So who likes Point and Click adventure games? Though they may not have the same hold over the industry that they did in the ‘90s, many of these games are fondly remembered and rightly so. I mean who could forget the awkward charm of Monkey Island’s Guybrush Threepwood or the fairytale whimsy of King’s Quest or the nightmarish existential dread of I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream. Wait what?
Based off of the Harlan Ellison short story of the same name, I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream takes place after a catastrophic war where a supercomputer known as Allied Mastercomputer (or AM) wiped out humanity save for five survivors, whom he keeps alive for 109 years simply to torture them. The player controls each of these five survivors as AM forces them through various challenges in environments purposefully built to serve as a metaphor for their own tortured pasts. There are a number of ways for the player to overcome the given scenario, but one of the game’s unspoken rules is to fill your characters’ “spiritual barometer” by acting in an ethical manner.
Most of the characters are terrible people and this is reflected in their environment
The characters are the main strength of the game. Most of them are terrible people and this is mirrored in the environments they must navigate. Nimdok, an elderly Nazi scientist with an ailing memory for example is tasked by AM to “find the lost tribe of humanity” by acknowledging with his role in the Holocaust in a faximile of the concentration camp where he committed his crimes. It’s a fascinating interplay between player avatar and their environment insofar as the environments are metaphorical extensions of the characters themselves.
But the star of the show is AM himself, due in no small part to his being voiced by Harlan Ellison himself. Ellison’s performance is filled with manic energy, perfectly encapsulating the enraged AI tortured by its own existence and furious at its creators. Sometimes he’ll scream and rage, whilst other times he’ll try to crack jokes at his victims’ expense. Its not quite on the same level as something like GLaDOS but its pretty damn close.
I do have some issues with the game. Being a ‘90s point and click adventure game, most of the game’s puzzles involve utilizing various items with aspects of the environment to progress the story. I do think a point and click game was perfect for an interactive adaptation of Ellison’s work as it really allows the player to ruminate on the game’s themes. Still, some of the puzzles do get a bit esoteric, particularly towards the end.[pullquote]
I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream sought to utilise the interactive nature of video games to explore some of the darkest aspects of the human condition
Then there’s the character of Ellen, who stands out for a number of reasons. Not only is she the only woman and the only person of colour, but unlike the others, she isn’t really a bad person with her conflict stemming from the fact she is a rape survivor (seriously, if the subject of rape or sexual assault upsets you in any way, give this game a miss). This isn’t to say her segment of the game isn’t masterfully paced, but I feel it was unfair to place her on the same level as the other characters.
I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream isn’t easy playing. It is frustrating, mentally taxing, sometimes pretentious and even distressing. Yet at a time when “mature” in games simply meant gore and sex, I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream sought to utilise the interactive nature of video games to explore some of the darkest aspects of the human condition. If you can stomach the stuff I’ve described here, its definitely worth trying.