that claustrophobic feeling ... (cw claustrophobia)

Recommendations by cgasquid (west of house)

there's a certain kind of feeling in horror (or horror-tinged works in other genres). a feeling that i'm about to graphically describe, so if you suffer from real claustrophobia, consider this a content warning.

it's that feeling that the world around you is [i]shrinking[/i]. that the walls are slowly pressing in against you. that as big a realm as you have to explore, your options are dwindling one by one. you look for an exit, any exit, but every door you run towards slams in your face.

and you know that, somewhere in there, something is stalking you. not necessarily a monster. a time limit. a worsening disease. or merely the looming prospect of failing a task which you cannot afford to fail.

achieving this in interactive fiction poses challenges. there's a balance to be struck; you need to provide the player several avenues of attack at any given time to prevent them from getting stuck, but at the same time giving too much freedom (say, by loading the game up with empty rooms) will ruin the claustrophobic sensation.

this is a list of games that i feel got it right.

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1. Spider and Web
by Andrew Plotkin
(1998)
Average member rating: (273 ratings)

cgasquid says:

probably the first game anyone will think of in the category of IF that produces the feeling of entrapment while simultaneously offering a wide area to explore. there are few things that will make you feel like a small, scared animal fleeing from a predator through dark enclosing thickets than knowing that capture is inevitable. right?

2. Stationfall
by Steve Meretzky
(1987)
Average member rating: (40 ratings)

cgasquid says:

its predecessor didn't really try for that feeling of a collapsing world -- Planetfall was far larger and full of red herrings than it should have been.

Stationfall, though, captured it perfectly. at first you have no idea what's going on; you have a simple job that can't be completed because a piece of equipment is missing. so you go exploring. gradually it dawns on you what's been happening. gradually you realize that you're being stalked, and you can only wish it was something as simple and easy to understand as a monster.

3. Anchorhead
by Michael Gentry
(1998)
Average member rating: (346 ratings)

cgasquid says:

there are so many places you can go in Anchorhead; your own house alone is sprawling. but the more you play, the more you begin to figure out ... and the more you begin to figure out, the more you get that feeling that the world's resting on your shoulders. you've been drawn into an unspeakable trap with nothing but your wits and determination to fall back on.

4. Lux
by Agnieszka Trzaska
(2018)
Average member rating: (16 ratings)

cgasquid says:

you're a junior scientist working aboard a mining station. there's an accident, or an attack, or some kind of event, and you need to get to the command bridge to send a distress call. but, in the course of the accident, you were exposed to a toxin that struck you blind.

the layout of the station is simple and easily navigated, or at least it was before the event took place. now there are missing floors, broken equipment, and berserk robots everywhere, and your sole lifeline is the voice of the station computer over the intercom ... at the places there are intercoms, at least ...

5. Counterfeit Monkey
by Emily Short
(2012)
Average member rating: (180 ratings)

cgasquid says:

there's a specific kind of fear when you realize that, despite the thin veil of normality all around you, nothing is really normal at all. your every action may be monitored. eyes are watching you, and narrowing at the sight. anyone you meet could be an adversary, and you will never know until you feel the cold truth of the knife or, far more deadly, overhear the dialing of a phone and a report to the authorities.

i've had my own experience of being hunted for who and what i am, and desperately maintaining the facade that i was like those around me. the vicious, murderous police state you've infiltrated in Counterfeit Monkey brought some of it back to me, in a safe context, with the levity of its wordplay being leveraged against the horror of the place and the situation you find yourself in.

6. Rover's Day Out
by Jack Welch and Ben Collins-Sussman
(2009)
Average member rating: (48 ratings)

cgasquid says:

it's impossible to describe this game's use of inevitability and dread without fatal spoilers, but ... it definitely gave me that feeling.


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