Having recently written a piece on Bloodborne, which borrows heavily from H. P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu mythos and philosophy, I thought I’d share my thoughts on the Call of Cthulhu itself. It’s a good time to discuss it, as the video game under the very same title is going to be released in this December (or so… *cough* … development hell…*cough*).
So here’s what I liked and what I didn’t like about the Call of Cthulhu story, plus a little introduction to the game.
Aliens As A Source Of Horror
What I find really interesting about the Cthulhu mythos is it’s a fresh source of horror. It was the first fictional universe where horror was not of the supernatural or even quasi-scientific (e.g. Frankenstein) nature, but rather a cosmic one. Drawing on his cosmicist philosophy, Lovecraft created a crushing threat to humanity: the Great Ones who came from the stars and walked the Earth eons before the first men appeared.
The Great Ones dwelt in the stone, ‘cyclopean’ city of R’lyeh and communicated with humans through dreams. But then R’lyeh sunk to the bottom of the sea, Atlantis-style, and the communication stopped. They’re working on regaining the upper hand, however, and one day, ‘when the stars are right’ …
It’s not really something that men can understand or defeat, it’s only something that should not be mentioned unless you’re willing to risk mass madness.
Cthulhu And The City Of R’lyeh
The humanoid, dragon-octopus form of Cthulhu was inspired by the legendary sea monster: the Kraken. It is believed that ‘The Kraken’ sonnet by Alfred lord Tennyson provided Lovecraft with ideas concerning not only the appearance, but also the concept of Cthulhu’s deep, millennia-long slumber at the bottom of the sea:
‘Below the thunders of the upper deep;
Far far beneath in the abysmal sea,
His ancient, dreamless, uninvaded sleep
The Kraken sleepeth […]’
Most probably inspired by Atlantis and Lost Lemuria, R’lyeh is a city of very ancient origins and strange, non-Euklidan geometry. This, together with ‘Cyclopean masonry’ seems to be the main source of horror to all that live to see it. The terrible, physical impossibility of the place causes madness, which is another interesting, quite original trope in modern era horror stories.
Death by other-dimensional physics…why not?!
What I Didn’t Like About The Story…
I didn’t like the pompous, overemotional language. Given the plot itself I felt like this was trying a bit too hard to emphasise the ghastliness of the whole story. I mean, yes, it’s Cthulhu, we get it, there’s no need to oversell it!
The other thing that really bothered me was Lovecraft’s abundant hated of all the indigenous people, as well as people of colour. He basically pinned all the evils of this world on these groups and used terms like ‘evil’, ‘degenerate’ or ‘mentally aberrant’.
Even the Eskimo people were supposedly in pact with dark forces.
In a modern context this is utter madness.
While I can make some allowances for the fact Lovecraft was writing in a different era, with different social mores and the tendency to really indulge in a lot of flowery, gothic language, the flagrant racism is a bit much to stomach.
And Now, The Game…
The Call of Cthulhu (the game) is an adaptation of the pen-and-paper story and an ‘RPG-Investigation game with psychological horror and stealth mechanics, set in a deeply immersive world.’
We’re to investigate the deaths of a certain family, descending deeper and deeper into the darkness and madness of the Cthulhu cult on Darkwater Island.
The investigation is supposedly not that easy (which would be a nice change in a game of this nature, as evidence by Steve’s review of Murdered: Soul Suspect demonstrated!). But what’s really interesting is that the investigation can be helped by… madness.
Apparently, the more haunting occurrences the protagonist experiences, the more insane he becomes, which in turn helps him to better perceive the truth. That’s the second (after Hellblade) game this year that has insanity creeping up on the protagonist all throughout the game and providing him/her with unique skills.
And the player with a unique experience, of course.
Now, let’s have a sneak peek of this oppressive, unsettling ambiance yourselves:
As a person who enjoys good dark fantasy, I can’t wait to play Call of Cthulhu. I feel that there’s still a serious under-representation of the genre among video games (I’m not counting survival horrors, of course). I also love the literary inspiration trend in the game making industry, as this is a great introduction to the works of classic literature even if someone is not in the habit of reading. And works of classic literature should always be alive.
A geek and gamer with a background in Cultural Anthropology, Lena loves all things that go bump in the night; apprentice of vampire lore, fan of cyberpunk, enthusiast of dark fantasy. Lena is blending in with the mortals working for an interior designer.