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Paratopic: Day to Day Dread

A dive into the horrific depths of Paratopic

Photo credit: My screenshot from Steam

Paratopic is a lonely game. You can feel it in every distorted pixel, every new locale. It has an ever-present malignancy that spreads throughout its entire 45 minute playtime. Though nothing here is realistically indicative of life, there is a vital truth hiding beneath the rot.

“You have an enemy, friend.”

Back in 2018, Paratopic co-developer Doc Burford (GB 'Doc' Burford) took some time to outline some of the intent behind the game. It’s a good article that goes a long way to shed some light on this bizarre title. (As a side note: Doc Burford is an excellent writer. His articles on game design are always worth my time. You should follow him on Medium and everywhere else books are sold.) In this article, Doc talks about how this game is a response to the standard walking simulator and all the tropes and hang-ups that come with it. On that front, I think it works. But now that this game is nearly two years old, I can’t help but marvel about how deep Paratopic actually is.

A quiet diner and a run-down apartment building. A walk in a forest broken up by long drives down empty highways. Inane conversation with a gas station attendant. If you’re alive and not stupid wealthy, these are all things you’ve likely experienced. You’ve certainly taken a road trip at some point in your life. You’ve stopped for a bite to eat and a chance to stretch your legs. Each of Paratopic’s vignettes start in a place of reality. But the visual and auditory decisions at hand work tirelessly to tear that reality down. Paratopic uses its graphics and thrumming sound design to upend you at every turn. It builds unease by playing on those comfortable expectations that come with the horror genre.

Photo credit: screenshot from Steam.

The story of Paratopic concerns mysterious video tapes, government conspiracies, and maybe aliens. It’s a slight thing, made larger by its odd delivery and mystery box nature. I think it’s pretty frickin’ great, and you should probably hit the X at the top right of your screen and go play it right now if you haven’t already. Though the horror trappings are ever-present, it’s the tone that sticks with me. As I stated above, Paratopic is a lonely game. You can see it in the void of the road, the dark corners of the gas station, the stuttering effect that you sometimes get if you stray to far from your predetermined path. In a piece that Doc did for USGamer, he speaks directly about the game’s tone:

‘The more I wrote it, the more it became a game that dealt with poverty. One of the player characters lives in a single closet-sized room with a lamp, some boxes, and a mattress, and he’s suffering from crippling debt. Another character talks about the failing economy, and we see signs of that abandoned infrastructure hidden away in the woods. It’s a game that reflects my hometown’s slow death and the existential dread of people like me who were supposed to enter the job market right when the economy crashed.’

An anti-walking simulator that works to express the effects of poverty. It expresses the plight of the desperate and lonely souls that have been pushed into the gaping maw of society. It’s easy to imagine/sympathize with the psychological toll that this kind of life inflicts. Even surrounded by people, you can sometimes feel helpless and alone. The small cast of characters in Paratopic are perfect examples of this. You can see the loneliness in the chatty gas station attendant or the woman that lives in your hallway that needs another tape, just one more tape.

“Professionalism! Just what I like to hear.”

Like all great horror media, Paratopic wants us to look directly at some of the horrors of the world. As our nation splinters and suicide rates rise, we look to find hope in the remains. We turn to social and popular media to find that the grass is dying and that hope doesn’t always exist. People live paycheck to paycheck, people scrounge to pay for the bare essentials. It’s a sobering thought, but an important one. This game may feature mysterious figures in the woods and government experiments (maybe?) but that’s just the wrapping. This paranoid, lonely gem of a game is a reminder that the downtrodden are not forgotten.

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Logan Noble

Logan Noble

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Logan Noble (@logannobleauthor) is a freelance video game writer and horror fiction author. Editor of Game Loot. For more, check logannobleauthor.com.