Inscryption and the Promise of the 2000’s Internet
I recently finished Inscryption. Recently as in about 20 minutes ago. While it’s fresh on my mind, I want to write some thoughts about it. This is not a review. I’m going to be talking about internet urban legends and mysterious ROMs. If you want a review here it is: It is one of the best games I’ve ever played full stop. It is not what it appears, and any warning I could give beyond that would ruin the experience. Just buy it, start it, and don’t stop until you’re done. It would be a shame if the internet ruined this experience for you. One quick note before we get started.
SPOILERS BELOW. GO PLAY THE GAME.
In the mid-2000s or thereabouts, it seemed like the internet was inundated with spooky stories. Tales of haunted games, possessed Nintendo cartridges, Sonic, but hyper edgy. It was all there. It was the 21st-century version of telling tales around the campfire. We had lost out on that cultural touchstone around the time the internet and cell phones became widespread. I’m not here to go on some boomer rant about “kids in their phones these days”. I just think that to properly understand what I’m talking about (Inscryption), we need to recognize that some bits of the cultural consciousness fell by the wayside as technology advanced. It’s fine. It’s happened all throughout history. We lost stories around the campfire. We lost urban legends to some extent. You could fact-check a scary story with a 2 minute Google search.
We, collectively, decided to do something about it. The gold rush of creepypastas and especially videogame creepypastas took place from 2007 to about now. It’s still out there. These days, it’s a bit more difficult – with scores of people more knowledgeable than me pulling apart a game’s code to look for secrets on launch day – it’s hard to keep a secret. One of the best-kept secrets is Inscryption. We’ve all agreed as game playing people to just shut up and let everyone enjoy it. That’s not to say that there aren’t people out there spoiling it, but I work with videogame journalists and everyone gives me the same line: “Just go beat it”. So I did. I sat down part of yesterday and most of today and dedicated myself fully to understanding this oddity. I occasionally checked the DreadXP Discord where people were gushing about the game, and dropping off due to the difficulty of the card battles.
Even in a Discord server as large as DreadXP’s, no one was spilling the beans. Inscryption was spoken about in hushed tones, begetting some great and powerful secret that, once revealed, could tear the world asunder. it’s actually that serious. It’s just the most surprising game to come out in a long time. It has layers upon layers upon layers. It starts as a simple deckbuilding roguelite, and you’d be perfectly content if that’s all there was. It isn’t rushing you out the door to the next bit of gameplay. If you’re like me, you knew that something was coming, but not what. I think I spent 4 hours pre-release and then 7 hours after releasing solving every little puzzle in the musty cabin where the first act takes place. I learned how the cards worked, I built my perfect deck.
After I completed the first act…the game opened up. Holy shit imagine falling off during the first act because you didn’t like something about the game? If you’re reading this it means you either beat the game or don’t care about spoilers. Everything following the first act is insane. You find out that Inscryption was based on an old trading card game. A YouTube card opening channel comes across some old, sealed packs of Inscryption cards and decides to do an opening for his audience. One of the cards contains coordinates for a nondescript place in the woods, where he digs and finds a one-of-a-kind prototype of the game Inscryption on a floppy disk. You aren’t told this through a text crawl, or a text file given to you after beating the first act. The game completely changes. You’re given the playback menu for a digital camcorder. You’re watching this man discover Inscryption.
It is the endgame of the spooky internet stories we told each other in the mid-2000s. It is the horror of an undiscovered game made real via Inscryption. For folks like me, who lived and breathed internet horror and still do, it’s the holy grail. This isn’t even the first time the game pulls the rug out from under you. After you’ve settled in for Act 2 and completed it, the game changes completely AGAIN. Luke, the guy who found the disk, is now being hunted by the company that tried to publish Inscryption. The sole developer of the game died in a fire, and you maybe didn’t realize it, but you’ve been running into her in every. single. act. since act 1. Moving into act 3 gives you an idea of how deep the rabbit hole goes.
The government is involved, the player is involved, evil is involved. It all culminates in the deletion of Inscryption, and the death of Luke. It leaves so many threads to pull. Bits I’m sure I missed. As a horror fan, I like to see new twists on the genre. This is definitely a helluva twist. It hasn’t started just yet, but I see the rumbling of it: This game will be pulled apart by theory-crafting YouTube channels for months and months. So before they can get to it, tell everyone you know to play it. Shout it from the rooftops. Save the small amount of campfire tale suspense that we still have left.