'90s Dark Web Streaming Sim Is Way More Terrifying Than I Expected

Image: We Have Always Lived In The Forest
Image: We Have Always Lived In The Forest

Of the seven demos I played at the Tribeca Festival’s official games section, darkwebSTREAMER is by far the one I spent the most time with. The horror narrative roguelike’s risk-reward system, based around streaming progressively more dangerous occult activities in hopes of becoming the best streamer you can be, hooked me immediately.

Each death inspired me to try to get a little further, learn a little more about the game’s monsters, and gain a few more subscribers on my channel. DarkwebSTREAMER’s gameplay loop just feels so good, and I want more of its occult internet.

The core loop of darkwebSTREAMER revolves around hosting live streams for your viewers. To host a stream you need something interesting to stream about—in my demo that came in the form of many different haunted dolls. Once you begin the stream, your viewers will shuffle in and comment on whatever you have going on. The roguelike nature begins to show itself in these streams, as your character has a stat list that will be challenged. To win over my crowd, I decided it would be a good idea to do a silly voice for the haunted doll, hoping my audience would find me utterly hilarious. I failed a performance check and they all laughed at me instead of with me. Viewers started leaving. But after each skill check you are offered a choice: end the stream or keep going.

Image: We Have Always Lived In The Forest
Image: We Have Always Lived In The Forest

At first the answer seems pretty obvious: just keep streaming as that’s the best way to gain new subscribers who might then donate money. But then the horror parts of darkwebSTREAMER show up. When I kept going, I encountered things like clawing at my door, my viewers becoming getting freaked out in chat and saying they saw a phantom, and receiving an envelope filled with mysterious worm-like creatures.

These encounters involve more skill checks, and beyond losing subscribers, failing them can lessen your health or your sanity. The immediate comparison I made was to TTRPG Call of Cthulhu, and in many ways, darkwebSTREAMER’s combination of stats and responsive narrative feel inspired by tabletop games. Eventually, if you push yourself far enough, you will exhaust yourself and must end the stream. But that’s not the end of the gameplay loop. DarkwebSTREAMER takes place in a simulated web browser, and once a stream is over you can surf the web to find new sites, some offering items to buy that you can use for your streams. Most of these sites feature unsettling writing, and rather shockingly, beyond essential storefront sites, these are all procedurally generated by putting together building blocks of text and art created by developer Chantal Ryan, who pored over old internet sites like Geocities to get the tone just right. And she succeeded, as those sites capture the vibe of the ‘90s internet so well that I found myself going over every word and illustration in case it was a hint I needed. It speaks to how well the game’s world is realized through a simple monochromatic interface and well-written text.

It may look like just a computer screen, but the world beyond it is tangible. When you shut down the game’s computer to rest for the night, the horror creeps even closer. Every time I tried to sleep something would wake me up. Once time it was just a kitten in the hallway, but on another occasion I sensed a presence in the kitchen threatening my sanity.

Image: We Have Always Lived In The Forest
Image: We Have Always Lived In The Forest

Whether you choose to avoid or investigate these threats that don’t live within the game’s computer screen, it feels like feels like a threshold is being transgressed. This, along with the rest of the game’s horror, feeds on our inherent fear of what goes bump in the night. Even while playing it in a secluded room in the middle of the day, I found myself getting goosebumps and fighting the urge to check behind me.

The streaming system itself feeds into the game’s unsettling vibe, as it encourages you to put yourself in bad situations. While everyone always says they wouldn’t act like a stupid horror movie character if they were in the same situation, darkwebSTREAMER proves the contrary. Because of my morbid fascination with the game’s horror, I continued to stream because I simply needed to satisfy my curiosity. It often led to my death, but watching the in-game chat become equally intrigued with what could happen to me—and often subscribing and donating to encourage and support my reckless behavior—made me think it was all worth it. It’s a not-so-subtle commentary on our morbid fascination with seeing others put themselves in harm’s way, and on the voyeuristic nature of streaming. And in darkwebSTREAMER, it also happens to be incredibly fun.

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