Designing Horror: A Mother’s Inferno

This post is part of the Designing Horror series.

Game: A Mother’s Inferno by DADIU

First off, I don’t have any screenshots of this game. I use Irfanview to take screenshots, but for some reason it didn’t pick up A Mother’s Inferno as an actual application. I ended up with twenty screenshots of my desktop background. Sorry about that, but I’m not playing one more minute of the game.

A Mother’s Inferno has a simple setup. A mother is on a train. Her child is violently dragged away. You have to get the child back. Go.

1. How Does It Work?

The game relies almost entirely on visual aesthetics to communicate to the player. The experience is framed through interactions with different cars on a train. The player sees a scary thing, goes through a door, and sees a new scary thing.

I need you to read that in the most deadpan way possible, because I don’t think that the game succeeds at being horror in any tangible way. The emotional and affective experience that I had is roughly the same as the one that I have walking to the kitchen. And maybe it is because of the aesthetics, or the lived experiences based around the aesthetics, that push me into such strong distaste.

Let me give you a taste: the first figure that the player comes upon is a desiccated man who tells you to cut his head off. You press the right mouse button to grab him. You click with the left to slice his head off. He says that he is your guide, and you proceed into the next room to do the same thing to a human-sized crow that twitches around the room. If I seem matter of fact, I can’t help it; the game presents it to me in a very matter of fact way. I, unlike most reviews of the game that I have read, don’t think that it is amazing. I don’t know if there is a single thing that can be done with demons/madness/random visual effects that doesn’t come across as trite at this point.

That isn’t to say that it is totally terrible. I think that the combat mechanics work in interesting ways–most of the “boss fights” involve climbing on top of a large creature and stabbing it repeatedly, which is a new thing for FPS-style games. And even though I hate the idea of “immersion,” and I didn’t feel it at all here, I do think that there is a degree of agency and complicity when the player is forced to put her own eyes out with a shard of glass in order to finish a level (you see what I mean by “trite”?).

2. Why Is It Horror?

Theoretically, the game is horror because of the aesthetic and the core story of a mother losing a child. The story itself is kept ambiguous–what happened to the child?–but I have been assured by various materials that the game is “deep” on the issue of grief and overcoming various issues. I remain unconvinced.

Maybe the game is horror because I felt like I was having a seizure for a full third of my playtime.

3. What Did It Do To Me?

Besides the above-mentioned seizure, the game made me weary. Maybe that is a strength.

More than that, it has solidified to me that “strange things that make no sense (inclusive of blood and entrails and cyclopean structures of intense scale)” has nothing to do with horror. It has nothing to do with transmission of affect onto the player in a specific way–it has to do with a containable, predictable aesthetic. So the game made me aware of what does not work in horror.

There is always a bright side.

Read about other games in the Designing Horror series. 

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