Novel Ties is a short series exploring text-heavy games.
Michael Lutz’s games, if we should even call them games, dig into your brain and build nests. My colleague Chase described it well: “the seeping, pernicious kind of horror that describes an evil that, by the time you realize it exists, is already within you.”
It’s no surprise, then, that Lutz is a real-life devotee of Lovecraftian horror, classic storytelling as represented by Shakespeare, and critical theory. I think this depth of knowledge and familiarity with story and trope is what gives Lutz’s short interactive fiction such a feeling of weight and connotation.
Recently I’ve written about Rakuen and the easygoing mom character who I think makes the game special. But while I was doing research and thinking about games with everyday, effective moms (spoiler alert: there are almost none), I finally played Lutz’s game The Uncle Who Works at Nintendo. The game has a handful of different endings, and I’ll only tell you that some of them involve calling your mom at work.
I’m about to spoil the game and talk about it in detail, so please, check out now and play the game if you plan to. It takes less than an hour to make it through all the endings. In the game, you choose a name for your best friend, and you take on the role of an 11-year-old child going to a sleepover at that friend’s house.
“My uncle works at Nintendo” is the Canadian girlfriend of the gamer crowd, including that it’s become a self-aware joke by now. But in 2014, when Lutz made The Uncle Who Works at Nintendo, the insularity suggested by the fictional Uncle had become very manifest. Lutz used the fresh new tropes of Gamergate to propel a story about how groups drive others out with vicious efficacy.
So one of the most important choices in the game is what gender you choose for your best friend’s name. After that, a surreal and terrifying story plays out. Lutz gives you the feeling of a time management game where you can do one task per hour. He lets you choose which snack or which game system. All of this lulls you into some form of understanding. “I’ve played Lutz games before,” I thought, like an idiot.
But that’s where Chase’s perfect description comes back. There’s no such thing as one experience of some archetypal Michael Lutz game. And in The Uncle Who Works at Nintendo, Lutz uses the Lovecraftian horrors he loves to tell a progressive story that makes a strong political argument.