the artistry and psychology of gaming


A Mother’s Inferno

A Mother’s Inferno

Welcome to Gaming on the House; don’t look down and and mind your step! Each week, we’ll be climbing the rooftops of the gaming industry to seek out great experiences that everyone can track down and play, and the best part is they’ll all be free! That’s right; FREE! Gratis. Comp’d. Unbound. Unrestricted. Zero-down. On the House!… we talk about free games here, is my point.

Many may be surprised at how many fantastic games are really out there that everyone can legally enjoy with no monetary commitment. Taking together all the flash and browser games, freeware downloads from the independent scene, speed programming archives, free-to-play business modules, and even promotional re-releases from big name publishers, there’s a never ending supply of great games new and old waiting to be played, and it’s our goal to play them all! So, if you’re strapped for cash or just waiting around for that next big release to hit retail, why not give these games a try? After all, they’re free; what have you got to lose!

The festival of Samhain is upon us, I hope you’ve taken the time to carve your turnips! As we continue on towards the “darker half” of this year, this month, Gaming on the House will be carving our own lanterns in remembrance of a few projects that honor the guising, the bogeys, and the arcane divination associated with the impending annual habitudes, lest we be caught puling like a beggar at Hallowmas.

That’s a fancy way of saying we’re talking about horror games all October.

A Mother’s Inferno

Hell on wheels…on rails!

Genre: First Person Adventure
Link to Game:
Game Info: developed in Fall 2011 by a team of students from the Danish Academy of Digital Interactive Entertainment, and released as freeware online in June 2012 when it was featured as part of the Indiecade Showcase 2012 at E3.

As part of Dante’s The Divine Comedy, Dante is guided by the Roman poet Virgil through the nine circles of Hell. Dante’s Inferno, the most popularly understood segment of the work featuring Dante’s descent through the concentric circles, was constructed through an understanding of the medieval worldview of the 12th century with a high focus on the western church. While Dante’s poetry has existed on throughout the centuries as one of the most commonly accepted depictions of Hell, it has also been a consistent source of inspiration for the additional perspectives, offering similar allegorical stories and paying tribute, while also diverging in some key areas.

A Mother’s Inferno similarly depicts a woman’s journey through Hell, however in a considerably more, well, lateral direction. Instead of diving deeper and deeper beneath the Earth’s surface, this game will take you along the x-axis, as a young mother proceeds through a cursed train ride in an effort to reunite with her son (who seems to have been possessed and kidnapped in the game’s opening cinematic). But the more modern setting is not the only divergence point from Dante’s original epic; where Dante’s Inferno based much of its allegory in the realm religious symbolism and beliefs, the allegorical journey in A Mother’s Inferno is based within psychology. As opposed to the 9 circles of Hell, the mother’s journey through the train is paralleled by the Kübler-Ross model, more commonly known as the 5 stages of grief.

Don’t mind him, he’s here to help

Train cars depict the five stages where a specific event or set of actions is symbolically tied to that particular stage. In the “Denial” stage, a giant chicken is running around which the mother has to cut its head off (Divine Comedy indeed!). Within “Anger” she must face a charging demon bull. The “Bargaining” car consists of one of the most violent and horrifying acts committed in a video game, while the “Depression” car offers an ethereal gloomy atmosphere that the character must literally be pulled out of. Each of the cars offer some clever takes on the 5 stages and get broken up by in-between cars featuring your own quirky guide for the game. Like Dante, your guide is also Virgil, although this time he takes the form of a malnourished and grotesque vomiting corpse!

The idea behind the game is strong, but what about the game itself? Well, there’s a lot going on at any given point, although that pertains more to the background. The outside of the train, as one can catch a glimpse of through windows and in between cars, is a truly nightmarish hellscape, red as far as the eye can see, with fire raining from the sky, with the occasional and abrupt tunnel to go through with flashing lights that light up darkened corners of the cars. The train cars are filled with some interesting images as well, mostly featuring skeletons and other creepy fare, but I liked some of the creativity demonstrated by the design team. One of the first posters your character comes across is an ad for “Planet Hitler,” which I guess is very popular in hell, and in the “Bargaining section,” I liked how the stain-glass window had a picture of the son.

By the way, if you find strobe effects harmful to watch, this is most certainly not the game for you. There are constant flashes throughout the game with lighting effects and quick cutaway “visions,” along with intentionally blurry and disorienting graphics towards the end.

While the screen looks very busy (and looks really great at times!), there’s not a whole lot one really does during the game. The game plays out in first person, however your only weapon throughout the game is a broken piece of glass (horrifying in itself due to the added sound work from the mother through which you realize the pain she must experience wielding the shard bare-handed). You move around with WASD, stab/slash with the left mouse, and grab hold of things with the right. This leads to several intriguing grapple situations, although each of the game’s fights essentially boils down to the same set of required actions, though teased out for different settings. Despite its limited gameplay appeal, I do appreciate how the game thoughtfully introduces its gameplay concepts, as they once again tie back into the game’s borrowed lore. The way players learn to grapple on to a moving object, for example, is to climb on top of Virgil as he crosses you over “the river Styx”. Clever.

As in previous weeks, I will be talking about the game’s ending a bit here, so if you don’t want to read any spoilers, you may be interested in checking back later once you finish for yourself. The game will last for 20 minutes or so, and is a nonstop source of nightmare fuel at every turn, being an excellent game to play on Halloween.

Wow, the quiet car is really roomy!

Well, now that we’re past the spoiler warning, how freaky was it to STAB YOURSELF IN THE EYES!!!! Sorry, I just had to get that out, but really, that’s certainly not something that comes up too often. I loved how after the first hit, the camera starts to get a little blurrier, and the glass just remains there, pointing up at you, and waiting to press the mouse again. The greatest scares are often the ones you don’t see coming, but in some cases, when you see the horror staring right back at you, it’s the anticipation that puts it over the top. This part of the game was really well done in my opinion.

In any case, you’ll notice that in my brief rundown of the 5 stages, I neglected to talk about the fifth stage; acceptance. This is the car that ends the game, and the one I think remains more or less open to interpretation for what it is supposed to mean. Before you enter, Virgil yammers on something about acceptance, and that “she” is the way through, to which you end up fighting a psychotic charging monster in a medium sized arena (by the way, this was one weird train, huh?). In fighting this creature, you’ll attack the head similar to the chicken, and attack the back similar to the bull, but you also attack this creature’s front, which curiously sticks out like a womb. The creature is obviously female with its noticeable chest and bodily features, and it likely was supposed to relate on some level to the main character, whom in case we’ve forgotten is a mother in search for her son, but what is it exactly the students were trying to tell us here?

If I were to guess, it would be that just like in the Divine Comedy, which was ultimately an allegory for one’s path to God, A Mother’s Inferno can similarly be interpreted as one becoming able to let go. A mother losing a child can be literally one’s own personal hell, and the events of the game perhaps can be thought of as a 5-step program to accepting the inevitable fact that your child is gone. Throughout the train we see flashes of the child, either through the game’s visions reliving that moment he was wisked away in the opening, and the mother’s psyche has built up a great level of attachment to him – deifying him even, in the case of the stain glass windows. Perhaps the “acceptance” car and defeating the final boss can be a means of conquering the lingering feelings of being a mother, taking on the womb itself to turn the pain of maternity into empowerment. On a literal level, it could imply that the mother is ready to move on from her grief, perhaps spurred by the loss of her own son towards the beginning.

But then the kid’s waiting at the end anyway, so what do I know… maybe the grief was that she just got on the wrong train.

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