Have You Played… I Have No Mouth And I Must Scream?

Have You Played? is an endless stream of game recommendations. One a day, every day of the year, perhaps for all time.

Based on a short story by Harlan Ellison, I Have No Mouth And I Must Scream is an adventure game in which the only way to win is not to play at all.

It’s a horrible game, made up of horrible scenarios, populated with a handful of horrible people and horribly punishing to play through. I rather enjoyed it when I replayed earlier this year. Following five separate stories that intertwine at humanity’s last gasp, I Have No Mouth concerns itself with the possibility of redemption. Each of the five characters is trapped within a constructed world that preys upon their apparent “fatal flaw”. The subject matter is brutal, covering genocide, rape and suicide, and there’s little in the way of hope or light.

The idea of an adventure game built around ethical dilemmas – here measured by a spiritual barometer rather than “Clementine Will Remember That” – isn’t as novel today as it was when I Have No Mouth was first released in 1995. The griminess of the metaphorical worlds is almost unmatched though, and while the puzzles are sometimes obtuse and the whole thing is over far too quickly, it’ll leave a mark in your memory.

35 Comments

  1. Premium User Badge

    gritz says:

    Oh man, can all the HYP’s this month be horror games?

  2. bonuswavepilot says:

    Just don’t get the German version! They removed some stuff because of some Nazi imagery & themes, and it makes the game unwinnable…

  3. santouryuu says:

    i did play this just recently,and i have to say i can’t say i enjoyed it.the puzzles and gameplay varies in quality quite a bit,but sometimes it’s just absurd and dependent on hit and trial,especially the ending.you can select any character for the ending,but there is only 1 correct choice.i mean,why then give us the choice?
    well,the story is decent(imo it was very shallow)and atmosphere was good(especially in the githic stage)but really,the flaws just made my experience not entirely positive.
    honestly,i was expecting it to be very good,but lately it seems that my enjoyment of adventure games does not match my expectations.
    the same was with grim fandango.the game was good,no doubt(and really better than IHNM),but not as much enjoyable as i expected.

  4. mukuste says:

    I haven’t. I’ve read the story though, it was certainly interesting.

    • Ross Angus says:

      According to the first line, that means you’ve already won.

  5. monkeytommo says:

    I tried it, and I hope I’ll go back to it, but it’s just a bot too obscure for me! I love adventure point and click games though, so I’ll try to give it more of a go next time.

  6. Kefren says:

    I played it for the first time this year and really enjoyed it (though had to use a walkthrough). Ditto with Harvester, so it seems to have been a year for retro-horror-adventures for me. I love the short story too – I recently wrote a guest piece about short stories for someone else’s blog (for the 12 Oct slot), and this story was one of my ones listed as my horror classics.

    Back to the game – the resolution meant my mind filled in a lot of gaps, which made it even more unsettling.

  7. Jackablade says:

    I thought the overarching story was really compelling, but the moment to moment writing and general game design left a lot to be desired. I think you’d really be better off reading the story.

    • Premium User Badge

      basilisk says:

      As far as I remember, the game is much more fleshed out compared to the original story; for example Nimdok, who is more or less the centrepiece of the game and responsible for some of the most memorable parts of it, does barely anything in the story.

      It’s not really an adaptation, but more of a greatly expanded version of the same core idea.

      • Shakes999 says:

        Yeah, there’s barely anything to the actual story. I was suprised how short it was, but a decent read. The game is alright but its impossible to get the good ending without a guide. Some of the puzzles are just pure trial and error and you can inevitably fuck something without having any idea why other than your character freaking out in the portrait.

        Neat game and nicely grim, but kind of a mess.

        • bill says:

          That’s why it’s called a “short story”. ;-)

          I think I’d recommend reading the short story over the game too. The game may be more “fleshed out” but I’m not sure that everything always needs to be fleshed out with more detail. The story is perfectly self contained.
          Plus you can read the short story in half an hour, but the game will take you days of frustration to get to the same point.

  8. Premium User Badge

    G-Lord says:

    Have it in my GoG account but never got around to play it. Opinions seem split, so I always had other adventure game priorities.

  9. Premium User Badge

    basilisk says:

    I’d agree it’s not a great game (perhaps not even a good one, as far as point-and-clickers go) and the quality of the individual chapters varies wildly, but it still remains visually striking and is full of very vivid and memorable moments. Relentlessly ugly, but powerful.

  10. Cropduster says:

    I always found it very hard to take seriously.

    Every potentially dark moment loses all clout when preceded by the hilariously dumb BS that generally precedes it.

  11. Geewhizbatman says:

    I’m not a huge fan of playing adventure games unfortunately. Still, there is this wonderful place called Youtube, where you can watch lovely people (some who thankfully understand you might want to just see the story unfold than listen to them specifically) uncover the beauty of it all.

    What I think is particularly interesting about IHNMaIMS the game is that Mr. Ellison participated in the creation. Which means that the stories are continuations of the original. I think the idea of an author expanding their story using video games as a medium (especially when people were still questioning the very idea of magic box funny chess) really interesting and acts as a bit of a time capsule from those wild west days of game designing.

    • SingularityParadigm says:

      “magic box funny chess”

      Totally stealing this turn of phrase!

  12. Jediben says:

    He was big in the privates; she loved that!

  13. MistaJah says:

    These “Have you played?”s are cluttering the stream. Could you just just provide a link to an updating list or something.

    Please, feature them more finely. ATM they take as much space as a “normal” post.

    • Sin Vega says:

      Christ. I don’t even read most posts on here, and I still don’t whinge about it, because it’s possible to bloody scroll down for 0.8 seconds instead. Some things in the universe do not revolve around you. Get over it.

    • Alice O'Connor says:

      What’s a “normal” post?

    • Premium User Badge

      gritz says:

      HYP is one of the consistently best things about this site. It’s not hard-hitting game journalism, but it’s one of the few places on the internet to read and talk about obscure and interesting games that don’t get much press.

    • Premium User Badge

      teije says:

      You have no ability to scroll and you must complain.

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      DelrueOfDetroit says:

      You obviously don’t know how the internet works if you think the stream can be cluttered by a few extra posts. You see, the internet is a serious of tubes…

  14. Mr_Blastman says:

    I don’t care for point and click adventure games. Give me a parser, please.

  15. Blue Sky says:

    Years ago I spent a small fortune buying the beautiful boxed copy of this game on eBay. One day I showed it to a friend, taking everything out of the packaging. I neglected to put everything back into its box. The next day my mum threw the box away thinking it was rubbish. Oh it hurts as I type it.

  16. AlianAnt says:

    This story… I want to share something with you all. I’ve created an account just to do this after visiting this site multiple times daily for years.

    When buying beer was still cool and new, more than half a decade ago, a friend and I got on a horror trip. The point of that horror trip was evil entities. We wanted to know the most heartless, spiteful, vengeful villain that had ever been conceived.

    For the longest time, at least a year, The Thing was the most awful being we’d encountered. A lot of people would argue Kathulu (or however you wish to spell it) but for my friend and I, an unstoppable God-like being never tickled our fancy. So, The Thing reigned.

    Then one day on the Internet, looking at Star Trek nerd stuff, I was eventually led to I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream. The short story. The writing wasn’t something I could get into but, I was instantly captivated by AM. Even its name is ambiguous. Most of all, most clever, it is a God to itself. Not to anything but those poor souls trapped in that nightmare experiencing a living death, over and over again at the hands of the Allied Mastercomputer.

    Aggressive Menace…?

    I’ve never been disturbed by something quite like I was disturbed by AM. Not the Titans in Attack on Titan. Not zombies. Not Kathulu. No aliens, ghosts, or monsters. Even The Thing that had kept the lights on for a month. No. None of them are as complex, interesting, and spiteful as AM. Just as the people it tortures forever in their living death, AM is tortured by a lifeless life.

    I wrote a song about it, as I did The Thing. I wont share those lyrics unless someone asks due to a combination of doubt and a desire to avoid looking vain or attempting shameless self-promotion. I love these lyrics because they’re my favorite. They’re my favorite because they scare me. Even now, a year and a half after writing them, every time I begin to utter them, they still chill me to the bone. Not because I’m some genius poet. It’s because AM is so God damn evil it’s easy to create it’s image.

    Not a day goes by where I don’t think of AM and the horror it gives due to the horror it takes. I know I’ll never be that disturbed by a work of entertainment again.

    So, my horror trip is over. So is my story of juvenile-quality melodramatics. I hope this wasn’t too lame of a first post. It really did resonate with me.

    • Shazbut says:

      Thanks for sharing

    • Coming Second says:

      Cthulhu. It is interesting how much a one-off short story by a little known author continues to resonate with people after all these years. Possibly because few writers have ever sat down and asked the question “What is the very worst thing that could happen?”

  17. damnsalvation says:

    Have I? Hell, I still have the mouse pad! It’s completely useless now that mice use optical sensors that are completely befuddled by the lenticular surface, but I frikkin have it!
    Dark, twisted, disturbing, and stupid buggy is how I remember it. The first thing that comes to mind when I think about it is the ape guy getting stuck facing the wrong direction. But the second is whose heart I should feed to the wolf.