A House of Teeth: On ANATOMY
(This piece contains spoilers for endgame sections of ANATOMY)
Games, like buildings, are often designed with people in mind. My father was a carpenter and a housemover, and the extent of what I know about houses functionally begins and ends with their upkeep. Houses, like people, need attention. They need human contact. Houses, like people, are created by humans, and are at least on a basic level meant to be around humans.
Kitty Horrorshow’s ANATOMY explores and inverts this relationship. It’s a horror game, insofar that the game itself revolves around a terrifying space. At its core, it is a game about relationship to body, fitting for the title. The anatomy of the house, likened often to the anatomy of the human body, is cast as both backdrop and object of horror.
At its most basic, ANATOMY is a game about exploring a house. Like many games by Kitty Horrorshow, the exploration revolves around a hunt for objects- in this case, tapes. Find a tape, play it in the tape recorder, layer on an ensuing sense of dread, and repeat. As with most Kitty Horrorshow games, the jump scares are rare. The horror comes from the sense of place, the knowledge that the player is engaging in something horrific, and continuing to, despite all warnings to the contrary.
This motivation permeates the game, from beginning to end. After each ‘playthrough’, the game will quit itself. It must be a conscious choice by the player to relaunch it, to enter the building again, each time against their own better judgment.
The tape recordings, starting as a philosophical comparison of home architecture to the body, become twisted and distorted on subsequent playthroughs. The house itself changes architecture, and Horrorshow deftly uses glitched design to her advantage to give the game a sense of unreality. The house, originally an ominous but largely logical space, becomes a structure plagued with grotesqueries: flesh crawling from the walls, windows and doors flashing in futile misplaced-ness, furniture and decorations askew and frozen in air. Each playthrough seems to disturb the house further. The player acts the intruder, poking at the flesh of something much more terrifying than they.
Unlike many games about doors and houses, ANATOMY has no keys. As with every other part of the game, it becomes clear that the thing guiding this game is not the player or their actions, but the home itself. It is only after the player completes the ritual of finding the tape, putting it in the tape player, and listening to the entirety that the house decides to unlock another door. It’s a small thing, but the message is clear: You do not call the shots. This house — this monster of a house — is the only thing in control here.
Other stories are brought up in the tapes. Nightmares about half-human creatures, and being swallowed by teeth growing under the skin. Houses long forgotten, waking up and finding themselves hungry. Architecture revolting against its own design.
The writing is, as everything else, unnerving and beautiful, full of small tells and playing on the surreality of the experience. Even the visual tweaks add to the atmosphere: the entire game is framed with VHS-style pops and glitches, and the whole building has that empty feeling of a too-big, underpopulated house from the 1990s, with thick doors and over-large living quarters. You can almost feel the linoleum floors.
A motif that becomes clear throughout playthroughs is that of trust, or more specifically, trust in architecture. The game taunts you with its familiarity, but bathes everything in darkness. I found myself clinging to walls, running from the dark as a child would, and my heart pounding were I to venture into the pure darkness of the basement or garage.
The subtle horror is magnificent. I know there is no one else here. That is the most frightening part: there is only me, and the building itself. The fear comes out of the game communicating to me that it is not monsters or intruders that one should be afraid of, but the trust that the building will protect you — or more specifically, what will happen should the building decide not to protect you any longer.
Midway through the game, the philosophical comparison on the tapes begins being interrupted by a second voice. It is quickly made clear that whoever — whatever — this second voice is, it is of the house itself. It tells you of being forgotten, of being alone, of being hungry. The house, soon breaking down from traditional architecture into abstract shapes, monstrously oversized tape recorders blaring the distorted screams of long-dead persons, is coming apart. It is hungry. It is devouring you. You are no longer a welcome intruder. You are prey.
ANATOMY is a story about a house and its inhabitants, and the monstrosity of architecture left forgotten. It is a terrifying thing to be afraid of a structure built to keep you safe. Kitty Horrorshow gave this building a voice, and that is horror enough, but more importantly, she gave it teeth.