Anna Anthropy Releases New ZZT Queer Horror Game Jennifer Janowski is Doomed

Prolific indie game designer Anna Anthropy has just released Jennifer Janowski is Doomed, a queer horror game about a lesbian teen girl discovering something wicked in a haunted mansion. The twist? The game was coded in ZZT.

Originally released in 1991, ZZT was both a game and a game creation kit that allowed fledgling designers to make their own games using object-based programming. Of course, Anthropy — who has released tons of games and is the game designer in residence at DePaul University College of Computing and Digital Science — is no fledgling designer.

ZZT is really fascinating to me for a number of reasons,” said Anthropy. “The main thing that makes it interesting to me is that it’s really suited to what I call touch and explore gameplay, but a friend suggested a much better term: f–k around and find out game.” 

Using DOS text mode, ZZT is limited to letters and numbers and other rudimentary symbols. “You see the letter H, what could that be? There’s a little bit of visual suggestion but there’s a whole realm of possibility hidden behind that character,” she said.

And there’s clearly a ton of imagination in Jennifer Janowski is Doomed. Using a simple color palette, Anthropy has created a puzzle adventure game about a girl exploring a haunted house and coming to terms with her own sexuality. 

Jennifer Janowski is Doomed

The game, which was inspired by the excellent queer Netflix horror film series Fear Street from 2021, has a tongue-in-cheek tone but is also poignant, mysterious and often creepy. Anthropy wanted to explore queer themes within a young adult horror framework.

“Navigating horror as a genre as a queer person is incredibly fraught,” said Anthropy. “I am a queer, fat, disabled person. I’m a wheelchair user,” she explained. “Bodies like mine in horror stories…we’re either monstrous or victims, or we are so victimized by the world that we become monstrous. So there’s not a lot of room to explore perspectives of people like me in horror, which feels like such a missed opportunity.”

Jennifer Janowski is Doomed

Protagonist Jennifer Janowski is certainly a relatable character. She’s got a possibly unrequited crush. She doesn’t fit in at school. When she enters the haunted mansion, she’s confronted with various horrors that are external, but force her to deal with internal issues.

Jennifer Janowski is Doomed was made in WeaveZZT, a modified version of the engine, which allowed Anthropy to do more with it than the vanilla version of ZZT. Anthropy is very active within the ZZT community and invites curious players to join the Museum of ZZT, which also has a Discord.

“We’re just a bunch of weirdos still making stuff for it!”

Play Jennifer Janowski is Doomed for free on Itch.You can also check out DreadXP for more interesting horror projects.