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You Must be 18 or Older to Enter & The Power of Ordinary Fears

You Must be 18 or Older to Enter captures a different kind of terror. One I’m more familiar with than dodging undead or ghouls. In this game, you’re a kid in the 90’s who’s heard about something called ‘porn’, and intends to figure out what it is by going on the internet. While too young to fully understand what they’re looking at, the character in the game DOES know that they’re doing something wrong. Something their parents definitely won’t approve of. But you move ahead anyway, even while enduring the constant fear that they’ll come home and barge in on you at any moment. It’s an ordinary kind of fear. Something many of us have likely felt. And it’s utterly terrifying in that ordinariness.

The game isn’t explicit in what it shows, but it’s likely still NSFW. Just so you know.

Like I said, it’s a fear many of us know all too well. Most of us can recall something we were doing that we knew we shouldn’t have been. It might not have involved looking up adult material on the computer. However, we’ve all done something where we knew getting caught would be big trouble. Doing forbidden things can come with a bit of a thrill, though. There’s a mixture of fear and excitement that comes from knowing you could get caught at any moment. It’s this mingling of fright, curiosity, and exhilaration that carries us deep into a game about the fears that come from looking at porn for the first time.

You Must be 18 or Older to Enter has been designed to draw you into a place in your memories where looking at porn came with a bit of danger. Also, a little confusion (hence the ASCII style, which makes it so you have to work a bit hard to figure out what you’re looking at. Much like a young teen discovering porn might have to figure things out). The game offers you an ASCII-art computer screen and tasks you with making choices to decide on what site you go to and what you look up while you’re there. You can click on several things when you get to a site, and each leads to a new ASCII-interpretation of an adult image .

You have an extra option while looking at your ASCII porn: “look behind you.” It’s a constant reminder that you might be caught doing this. Big trouble awaits. Or horrifying embarrassment. The idea of getting caught with this stuff may inspire some disturbing imaginary encounters with parents. It might bring up some discomforting real memories. Either way, that option holds this terrifying promise that you could be seen at any time. That any little click could trap you with no escape. It shouldn’t be as scary as being chased by some zombie or ghost, but the real embarrassment or consequences, or the imagined possibilities of these, feels more frightening than any made-up creature can subject us to.

That option always sits there, adding continual pressure as you explore You Must be 18 or Older to Enter. But it’s not alone in increasing that tension. You’ll periodically hear sirens and vehicles passing by. Is that your parents coming home? Probably not in an ambulance, but the sudden sound in this quiet game creates a bolt of terror in you. If it’s not the occasional sounds, it’s the pop-ups. They show up randomly as you play, threatening viruses or pushing you to click on other things. They can come with their own noises and sounds as well, making things more frightening. What if someone hears you?

The game is far from finished playing with you. The game keeps fairly quiet as you play it, so any noise it makes is cause for alarm. Periodically, you’ll hear something like a footstep. Other noises that feel frighteningly close. The normally-silent adult images might switch to video, complete with sound. The noise of the porn wasn’t especially loud, but when the game is so quiet, it causes a massive panic when a woman’s moans start booming from your speakers. That shift from quiet to loud makes it feel like it’ll draw attention your way. Those noises make it feel like you’ll caught even though no one is home in the game. And that anxiety is just a bit too real for me.

The “look behind you” text can also increase to massive size, forcing you to click it. You Must be 18 or Older to Enter will have you hesitating, here, as it feels like these are the moments when you’ll turn to see your parents looming behind you. When the text is small, it still creates this constant need to check to be sure you aren’t being observed. When that text gets big, it feels like the game’s telling you that you’re caught for sure. Someone is behind you, for sure. That text size increase is usually accompanied by some sound, too, which makes your discovery feel all the more likely. Hitting the button to turn around feels like willingly facing down some monster hiding in the dark. Like giving in to death, in its own way.

I never got caught throughout my time with the game. I don’t know if you CAN be caught (although I definitely got caught in real life, years ago). Either way, looking through these images draws up those old fears. The ASCII art, clicking on the various terms, and blindly wandering the internet looking for adult images dredges up those old feelings. It calls you back to that place of discovery, when you were first finding out about porn. It captures that mixture of arousal and terror – about being wound so tight at the possibility of being found out, but being curious to see more. And what will happen if you get discovered.

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That first experience of fear is a vivid, all-too-real one. You Must be 18 or Older to Enter captures a frightful time many of us have likely experienced. Sneaking something on the computer, or any such thing, is likely a familiar feeling. Pushing forward despite the fear of getting caught. Feeling that confusion and excitement with every click. Feeling those sensations swirl together is a powerful reminder of a part of growing up, and also of one of the more terrifying, yet ordinary, things I’ve done in my life.

Using sound, a bit of text, and some carefully-presented imagery, You Must be 18 or Older to Enter draws us back to those frightening times. It is a lovingly-crafted call back to being a kid in the 90’s, and a demonstration of the terrifying power behind the ordinary moments of growing up.