Lost Games of Evil Computers and Alien Shapeshifters
HorrorScope is a recurring feature exploring the horror genre in gaming and drawing attention to its elements, its tropes, and its lesser-known but still scary titles.
During the course of scouring the horror genre for games to discuss and dissect for this series, I’ve come across ir had recommended to me many an interesting-sounding game that’s just difficult to actually play. Not because the game is especially hard or scary, but because it has fallen out of the realm of video gaming, disappearing into the ether of the Internet because it belonged to a past era.
Two such games caught my attention while on my hunt for horror titles of which I’d never heard: I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream, and The Thing. Both are games based on other properties: the former started life as a short sci-fi horror story by author Harlan Ellison, and the latter is a follow-up to the 1988 John Carpenter movie (not to be confused with its recent prequel).
Neither game is particularly easy to get a hold of, but it is possible. Versions of I Have No Mouth, which was released in 1995, can be found on Abandonia and played using DOSBox, and The Thing can be tracked down for PC, Xbox or Playstation 2 on eBay.
But both are very cool in their own ways, and if you don’t mind jumping through a few hoops to get them, they’re both worth playing.
A Horrific Post-Apocalyptic World
Ellison first published “I Have No Mouth” in 1968, and it was nearly 30 years later that it received the video game treatment. The short story focuses on a self-aware supercomputer that called the Allied Mastercomputer, or AM (as in, “I think, therefore I”), and the five humans it has enslaved underground. After the computer was constructed, AM, being flawed as the humans that created him, destroyed all humanity. The computer has existed so long and become so powerful that it basically exists as a god, and has the ability to alter reality in a number of ways.
Five humans survived the genocide in the story, and AM has found a way to keep them alive indefinitely in order to torment them. The conceit of AM’s power is that, in destroying all of humanity, it left itself trapped in the Earth and extremely bored; the remaining characters are its entertainment.
If you’ve never read the story, I suggest you listen to Ellison read it in audio form, embedded below. Warning: it’s a bit graphic at points and carries with it a number of adult themes.
The game takes place in a different continuity from the story, and Ellison himself plays the role of AM. The five remaining characters, eternally tormented by AM in the game, are forced into new situations that are uniquely tailored to them. AM focuses on punishing them for their past mistakes (everyone has some terrible wrongdoing in their past), and each character ventures through a strange world of AM’s devising.
Players take each character through their trials, and each meets other characters and creatures along the way, and they discover more information about AM and the world in which they live. I Have No Mouth is an adventure game, so there’s a lot of interacting with those other characters, finding items, and solving puzzles.
The story itself is a bit potentially upbeat than Ellison’s short, but it’s still an incredibly dire world for the protagonists. The game manages to capture that feeling beautifully — I Have No Mouth presents a strange, fantastical premise, but it’s a hellish one, controlled by an evil intellect that wants only to do the characters harm. Nothing is what it seems along the way, and nothing can be trusted.
You can find an emulator and a downloadable version of I Have No Mouth here.