Shut In

PC, Mac, short

Here’s a major flaw of mine: I frequently fall into the trap of thinking games have “responsibility”. I too easily find myself thinking, “It’s pretty irresponsible for this game to do X,” or, “…to not say Y.” I don’t know how I keep lapsing into that, but I think it’s almost certainly to do with the pervasive modern trend that the rest of the world is obligated to protect us.

Shut In feels like it should be an “irresponsible game”. It is not. It’s a game tangentially about depression, about the feeling of not being able to leave the house. That it doesn’t resolve depression, that it doesn’t offer some supposed hope or “cure”, and that it presents any notion of mental health issues as horror tropes, if anything makes it a more honest, realistic depiction than those with flowers and sunshine by the end. Sorry, spoilers? Nah, I think you’ll have gotten the idea it’s not going anywhere happy pretty early on.

It’s also going to make you fail. Now, aside from any other issues, there are many who immediately baulk at any game that kills you unfairly. I tend to be a case-by-case sort of person. Inside? Hateful. Rick Dangerous? Unacceptable. But here, as in many other examples, it’s a core element of solving the game. You learn to solve puzzles by getting them “wrong”, the game mocks you for that, then you start again from immediately before.

Which is the other aspect that makes this 2D point-and-click adventure feel like it’s Not Taking The Subject Seriously Enough: it’s funny. It’s darkly funny. It’s cruelly funny. Your overarching goal is to get out of bed and leave your house. Except there are problems, like how comfy your pyjamas are, the missing key to your bedroom door, and that the staircase downstairs has been replaced by a yawning chasm of unutterable darkness. As if that weren’t enough of an issue, you’re also accompanied by not so much an unreliable narrator, as a complete dickhead of a narrator. He hates you. The game hates you. It thinks you’re stupid.

So then I worry. What if someone playing is dealing with horrendous issues of self-loathing, of being trapped in their house by the own fear – how is a game that on the surface mocks this, taunts the player for this, going to help anyone? Well, it’s likely not going to. Although, I imagine for some there will be an element of catharsis. For others there might be laughter as they see their own situation satirised. There will be some for whom it will be staggeringly unhelpful to play a game that repeatedly calls you an idiot. And there will be those who will find it flat-out offensive. If the way I’ve described it sounds problematic to you, I strongly recommend you don’t play.

I have mental heath issues. Sometimes it gets so bad I don’t feel like I can leave the house. At its very worst I have been stuck in bed, unable to get up, too paralysed by all-encompassing fear. I’ve lived those moments where the staircase feels like a monstrous descent into a maw of visceral danger. I don’t think Shut In has anything particularly insightful to say about these feelings, nor impressively evokes them in its play. It’s just a horror game that represents such fear as actual impending threat and doom. And that’s fine too.

I call BS that this game is, as its marketing claims, a reaction to Covid-19 lockdowns. It has nothing at all to do with that, and I suspect was thought of beforehand. But it’s definitely about the crappy horror of anxiety and agoraphobia. And as I say, it’s actually about it, rather than some beacon of hope within it. Or it’s just a mean super-short horror game in which you’re repeatedly mocked, both by unfair deaths and a very horrid narrator.

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    1. I’d normally delete a comment this dumb, but let’s just leave it underneath a review that argues against changing the content of games in case someone might be offended.

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