Family Fears: Masochisia Out Now, Has Demo
Once you click past the age gate, Masochisa's [official site] store page has an additional warning before the description of the game:
"Masochisia is an experimental take on psychological horror games as a narrative. Individuals struggling with depression, abuse or mental illness may be uncomfortable with some of the themes. The experience is intended for mature audiences."
To discover whether this is similar to the marketing bluster that causes studios to claim that almost every horror film is based on a true story, I installed this gore-stained point and click game. Here's what I discovered.
It's a story about abuse within a family. You play as a boy whose mother is both victom of and witness to violent physical abuse from a drunkard patriarch. There's enough exaggeration (a sibling, dressed like a stereotypical horror movie maniac, lives in a room that reeks with blood) and the dream-like qualities have, in the first chapter at least, kept me at arm's length. The content is horrid, yes, but there are angels and apparitions, and mysterious strangers imparting wisdom. I don't feel like I've had my face shoved into the anguish of actual terrors and abuse.
You can try the first act for yourself to see if you agree. It's available for Windows, Max and Linux.
Masochisia has items to collect and puzzles to solve, but the dialogue options feel just as important. They're very leading, the answers you can give, and the potential results seem fairly clear. At least part of the game's theme involves the abused becoming the abuser - "a troubled young man discovers through a series of hallucinations that he will one day become a violent psychopath" says the website - and how a person can resist or embrace their worst tendencies.
It's difficult terrain to navigate and Masochisia seems a little too in thrall to its own violent imagery and weird interludes to comfortably engage with the issues it raises. On top of that, to become the worst possible version of yourself you'd have to deliberately choose the options that suggest a lack of feeling and empathy. There isn't a great deal of subtlety, in those early stages at least.
Mechanically, I'm reminded of Year Walk. The view is sort of a first-person perspective but you can shift it horizontally across scenes. That means there's quite a lot of panning back and forth, waiting for something to jump out of the darkness, but the game has so far resisted all but one shock scare. I'm not gripped by either the puzzles or the plot, but I quite like the art style for the characters, if not the backgrounds.
Most interesting is the game's habit of stepping outside itself. Leaving text files on the desktop and lord knows what else. The developer has talked about removing some of those elements, for fear that people would think they'd downloaded an actual virus. Initially, he'd planned to have the game pluck names from contact lists and all manner of other trickery. I'm reminded of Imscared, a game that you should probably go and play right now. It's free and it scared me in ways that I don't think Masochisia will.