the artistry and psychology of gaming


The Mysterious Shadows of Skullshadow Island

The Mysterious Shadows of Skullshadow Island

Welcome to Gaming on the House; don’t look down and and mind your step! In this feature, we’ll be climbing the rooftops of the gaming industry to seek out worthwhile 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 the breadth of ideation and innovation found in games when there’s no monetary commitment attached, offering a unique learning experience for players and developers alike. 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!

The Mysterious Shadows of Skullshadow Island


Genre: Browser-based CYOA
Link to Game:
Game Info: multi-click adventure game that materialized on ClickHole (a website owned by Onion LLC) through the “miraculous process of spontaneous genesis” on February 19, 2015

When I started this feature back in 2011, I simply wanted to call attention to some great games that were fun to play at no cost to the player. In picking this feature back up I hope we’ll continue to do so, but instead of continuing the standard review format of the past (which rarely serves for a product whose review may exceed its own playtime in length) I’d like to focus more on select ideas and concepts at play that may be worth a second glance to understand how they work, and why in their particular case they were a success. Not every game will excel at graphics or offer an intriguing gameplay mechanic, but good or bad, many games will have a certain something about them worth discussing in greater detail that might not always factor into a general review score.

Skullshadow Island is basically a product that turns clickbait into a game (or what they call a “clickventure”); a choose your own adventure sprawled across a hundred or so different web pages each lined with different ad placements for many more “so clickable” links. It’s a rather unique solution for ad-based freeware that certainly the site’s owners (The Onion) are all smiles at implementing. It’s an absurd setup; but to their credit, it’s also absurdly funny with some highly entertaining writing, endearing characters, occasional profanity, and running gags, with the Coleman Brothers coming off more Hank & Dean Venture than Frank & Joe Hardy.


With that said, it’s not the eventual advertising profits that I’d like to focus on; instead its the action/dialogue choices used in the game that end up being the standout feature of the game; often carrying a voice of their own. Many games often focus on choices as a direct response to the text dump before it (be it a question prompt, or a description of the scene). Skullshadow Island, on the other hand, writes its choices as a component of the content to be read and understood against the premise, as well as its alternatives. It creates some additional hilarity when the player encounters options that don’t go as expected; at one point in the game for example, the player is asked if they think the figures they see are ghosts, to which all the available options are a variation of “yes” including the over the top “Brock! Come on! I definitely think that!”

How the game visualizes the dialogue prompts also allows for some easy interpretation, separating out actions/internal thoughts from spoken dialogue. These differences come to a head when spying on enemies where based on your choice you’ll either remain hidden or shockingly blurt out a sentence (ending with a prompt game over). One wouldn’t normally think that the way choices are graphically depicted could add further humor to the writing already in them, but Skullshadow Island shows us that there’s a number of ways to make people laugh; the way you reveal the joke being equally important to the joke itself.


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