Be Honest Brings the Insidious Undertones of the Internet to the Surface

It’s currently 9.23 am and I’ve already seen several weirdo ads for actual clickbait links. You know the ones. Not when reading comprehension goes out the window and folk misunderstand a little thing called context. No, I’m talking about those ads that swear blind this secret ‘food’ that looks like a set of papier mache testicles. Those ads that bait you into believing some celebrity is dead or in trouble even though you are 99.9% sure it’s bullshit.

 In a sense, these brazen sirens are some of the most honest parts of internet culture. They’ve been around in some fashion for decades. Performative panhandling of a bygone age that would still be oddly missed if it didn’t show up on your virtual High Street, sprayed silver and trying to entertain with lazy mime or strained covers of pop songs. 

Then there’s the online quiz. There are entire sites dedicated to the most inane personality quizzes alive, designed to ‘entertain’ on the surface, but in reality, a machine that drags you deeper into the gullet of the click machine with drawn-out, meaningless waffle to keep you fizzing away in its acids. 

That is to say, the internet is full of things like this. Spurious little nuggets of nonsense pebbledashing the technological toilet bowl. You could argue I’m contributing to that right now (don’t though). As individual microscopic flecks of shite, it’s easy to feel indifferent to them. But they build up, and before you know it, it’s in every corner, smeared across walls, and you’re beginning to question the texture of the carpet.

I bring these two particular aspects of the internet up because there’s a somewhat insidious side to them, and we all know good horror takes things like that and pushes them into new realms of unpleasantness. So I discovered this past week when I played the horror-infused online quiz Be Honest by Ezra Szanton.

Be Honest takes the above examples and at first, presents them in the same vanilla cookie-cutter manner you’d find elsewhere on the internet. I’d say it was admirable in how indistinguishable it is from the real thing, but that’s mostly because there’s next to nothing distinguished about the real thing.

Framed as a personality quiz, Be Honest begins with the usual guff. Slowly it starts ramping up questions to sound more ‘personal’ in a hollow checklist way. It’s the bait on the hook you’ve already nibbled on by going this far, but now it’s wiggling more profusely JUST FOR YOU.

Szanton then starts to deploy the unpleasant weirdness. There are ads, naturally. These ads are reminiscent of turn-of-the-century fare with a blend of modern internet allure. They also become increasingly strange and sinister. Do you know how those old ads can feel a bit off because of the monumental shifts in what is or isn’t appropriate? Stuff like cocaine loo roll or hair cream made from seagull vomit? There’s an air of that in Be Honest, and smartly, the game distracts you just enough from it to ensure a fleeting eye on it just troubles you all the more.

Then there’s the quiz itself. Without delving too deep into the things it does, there’s plenty of manipulation and prodding of the player. Questions shift into strange and creepy territory, or straight-up change after you’ve read them. Disturbing noises pour forth into your ears without explanation (credit to spookfish for some exemplary audio work), and the whole thing plays like it’s wearing a smile whilst flashing eyes at you with far less honorable intentions. 

At the core of Be Honest is an understanding of what it’s lampooning without devolving into mere parody. There’s an uncanny atmosphere to it because it sidles up next to the disturbing, grubby truth of ‘content’ and its parasitic nature. Is it such a leap to believe an online quiz could suddenly turn truly personal and vaguely threatening in an age where our details are out there on the internet to begin with?

Perhaps the most important thing Be Honest subverts about the online quiz experience is that it creates something meaningful from it. It’s never mocking its subject matter, instead, it’s utilizing the vague unpleasant feeling it leaves in you and makes it flesh. It is a dread-infused confirmation of nagging doubt. A suspicion transformed into cold concrete fact.

These quizzes are not for you to learn something about yourself. It’s what they learn from you. What they take from you.

You can find more horror game editorials, reviews, and interviews at DreadXP.