The Meow Mix
When I think of cats and horror games, my most memorable example involved an actual cat.
Nearly ten years ago, the final episode of the first season of Telltale’s The Walking Dead was finally out, and we all know the emotional rollercoaster that was. As I sat alone in the dark, saying goodbye to Lee Everett, a strange noise started up. A guttural choking noise that scared the shit out of me. It seems I’d forgotten the cat was in and had emerged from behind the warm embrace of the sofa and decided now was a great time to evacuate a hairball-infused dinner. So even though I’ve played through that tearjerking ending several times since, I will forever associate it with attempting to quietly chase a cat around a darkened room trying to stop it yakking up on the carpet. I was not successful, just so you know.
I marvel at the way cats can play adorably dumb whilst also being manipulative little shits. To the point, I still suspect ours waited for that moment because it was funny to do so. I’d have shrugged it off, but I swear he always knows when a hairball puke will make the most dramatic impact and waits it out. The constant battle of him meowing incessantly to be fed, but just staring at you and continuing to cry about it because I didn’t put some treats on top. Or how he’s still skittish about staying near any adult human after 13 years in our company but loses all inhibition for a bit of bacon. I wouldn’t call myself a cat person, but I do find ours endearingly silly and worryingly sharp.
Why the cat talk you ask? Well, the post-apocalyptic adventure Stray just came out this week and I have to say I’m impressed with how well it taps into the mannerisms of a cat. You can scratch stuff up, curl up and have a snooze, have a little drink out of a puddle, and meow to your heart’s content thanks to the mindblowing decision to have a dedicated meow button. As far as I can tell, there’s no button for hairballs, but I reckon it’s just hidden until two sentient robots have a heartfelt conversation about their souls.
It’s also got a nice line in horror with its dilapidated ruins of humanity and icky oversized tick creatures infesting certain areas with sinewy webs and pustule-like egg sacs. There’s a section where the cat needs to go through the sewers to reach a robot colony, and the stuff I found down there made it seem like Inside developer Playdead had come in and wedged its own weirdness into Stray. Considering the rather chilled-out nature of most of the game, it really hits whenever the freakier stuff comes out to play.
I still have a little way to go to finish the game, but it’s been really good so far, especially because of these surprise horror moments. My ramblings on cats and horror don’t stop there, however! Inspired by this, I also sought out a smaller, mundane representation of domestic cats with a stranger side.
Feed Your Cat by fr33z tasked me with that most arduous of activities. Feeding time. This is a brief experience with six different endings. You are awoken in the middle of the night by your cat, who is feeling peckish (tracks so far), and as is true in real life, it’s never quite as simple as just feeding a cat. The results in reality are not likely to be quite as strange as some of the outcomes of this game though.
Inspired by Roblox games Get a Snack at 4 am, Forget Your Friend’s Birthday, and weirdo canine itch.io game Doghouse 2, Feed Your Cat twists an everyday thing into something odd. You must collect ingredients to feed the cat, and there’s some basic puzzling required to find the key items necessary for finding all the endings.
The bog standard finish is literally just feeding your cat, which still has a touch of the absurd thanks to the whereabouts of the food and witnessing the sheer size of the chunky boy sitting in the garden. Others take darker and weirder turns. Let’s just say you probably shouldn’t concoct the ‘perfect catfood’. One ending absolutely feels like the sort of thing Roblox games were built on, and no, that’s not a good thing, but I appreciate the silly aside for being there. The most bizarre ending requires a specific food to be fed to the cat, and the results are…unexpected to say the least. I’m not sure if I’d rather take being startled by my cat being sick on the carpet than see the food I gave it have the effect it does here. Less disgusting, sure, but possibly more alarming.
It’s a very simple, short experience that’s rough around the edges, which is to be expected from a debut effort for the developer, but it manages to do something strange and fun with a simple task. Turning humdrum activities and jobs into creepy, surreal, and downright bonkers games have been one of the most interesting aspects of indie horror for me, so it’s always a good time to see what can be done in that particular niche.
As I finish this, my cat has naturally used his psychic power to determine this is a good time to come in, stare at his half-empty food bowl and loudly declare it’s actually empty and he totally didn’t eat half of it just 40 minutes ago.
You can read more articles on horror games at DreadXP.