen of Maggots implies Susan will be punished for committing suicide. It was jarring in a game that seemed nonjudgmental of people who commit suicide. While the game explores the emotions around suicide it didn’t seem to blame those who attempt or succeed in suicide.
Later dialogue though can be interpreted to mean Susan would be punished because she thought she ought to be punished. The Queen of Maggots is a part Susan. A part that understands her self-loathing. At the beginning of the game Susan believes she is worthless. Suicide just signifies another failure. One she should be punished for. This isn’t an uncommon attitude. Many do feel a sense of guilt for even thinking about it. And again society doesn’t exactly help. Several religious traditions have declared suicide as wrong. A crime against the body. One which can earn you an eternal punishment. Even from a secular viewpoint suicide is often viewed as somehow wrong. It’s a struggle to change these attitudes. To convince others that trying to commit suicide isn’t a moral crime. There is real suffering taking place. And that individual sees suicide as their only option.
The Eye of Adam is a unique antagonist that is hard to read. As a character he is inspired by real people online who encourage and provide ways to commit suicide. There are real forums out there that resemble those described in the game. Places where a pro-suicide message can be expressed. The Eye of Adam is a crippled man who can only communicate with the world through his eye movements. He encourages others to commit suicide, including Mitzi’s boyfriend. He kills his father and tries to goad Mitzi, or Susan if the player lets Mitzi die in an earlier scene, into killing him. A final grand act. We don’t actually learn much about The Eye of Adam. How his physical disabilities have affected his mental health or nuanced explorations of his motives for encouraging and helping other commit suicide. The player gets to choose how things end. You can let Mitzi shoot The Eye of Adam which will kill her also because of the oxygen tanks in the room. You can also talk Mitzi out of it and deprive The Eye of Adam his final wish. If Susan confronts The Eye of Adam alone, due to Mitzi’s death earlier, she fulfills his wish and kills him.
The Cat Lady presents several contexts for suicide. Susan’s suicide at the beginning of the game is linked to her depression. An action she survives and comes to regret. Mitzi’s boyfriend commits suicide. He can’t bear to think about his life without Mitzi or deal with his own emotions around Mitzi’s cancer. Mitzi is willing to commit suicide for revenge. She is going to die of cancer anyway so why not die killing the person who convinced her love to kill himself? The Eye of Adam is willing to commit suicide as a grand last gesture.
The Cat Lady never endorses suicide but also never portrays those who are suicidal or commit suicide as inherently bad. While the game shows you the emotional reaction of those around you it never moves into blaming territory. It sincerely tries to portray what everyone goes through, those that try to commit suicide and those that care for them. Emotions can be complicated for those who survive their suicide attempt. Like many, Susan feels regret. She regrets making the attempt and in the end she’s glad she survived. At the beginning of the game the Queen of Maggots tells Susan death fixes nothing. In the world of The Cat Lady the afterlife is real. Suffering doesn’t end simply because you died. We don’t have that guarantee in the real world. Suicide may end the suffering of the individual who commits it but it does leave emotional damage behind. Coming to embrace life through her relationship with Mitzi helped Susan. This isn’t always easy. Embracing life is a bitch. And sadly some people are never going to be able to do it. While many are able to recover from their suicide attempts there are many who will go on to attempt again and again until they succeed. There are no clear or easy answers when it comes to suicide.
The Cat Lady is a horror game with fantastic and disturbing imagery. It has supernatural elements and its villains are some of the most demented individuals I have ever come across in a video game. Despite all of this the game is extremely well grounded. The fantastical elements help to enhance the exploration of themes such as suicide and depression, not distract from them. The Cat Lady is an example of game that can sincerely explore these issues without using them as a simple plot crutch. The game tries its best to express these experiences to the player. It is a game that presents depression and suicide without judging. A game that hopefully when finished has allowed the player to better understand these experiences.
For almost a decade now, every year in Yulin, China a festival is held. It is held for ten days over the summer solstice and involves the consumption of dog meat. The festival gets a lot of media every year for the horrendous way dogs are treated during the festival. The conversation around the festival raises questions about cultural practices, animal rights, health, and hypocrisy. I am against the festival and many of the practices around it but have found the festival is a small part of a much larger problem. A problem we should not be afraid to challenge or criticize.
In the East dogs have had a different relationship to humans than they have had in the West. In the West dogs have almost always been seen as man’s best friend. Not just companions to keeps us company but partners in survival. Eating dogs in the West is usually the last resort before we start eating each other. While dogs have also served a companion role in the East they have had a more uneven relationship with humans and it has rarely been taboo to consume dog. Dog is seen as a nutritious meat and is believed to provide seasonal health benefits.
Dogs were domesticated in China thousands of years ago. Many breeds had a place in the Imperial Palace and alongside the Emperor. Dogs were prized and cherished. They were also associated with the higher classes of society. This doesn’t mean that dogs were not eaten. They were. But dog meat was a delicacy for the higher classes. Though over time this changed. Dog meat became cheaper and became associated with the lower classes. During the Cultural Revolution the association between pet dogs and high class doomed them. The food shortage at the time exasperated the issue. Tens of thousands of dogs were killed.
Jump to present day we still have a horrendous dog meat trade, which the Yulin Festival is a part of. I was surprised to learn the festival is recent event. Most sources I looked at stated 2009 or 2010 for the year it started. One source said it started in the 90s and one source defending the festival claimed it is based on a much older tradition. The festival isn’t officially recognized and the government states that is simply a gathering of likeminded people.
Selling dogs during the Yulin festival makes you money. And in an area of China that has economic issues that can mean another day of surviving. Many of the locals who profit from the festival are simply trying to provide for their family. But this doesn’t change the fact that the festival is a small part of the larger meat trade problem in Asia. Many have tried to defend themselves by saying only dogs raised for meat are killed. And that there is a difference between pet dogs and meat dogs. While I was watching the Vice documentary I was struck by how people would say this but then turn around and not live by that maximum. They would treat dogs as if the role between food and pet could change every other minute.
I am not going to argue that dogs cannot be eaten as food. I think that argument is impossible to make, considering all the other animals we eat. And I am not going to argue against eating meat. That argument is beyond the scope of this article and I don’t think I could present a solid enough argument for no meat consumption at the moment. But what I am going to argue is that the Yulin Festival and the larger dog meat trade it is connected to is wrong.
The dog meat trade exists in several Asian countries. In many of the countries, including China there are no bans on consuming dog meat. Though there has been a growing push both within and outside the countries to ban the consumption of dog meat. Worse is the fact that are almost no laws regulating the dog meat trade. No regulations about the treatment or health of the dogs. No quality control. No transparency about where the dogs are coming from.
Because of the lack of regulations there are many health concerns surrounding dog slaughter in the dog meat trade. Slaughters usually take place in unsanitary conditions. Meat can be left out in the open or left on unclean surfaces. There is also no concern for a dog’s health. Many dogs that are slaughtered may have health issues that go on to affect human consumers.
Probably one of the more nefarious aspects of the dog meat trade is despite the claims of those in the dog meat trade there is little to no evidence of large scale farms where dogs are specifically raised for consumption. There are small farms but not enough to cover the majority of dog meat in the trade. The majority of the dogs seem to be kidnapped or strays rounded up. Regardless of where the dogs come from they are treated like shit. They are shoved into confined and unsanitary spaces. Many dogs die of illness during transport. From the moment they are taken they are in an environment of fear. They are often physically neglected and beaten. They can be tortured due to a belief that the adrenaline will make the meat taster better.
I want to underscore the suffering here because the suffering is the problem. It is wrong. One of the biggest push backs whenever criticisms of the Yulin Meat Festival or the dog meat trade come is that it’s a different culture we have no right to judge. My answer is no. The suffering of another creature, human or otherwise, is not up to cultural whims. Causing unnecessary and excessive suffering is wrong.
Many of the dogs are ripped from familiar environments, taken away from their human companions and spend the rest of their days in emotional distress and physical torture before they are brutally killed. It’s not just dog’s lives that are destroyed. Humans lose a companion and if they are in a rural area they also just lost a sense of security. The kidnapping and abuse for the meat trade causes suffering all around.
There is another point I want to address. Every time this issue comes up there is always someone who says, “Well how about the way we treat animals in the West?” Oh the hypocrisy! This sort of comment doesn’t actually achieve anything. I think you would be hard pressed to find among the activists someone who wants to just ignore the way we treat cattle or chickens in the West. The same could be said of those who say we have more human centric issues to worry about. There are a lot of issues in this world. The entirety of the human race doesn’t need to be focused on only one issue at time. We can fight issues on many fronts. The way we treat other species is a global issue.
The Yulin Dog festival is a small event. Eating dog meat in China is not common. And some are surprised to learn that some people in their country eat dogs and that there are festivals for the consumption of dog meat. There has been a large push back within the country to fight the dog meat trade. This includes the Yulin Dog Festival and other festivals that help keep the dog meat trade alive. There is no kindness in the dog meat trade. Only cruelty. There has been a tradition of eating dog but that does not mean we should tolerate a tradition of suffering.
I focused on the dog meat trade because that is what the Yulin Dog Festival is about but there is also a cat meat trade with the same issues as the dog meat trade. If you want to help combat the dog and cat meat trades their are several organizations in different countries working to rescue these abused animals and pushing legislation to ban dog and cat meat. Find one you agree with/find reputable and donate or volunteer if you can.