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Lo-Fi Let's Play: The Institute

Fight The System

I've been doing a series of Let's Play videos exploring old adventures, text games and lost design forms from the 1980s Apple IIe and Commodore 64 era. In a time when young men shout over new action games, I will talk softly over strange old ones. Come along on a visitation of a different era that's one part meditations on my childhood, one part adventure game criticism, and one part preservation effort. Bonus: Everyone says the quiet talk, lo-fi handmade feel and keyboard tapping triggers ASMR responses. Please enjoy!

Following on from last week's Colonel's Bequest -- definitely the 'best' computer game this series has looked at -- I decided to continue a 'scary games' theme for October. Searching for niche titles that don't already have a major following, I looked into The Uninvited, A Personal Nightmare and even the original Alone in the Dark. The first two I couldn't quite get to run reliably (advice on how to use a MiniMac for Uninvited, please!), and the latter was, I'm afraid, too tedious for me to want to record.

We'll be playing The Institute this week -- a terrible game in the mold of the "Other-ventures" we've seen from Jyym Pearson and Norm Sailer (here joined by Jyym's wife Robyn), such as Curse of Crowley Manor, which is also scary, and which I like. The Institute takes place in an oppressive mental health facility before taking a hard right into a hallucinogenic nightmare. Like Pearson's previous work, it's uncommonly dark for a crude 1983 computer game.

It's also overtly offensive in its imagery and illustrations of mental health problems, as so many 'scary' video games unfortunately are. The Institute is clumsy and not especially graphic -- its fumbling around the issues seems comic to me through the lens of history, but nonetheless if you're sensitive to that sort of imagery or may be triggered by it, please sit this one out and take care of yourself.

Also, there's something weirdly Timothy Leary-vintage about The Institute that I think is... curious? Funny? Yeah, kind of funny. Like "The Institute" isn't really a healthcare facility, it's a reconditioning center for dissidents. You young mind voyager, The Man is trying to keep you down! Don't let him iron out your wrinkles, man. I think. It reminds me of a short story I wrote in junior high school about how I had to rescue my crush from a psychiatric hospital because nobody understood him but me. Brrr.

I hoped going ahead with this LP could catalyze a chat about tropes: Games like The Institute are the reason for this month's annual Asylum Jam, which challenges people to develop games and game concepts that avoid stereotypes of these settings.

What computer games did you find scary when you were a kid? Did they manage to freak you out without going full-on with the "crazy house" stereotypes?

The entire Lo-Fi Let's Play series is available and regularly updated at my YouTube channel if you'd like to subscribe, but my friends at RPS are graciously syndicating them here from now on, with some additional written analysis and commentary.

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Leigh Alexander