Existential Madness in Perfectly Ordinary Ghosts
“The heat makes minds wander.”
The concept of ‘ghosts’ remains a transfixing social entity because the modern Man often refuses to grapple with the idea that he or she lacks import. Life is grand and significant because humans make it out that way. Society refuses to accept the probable notion that a person’s time on Earth means nothing, and that they will disappear into complete nonexistence upon death.
Victoria Smith’s Perfectly Ordinary Ghosts — a short story, a text adventure, a psychological horror experience, all of the above — is a brief meditative study, dedicated to enticing players towards a sense of unease for the sheer sake of providing answers. But Smith’s brilliance lies in her refusal to allow any sort of satisfaction to manifest within her work, promising haunting reveals and only ever capitalizing on the creeping tension of turning the page.
But POG is not a piece of literature. Smith repurposes this turning of a page into a more fundamentally computerized function, allowing the player to only scroll up or down the page, to read the text as it slowly fades in to existence, and to click on specific sentences to continue through the decorated haunted house.
“A vacant room never used to its full potential. A sign of a future that could have happened, but never did. Without a past to be anchored to it splits off, leaving fragments of itself scattered.”
The house itself is a ploy, an invisible area perceived only within the mind as it is beautifully described through Smith’s wordage. The result is a subversion of traditional artistic game design, leaving the player’s imagination to fill in for any holes left unillustrated by the author. This offers a different experience for everyone who ventures through its halls, involving the individual mindsets of each participant to build the setting for her.
Ultimately, POG posits the notion that human beings are so obsessed with overcoming loneliness, they create figments and illusions to believe in for the purpose of convincing themselves of their own significance. Houses must be haunted, or else where do spirits go once they have left the material realm?
The dreadful knocks and creaks one hears at night in an empty house become evidence of supernatural play, through the mindset of the lonely. Nothing is more discomforting than to accept a universal isolation within the confines of the established world. We live alone, and we die alone. But what was that shadow prowling off to my right?
“Humans can only live in places that are haunted.”
The walls of Smith’s haunted house are all white. Bleached clean, pure as the computer screen hosting the author’s words, which serves as the player’s only real sense of location. Silence permeates the entire venture, another deliberate ploy to convince the audience of a sudden change or reveal which never materializes.
This determined design philosophy examines the human mind’s obsession with creating context out of subjects which simply are not there, bringing to light the game’s underlying argument regarding imaginative horrors. Seeing is believing, but often the very possibility of a frightful encounter with the unknown is enough to warrant any form of precise validation, be it verifying one’s fears or not.
By positioning this short semi-interactive opus within the frame of a computer game, Smith reconfigures age-old Gothic tales — a noted influence on her work — into a modern context. The player becomes engulfed within this imagined household simultaneously within the screen, bridging the gaps between established reality and virtual, between fiction and non, between reading and clicking on a prompt. The metatextual household inspires a haunted illusory playspace, perturbed by a surmised ghost in the machine.