The Backrooms 1998 is High Quality Backrooms Content
The backrooms as a concept is fairly new, nestling into the collective unconscious of the internet around the end of 2019. It started as a simple reply to a 4chan post asking for unsettling pictures of places. No one is quite sure of the origin of the photo, but it shows a yellow tinted series of hallways, lit by those annoying grocery store florescent lights. It was described as the place that you end up when you no clip out of reality. no clip being a video game term I’m sure you’re all familiar with. It was mildly interesting, but I don’t find it particularly scary. Thankfully, the most of the internet absolutely did.
Over the last year, there has been a huge amount of Backrooms games released on Itch, Steam, Gamejolt, and pretty much anywhere you can get games. Like most internet horrors, it’s found a place in the hearts of game developers the world over. I’d say the biggest draw of Backrooms horror is the simplicity. You only need to hit a couple of points to get a backroom aesthetic going: Hallways, yellow, fluorescent lights. Even that last one isn’t purely necessary, as I’ve played a good amount of Backrooms games where the developer thinks it ups the scare factor to have the area be very dark and foreboding, completely missing the point in the process.
Recently, I was given a copy of a Backrooms game that actually impressed me. The Backrooms 1998 feels a bit different. There is a level of proficiency on display from SteelKrill Studios, and I would expect that, seeing as how they made a very good World War 1 horror game called Trenches. The game actually starts with a live-action video of a skateboarder missing a trick and slipping through reality into the backrooms. This setup is done very impressively, and the transition from actual footage to in-game is expertly done. From there, you’re tasked with trying to figure out just where you are, The departure from “accepted” Backrooms lore is immediate. In the founding texts, as they were, the Backrooms are an area generally devoid of life. A lot of the existential dread of the Backrooms comes from knowing you’re in a mostly-inaccessible place, with no hope of rescue. The addition of monsters in the Backrooms is a bit of creative storytelling for folks who need some kind of antagonist to root against since they don’t understand existential dread, the lucky suckers.
In The Backrooms 1998, you are definitely not alone. I’m certainly not against the idea of adding monsters to the Backrooms in the realm of videogames, just because a game where you wander endlessly through the Backrooms while feeling unnerved doesn’t have a ton of staying power. I’ve played Backrooms games that go that route, and outside of the first few minutes, they’re an absolute slog. Others forego monsters but play into the idea of a constantly shifting infinite space, where walls move, and you pass by other accidental travelers in the infinite halls. 2000 Navidson Lane by Duckenheimer does this to great effect. The Backrooms 1998 plays out kind of like Outlast. The camera you were using to film skate tricks is now your constant and only companion. It isn’t stated, but it’s implied that you need to keep recording as your final will and testament. A bit of media left behind for future explorers of this place, if they ever show up.
The Backrooms, as a horror setting are very new, as I stated above. With this in mind, there isn’t really established lore. I mean, there is in a sense. There are purists who believe the only Backrooms media that counts is the original story. There are people that accept the 3 levels version of the Backrooms, whereas you go deeper, the yellow walls and florescent lights give way to an industrial hellscape populated by monsters. The Backrooms can really be whatever you want, which is its strength and its weakness. A lot of the absolutely massive amount of Backrooms games share only a name with those titular rooms. They trend on the popularity of this new internet urban legend, and not much else. So to see something as high effort and well-made as The Backrooms 1998 is heartening to me as a horror fan. It shows that some people aren’t just trying to make a quick buck. Some developers have found this strange new setting and want to explore it.
The urge to add to the continuing story is a strong one. With something so new and malleable, anything you make could be absorbed into the greater lore of this popular and spooky creation. It is a shortcut to immortality. That sounds very grand but it’s the truth. When we create stories and art, along with adding to established or evolving projects, the goal is longevity. You can go your whole life knowing that you created a monster for the lore, and The Backrooms 1998 absolutely deserves its place in the lore. You can check it out for yourself here.