Ultra-Indie Spotlight Sunday: The Gladdening Chamber Is A Solo Co-Op Mystery
The early days of computers were a simpler time. A computer with RAM in kilobytes was impressive and the Netscape nomads roamed the cyber frontier. Our spotlight today harkens back to this ancient time before search engines and social medias. The Gladdening Chamber is a new title by itch.io developers Internaut Games. You take up the very relatable role of a person who posts on the internet all night. When you receive an email stating that your friend—the administrator of a spooky 4chan /x/ style forum called /boo/—has gone missing, you must find all the clues he left for you in order to solve this baffling disappearance. But you can’t actually do it. At least, not alone.
We kind of take it for granted how communal gaming is. No matter how solo a campaign may be played or how individualized the battle royale deathmatch is, it’s not often that a player doesn’t receive outside help. Be it a walkthrough or a meta build guide or even just asking for some tips to improve gameplay, the video games community is just that; a community. Few gamers exist within a vacuum anymore. So why not lean into it?
Sure, the individualized experience in a game is important. But there’s something else to working together. As we’ve seen with online communities like 4chan and Reddit, when an innumerable amount of people all throw themselves at a problem, eventually one is gonna make some kind of progress. The mass variety of brains all scanning the same clues come away with different theories and perspectives. Much like the Borg, all these minds form a powerful collective consciousness.
Non-Wanky Game Recap:
The gameplay of The Gladdening Chamber takes place over the course of five nights. Each evening you awaken and surf the net all night. Relatable indeed. After the first email you get that sets you on your path, all you’ve really got to go off of are the clues left by the enigmatic admin of this /x/ style forum. As the days progress, you get a little more information available to you via the forum, with the goal of figuring out what happened to the admin before the end of the fifth day.
Of course, you’re not gonna be able to. Not without some help. The Gladdening Chamber is extremely difficult with clues so well hidden that only a small percentage of people will find two dots to put together, much less all of them.
Circling back to the 4chan style board of /boo/ emulated in The Gladdening Chamber, the people in the board itself are actually not that helpful at all. This is not a simulation of one of an online community solving these problems, it is one. The Gladdening Chamber is an ARG: a game that transcends the boundaries of the game itself, and requires an effort of a community. So put on your stupid Sherlock Holmes deerhunter hat and go do some gamer community service. They need you for this as much as you need them.
What works is that it’s impossibly difficult for the individual to beat. To attempt to do so would bust a gasket in your brain by thinking too hard or damage your retinas from looking over the same spots again and again without making any progress. The Gladdening Chamber requires you to rely on your fellow gamer, and they on you.
Not only that, but The Gladdening Chamber doesn’t save your progress. As the ‘exit game’ screen states, your save data is within your own mind. A speedrun of the game is probably less than five minutes. The trick is that you actually need to know what you’re doing.
Though saving the data within your own mind is kind of a stretch. There are sequences of the game where there is just too much going on to keep it organized well in your brain. By the end of my playthrough of The Gladdening Chamber I had about one page front and back of notes trying to connect the clues like I was hunting Pepe Silvia. And truthfully? That was a lot of fun. I haven’t had to bust out the pen and paper for a game in a good while.
What doesn’t work, unfortunately, is also that it’s impossibly difficult for the individual to beat. My playthrough of The Gladdening Chamber was heavily assisted by one of the developers, because right now there really isn’t a community yet to support players who are interested. As previously stated, on my own I would never have gotten anywhere. If the average player arrives too early to the party, it may not seem like it’s worth staying.
At the same time, you wouldn’t want to arrive after the party has ended. Once the ARG is in motion, it’s only a matter of time before it gets done. Should you arrive after The Gladdening Chamber has been solved, what are your options for completing it in the way it was meant to be completed? Sure, you can try it for yourself, relying on guides solely when you are stuck. Perhaps even a spoiler free walkthrough would be helpful. But many, I would imagine, will be inclined to just google it, which kind of defeats the idea (that said, it still is a fantastic and atmospheric game, even without the puzzles the game would still be enjoyable).
How To Fix It:
Some of this onus is on the developers. There really isn’t much to indicate that The Gladdening Chamber is an ARG. Of course, it’s not hard to come to that conclusion once you play for a while, but on the surface, it looks similar to other itch.io posting-on-the-computer-at-night simulators. Not necessarily bad to not make this overt, but at the same time, you don’t want players to quit out of frustration before they realize that it’s not a solo game.
At the same time, a lot of it is in the players themselves. Without people posting their findings, for others to see, others will not feel the need to post theirs. It’s kind of a tautological problem. The Gladdening Chamber needs a community in place in order for a community to form. Truthfully, I don’t even know how to go about solving this. All I can really hope is a group of interested gamers forms organically.
Nobody exists within a vacuum. Nobody does anything entirely on their own. We all rely on each other even if it’s taken for granted. Someone made the screen you are reading this on, someone else wrote the code, and somebody else brought it to you. Video games are influenced entirely by our common human existence. For The Gladdening Chamber to openly have a common cause as means of completion may be unusual, but it’s also brilliant.
You can play The Gladdening Chamber for yourself (and others) on itch.io by clicking here.