Surreal Torture in the Workplace: Ghost in the Washing Machine
The days have long since gone where I look for games that scare me. With some notable exceptions, whenever I look in the places you’d think would be ripe for creepy, spooky, scary times, I find myself playing spot the set-piece. That’s not a knock on modern horror games either. I’m sure many of you, as horror fans, have gone through the realization that you’ve been largely anesthetized by overexposure to what most would consider ‘horror’. It’s nothing to be sad about though! We can and do grow as horror fans by exploring and embracing the aspects of horror that are less celebrated than the usual chase sequences, goretastic gross-out, and the cinematic equivalent of spooky peekaboo (or spookaboo as I’m now calling it).
If I told you that the game I’m focusing on today has no scares, no blood, and is tremendously silly, would you feel that fit into the horror plane? Maybe even if it’s just stuffed into the overhead? I promise you, Ghost in the Washing Machine definitely qualifies. Because at its heart, it encapsulates the torturous dread of work in a fascinating, offbeat fashion.
Ghost in the Washing Machine was created by Foxdog Studios, a comedy duo from Manchester, England that dabbles in all manner of things, including game making. The schtick mostly seems to be low-fi tomfoolery, which happens to be a thing I’m quite fond of. Ghost in the Washing Machine certainly fits that mold.
This short game gives you the distinguished avatar of a jaded washing machine engineer, hoping to finish a mundane job in the kind of dreary, fog-ridden town that James Sunderland would gleefully pack his bags and travel to. Our hero is a stocky, blocky polygonal figure with the facial features of one of Foxdog Studios’ duo stretched awkwardly across a misshapen lump of a noggin. He’s armed with a strange device, which we quickly learn is a) for fixing washing machines and b) almost out of juice.
Our man is tired of this shit, so sees this as an opportunity to go home early. But first, he’s gotta fix what he can. Fixing washing machines involves walking up to the current highlighted machine and inputting a series of key presses before a timer runs out. A funky little tune plays, little zap noises pop up every time you hit a correct key, and then you’re done! The battery runs out on the device, so time for home and a nice cold beer, right?
Of course not. Things have to get weird, don’t they? How weird? Magic batteries and a live-action shift kind of weird.
Ghost in the Washing Machine as we know it fades out, and up pops a room. A man, a real-life human being, walks into frame. It’s soon apparent he’s that guy. A stereotypical upper management type out to piddle in your pint by pushing more work on the beleaguered engineer. He speaks in a condescending nasally drone as he provides fresh batteries for the repairing device. Batteries that ensure there will be no slacking off until the work is done. No matter how long it takes.
And so the previous cycle of locate and repair begins anew with a slight twist. Now a digitized version of that upper management tit sits on the screen of the repair device, delivering rote soundbites that offer shallow promises of a nice meat pie and a beer at the end of all this.
As each machine is repaired, things get more surreal. Suddenly machines vary in size, float off the ground, and even glow ominously. The key sequences get longer and time tighter as reality itself slowly disintegrates into the maddening fog. Then, a final room beckons. A large space with pub carpeting and a big old space where the back wall should be. In its place? More of that overbearing fog and a legion of floating washing machines hovering around one monolithic appliance. The Big Boss of Washing Machines for all intents and purposes.
So here we are, intensely changing belts and cleaning the door of an appliance deity. We’ve descended into the hell that is his man’s working life. This staggeringly large washer is the physical manifestation of a fight against a thankless, dreary job that this man wants nothing more than to be over.
Then the job is done. The live-action upper management guy wanders into the end scene to patronizingly congratulate the polygonal engineer for finishing the job and cruelly reveals just how much of the day has been wasted fixing washing machines. There will be no pint and a pie for this man tonight.
Maybe tomorrow, eh?