On Ghoulies, Feelies, and Creepy-Crawlies

I’ve always liked the concept of “feelies”—extra-diagetic, multi-media extras packaged with a game, film, or book. I still cherish my pewter Rincewind figurine (complete with “WIZZARD” hat) that came with my copy of Discworld for the PC, even if I can’t quite remember where it is at the moment. But feelies can be more than just keepsakes: done right, they function almost like the hronir of Borges’s “Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertias,” intrusions from a secondary reality that bolster its palpability while undermining that of our own. The audio CD packaged with Shivers 2 was a step in this direction, as are the ARG (alternate reality games) that crop up from time to time, but I would like to see this idea taken to its extreme: a subcreation that exists simultaneously in every form of media imaginable, to the extent that nobody can say with any certainty whether the novel, the film, the audio tape, the website, the computer game, or the plush doll is the primary creation.

As it stands now, nobody knows feelies like Infocom, the interactive fiction fallen giant who coined the term. Their adaptation of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy in 1984 came with a “Don’t Panic!” button, Peril Sensitive Sunglasses, a Microscopic Space Fleet, official orders for the destruction of both Arthur Dent’s home and the planet Earth, some pocket fluff, and no tea. That’s why I was thrilled to review The Lurking Horror, Infocom’s first and only horror game, which came with its own robust collection of feelies. Sure, I couldn’t actually get my hands on any of them without paying through the nose for vintage editions of the 1987 game, but history has preserved them for antiquity, so I could at least pretend to feel them. When I finished my review, the Innsmouth Free Press was kind enough to publish it. Here’s a sample:

It feels especially appropriate to play a Lovecraftian adventure in a dinosaurian form such as IF, and not just because they’re both widely considered obscure and old-fashioned … there’s a way in which IF’s very obsoleteness contributes to the Lovecraftian atmosphere in a way Lebling couldn’t have anticipated when he wrote the game. Lovecraft was obsessed with the archaic, stylistically and technologically, as much as the arcane. Even the eldritch manuscripts that were often the bread and butter of his stories can be viewed as forgotten technologies, much like the time-obscured words on Lebling’s DOS program. Imagine discovering an unlabeled floppy disc in your grandfather’s attic, buried underneath a pile of junk and dot-matrix printouts. Imagine inserting that floppy into an equally ancient computer and watching the strange words fill your screen. It would be something akin to glimpsing a page from the Necronomicon for the first time.

Read the full review here.

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