Someone once said that depression is a dream in which everything that was once beautiful is ugly and gray. Everything loses its luster, and the depressed one loses his or her lust for life. In more serious cases, ordinary objects one might normally find quite familiar and comforting are shadowed with menace. When one looks back, days of depression may seem like dim dreams in which everything one did and said wasn’t quite real. You weren’t quite yourself.
I had nightmares the night after playing Neverending Nightmares. I didn’t play the game so much as to beat it as I did to escape from it. I wanted to wake up. Despite multiple endings and branching paths, I didn’t play the game more than once, a testament to its ability to induce anxiety and unease.
Neverending Nightmares simulates a state of depression with its Gorey-esque visuals, dreamlike narrative, and perpetual unease. The game takes those familiar things — the wallpaper of your home, pictures on the wall, the quality of light in your bedroom — and transmutes them. They suddenly take on aspects of the deranged and horrible. The wallpaper is patterned with subtle skulls, that picture of a cooked chicken seems suddenly grotesque, and the light is slowly going out. Just as depression might play tricks on the mind, so does Neverending Nightmares. Was the wallpaper really patterned with skulls, as I had been so convinced of during the game? The morning after, when things were bright and normal again, I wasn’t so sure.
The visuals are arresting. The designers did an outstanding job imitating Edward Gorey’s gothic black and white drawings. My partner, seeing an image from the game, remarked that it looks exactly like what Gorey would be drawing today if he were alive. The audio is a perfect accompaniment, as if Gorey himself had produced a soundscape to accompany some of his work, like The Gashlycrumb Tinies. The game’s use of color is startling. There are scenes of blood and gore that come upon you like an assault, a panic attack. Color also draws attention to the game’s few interactive objects, which are mostly doors. The byzantine dream mansions and asylums, reminiscent of Lone Survivor’s confounding 2D levels, are a nightmare in themselves and also the main obstacle to completing the game. There are a few other horrors, however, including stealth segments that provide a more immediate terror than wandering the spooky corridors. Repeated failures or “deaths” unfortunately disrupt the game’s driving pace, and I’m not sure how I feel about the various monsters you encounter. They feel out of place and a little hokey, but I think the game would be missing something without them.
Neverending Nightmares isn’t so much about a story as it is about a state of being. There’s a very light narrative here, and it isn’t nearly as interesting as the thematic content. Neverending Nightmares, a title which may serve to define its subject in two well chosen words, is an unsettling empathy exercise I recommend to anyone squeamish about depression or mental illness. It also stands on its own as a competent horror game and as a genuine piece of art.