An Outcry Reminds Us That We Can All Be Emotionally Manipulated
Can a game make you horrified at yourself? I’d never thought to ask myself that question before playing An Outcry, a game about getting locked out while trying to grab a smoke. And being subjected to the direct and indirect cruelty of your neighbors for simply existing. And running into some eerie birds who seem gleeful in their viciousness. As Nameless, you’ll deal with both, and both parties filled with me with a hatred stronger than any other game I’ve played in a long time. It was that very hate that would see me siding with some truly evil people in the game, and would teach me an uncomfortable, terrifying truth about myself.
Nameless has locked themselves out of their apartment. They were going for a cigarette, but they walked out without a lighter, smokes, or keys. It’s the sort of thing you only realize as the lock clicks behind you. Especially late at night. Breaking back into the apartment is out of the question, too. All you can do is ask the neighbors if they can spot you for the night while you wait for morning and the landlord. That’s not asking for much, is it?
But there’s a lot of hatred towards Nameless in this building. You’ll get to see it first-hand as you knock on doors. Scmitt, your neighbor, loves to constantly misgender you. He seems to live for it, the word written in bold red every time he says it. You can feel this sneering contempt with every bright crimson letter. He seems to revel in being cruel to you and others throughout An Outcry. There’s an interaction with the cleaning woman that made my blood run cold and my fists clench. This wasn’t some outlandish moment where he beat her, either. He just forced her to clean up a cigarette he threw on the floor when she asked him not to smoke in the building. He’s spiteful and uncaring, and takes a lot of joy in saying mean things to you and others.
It was the sneer in his words as he made it clear he’d have the cleaning lady fired and kicked out. How he flaunted this power over her by purposely making a mess and getting her to clean it. It’s the kind of cruelty that we walk past daily. The heartlessness that is often unsaid, but wordlessly screams that someone is beneath you. You don’t have to care about them. Don’t even have to treat them as human. You can treat them like trash. And I bet you know a lot of people who act and feel this way.
Eisen is another neighbor who seems to delight in being mean to you. An Outcry sees you asking her for help as well. Eisen will tear into you about your weight, your appearance, how you live, and just about anything she can think of to hurt you. She’ll even bring up painful past relationships. She does this within a few sentences, too. It feels like she has thought out exactly what to say to hurt you the most if you so much as knock on her door. And, poor and desperate as you are, it feels like she KNOWS you’ll knock at some point. The vicious words feel prepared. It’s like she sits and simmers in her hatred for you in her apartment, waiting for some run-in to let it out. And she somehow always has more mean things to say each time you interact with her.
They hate Nameless for being trans. For being poor. For existing, it seems. Purposely and flippantly, the pair go out of their way to hurt Nameless. After only a few sentences, I hated them both right back. Nameless was polite even though these people were awful to them. I mean, what can they do? They’re alone and unprotected. Poor. The landlord is probably looking for a reason to evict them. So many things forced Nameless into a cowering silence, and I could feel that Eisen and Scmitt knew it. Took advantage. And I hated them all the more for it.
Then, some birds begin to show up in An Outcry. These shrikes speak in rhymes that are sometimes cryptic, but often cruel. They express a superiority in ‘birdness’. Their words hint at sowing harm and death. They seem dangerous, but they also seemed to want to bring suffering to Eisen and Schmitt. Eisen and Scmitt seemed smitten with the shrikes when they appeared, or that they deserved an equal place with these eerie birds. But the birds cut them down, murdering them in brutal, bloody ways.
I savored those deaths. Seeing them in pain and dying felt glorious. I’ve heard so many stories and seen so many people be casually cruel to trans and marginalized people in my lifetime. Watched them be mindful or mindlessly cruel to someone simply for existing as themselves. I’ve felt a roiling anger in myself at a perceived hopelessness and helplessness at it all. I’ve wanted these vicious, hateful people to die. Horribly. Slowly. It’s a side of myself whose ferocity surprised me. And yet didn’t surprise me at all.
I was delighted when the shrikes killed Scmitt and Eisen in An Outcry. However, the shrikes don’t stop there. They attack the good people in the building who care about you. They tear them apart and devour the pieces in front of you. Then, they come after you. They come after so many more people after that, burying the countryside beneath their blackened wings. I didn’t see that coming, somehow. When I played it a second time, I felt like an idiot. It was easy to see that they never even tried to hide their ruthless desires.
The shrikes may speak in rhymes and be vague about some subjects, but you can feel that violence, there. They’re not shy about who they want to kill. I simply wasn’t paying attention because it seemed like they were going to hurt some people I hated. I ignored the warnings because they sounded like they would really harm Eisen and Scmitt. They’d punish these people that I felt deserved to be savaged and crushed. Yes, Eisen and Scmitt are awful people, and I still hate them to my core, but that hate changed me and made me complicit in allowing something terrible to happen to EVERYONE.
I feel I am a compassionate person. That I want to help marginalized peoples to simply live their lives. I feel like my anger at transphobes and bigots is well-founded. However, I let those feelings make me think that any decision I made was correct. If someone was sort-of doing something that suited my increasing rage, then I could accept or ignore the warnings of other, darker things. I thought I was too smart and compassionate to be manipulated in supporting an alt-right movement. An Outcry showed me that I just needed the right motivation and I would gladly support the people who would stomp the world to death.
This was a terrifying revelation. A slap in the face. Still, it was one I clearly needed. An Outcry made me aware that I am just as capable of being manipulated into supporting vile, monstrous movements. It made me see that I am willing to ignore or forgive things if they’re the ‘right’ things for me. In-game, I joined a clearly hateful movement because some of their actions suited me. It was a harsh, but utterly vital message to open my eyes to what is actually happening around me, and how my actions, appropriate as I might feel they are, can make things so, so much worse.
I am thankful to the developer for making me see this with a work of striking fiction before I made this mistake in my real life. It’s a message I hope I never have to receive again.