It’s Halloween season, which means cobwebs in the face when walking down the garden path and the sound of trick or treaters approaching. Over on Argue the Toss, we had two special guests, Emily Marlow and Lauren Nixon, in to discuss Gothic in games. Check it out for a history of the term Gothic, what it means, where it’s going and how it is represented in games. If you listen to the end, you’ll hear our experts’ reveal their top six Gothic games. So, in the spirit of this week’s Halloween celebrations, I’m going in with the best Gothic games according to me.
For a quick intro to the Gothic, whilst it is ghosts, vampires, castles and graveyards, it is also about embracing the world of emotions and rejecting the rational. While it can involve supernatural things, Gothic doesn’t have to, it may just be a feeling of dread or a transition to a new world after a moment of terror. Put simply, a Gothic game may not come with the aesthetic trappings usually associated with the genre.
So, without further ado, here are my top three Gothic games:
Her Story is a live action video game, which uses the setting of a series of taped police interviews. We see what we assume is one woman being interviewed about her missing husband. Each section of video is out of sequence and incomplete. By typing keywords into the games fictional police database, the player can search for new video files to watch. Each file reveals another layer of story, giving the player more ideas for keywords.
The 90s computer interface doesn’t immediately conjure feelings of the Gothic, but the idea of accessing an archive to uncover a mysterious truth is very Gothic. Think of all those Lovecraftian protagonists reading dusty tomes and the epistolary nature of Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Her Story follows that same pattern, by making the player take on the role of the investigator.
As the game progresses, the story itself is wrapped up in fairy tale imagery. There are the twin sisters trapped in a room, with images of mirrors and a dark family history to uncover. It harks back to books like Virginia Andrews’ Flowers in the Attic, but wraps this Gothic tale in the banal setting of a contemporary police station office. We’ve all sat at a computer screen like that one. Nothing strange can happen here or can it? Her Story asks this question of the player and that’s why it’s such a great Gothic game.
A Mortician’s Tale
With all the talk of graveyards, maudlin vampires and haunted heroines, people often assume that the Gothic has to be wallowing in sadness and misery. Although, melancholia is a key part of many Gothic things, it’s not always the case and A Mortician’s Tale is a great example of the other side of Gothic games.
A Mortician’s Tale does what it says on the tin and tells the story of a mortician, working at a funeral home, which is taken over by a bigger company who wants to streamline the business.
Billed as a ‘death positive’ game, A Mortician’s Tale is about the commodification of death and the industry it has become, rather than a loving, intimate ritual. We no longer wash the bodies of loved ones in our homes, we ship them off to funeral homes who deal with them with varying amounts of care.
The gameplay consists of washing and preparing bodies for funerals and the theme of death does play into the idea of the Gothic. However, this isn’t death as something to fear and dread. It’s about stepping away from the overly rationalised approach to death as an expensive problem to be solved by a ‘funeral business’. It’s about embracing the emotional side of death and taking care of our dead in a more sustainable and loving way.
A Mortician’s Tale is a truly uplifting game, which means it falls into the category of happy Gothic.
What Remains of Edith Finch
I know I write about this game A LOT, but Edith Finch really is an instant classic, especially when it comes to Gothic games. The game wears its American Gothic heart on its sleeve. I mean it’s got the cursed family, the crooked house in the middle of a wood and a sense of mystery and foreboding.
The female protagonist walking through a mysterious house is central to the Gothic tradition and that’s basically What Remains of Edith Finch. We play as the last remaining Finch, who is exploring the deaths of each family member. Every bedroom in the house is a shrine to the memory of that dead family member and acts as a hub for each level or story.
The chapters themselves explore different aspects of Gothic, from the supernatural to more traditional horror, through to body transformation and more whimsical tales. Once again the use of metatextual story telling is in effect, with books and notes scattered around the house.
It’s tough to pick only three games, so I have to mention the mobile game Reigns Her Majesty. The only mechanic in the game is to swipe left or right or occasionally use items in your inventory, if NPC ask for something.
The game focuses on the successive reign of queens over 100s of years, in a fictional medieval kingdom. As the game progresses, the queen must balance the men of the church, the powerful women of the pagan religion, as well as courtiers, the people and the army. The game’s focus on the power of women in the supernatural of pagan magic bring the Gothic front and centre. For a game with very little to interact with, it succeeds in delivering an intriguing tale steeped in Gothic aspects.
Editor’s Note: How did Chella do? Let us know your best Gothic goodness in gaming in the comments section below.