Considering the Politics of Sociopathy in 'Beautiful Escape: Dungeoneer'

If there is one truly unsettling element to this game, it isn't the torture sequences, but the dating sim parts that precede them.

Beautiful Escape: Dungeoneer

Rated: NR
Players: 1
Price: free
Platforms: PC
Developer: Nicolau Chaud
Release date: 2010-05-04

Note: The grotesque subject matter of this game might be troubling for some readers. Please proceed with caution.

I have a bit of a love-hate relationship with the Saw franchise -- that is, I love reading about it, but cannot for the life of me watch it. This is a bit of a persistent problem for me. I'm a creepypasta addict as well, but when it comes to actual horror movies (or games), I find I don't have particularly good tolerance for them.

So it is anyone's guess why I downloaded Beautiful Escape: Dungeoneer, a recently released independent title made by Nicolau Chaud using RPG Maker 2003. The premise casts you roughly in the role of a would-be JigSaw, luring hapless victims back to your house so that you may stuff them in your basement dungeon. All sexual overtones that you might expect ensue. The specific goal of the game is to design your dungeon with a series of traps just torturous enough that your prisoner will escape within an inch of their life, so brutally maimed and traumatized that they'll inevitably kill themselves -- a "beautiful escape" comparable to a kind of sadomasochistic orgasm. Allowing them to survive with adequate health to call the cops results in a Game Over. Killing them in the course of the torture, on the other hand, is permissible, but it docks points from your score.

Which, presumably, is where this game intends to become some sort of biting satire, as your torture sessions are recorded and uploaded to an in-game website. Fellow basement torture enthusiasts (dungeoneers) review and rate your performance. I believe the intent is to make some remark about the callously cutthroat nature of amateur enthusiast communities, not the least being the independent game community itself, but it's a little too on the nose to be called clever. In fact, the same could be said about the game as a whole: just sophomorically intelligent enough to be visible above the fray but not enough to elevate itself above high school pretension. Like many other games I could list, its controversial subject matter is its main advertisement; without it, it becomes yet another ho-hum villain RPG with dating sim elements.

That being said, if there is one truly unsettling element to Beautiful Escape, it isn't the dungeon torture sequences, but those aforementioned dating sim parts that precede them. Your protagonist, Verge, admits to holding some unconventional tastes. Of the blur of pedestrians you encounter, only a few are actionable into conversation, being ones he's stalked for some time and has a whole dossier prepared in advance. Studying the potential victim's biography is crucial, as is paying careful attention to your responses in the conversation prompts. This is where you really start to feel Verge's sociopathy and yourself as a participant in it. You know exactly why you're buttering these people up. After all, you just came from the store where you asked your supply guy for another chainsaw and a blowtorch.

The unnerving part isn't so much that this process goes on in this game, but rather that it is the process of games. Anyone who has ever played out an interactive conversation has done this to one extent or another -- either the player attempts to roleplay as the character, or he selects his choices based on the maximum (perceived or actual) benefit. It just so happens that in Beautiful Escape: Dungeoneer either method objectifies the character into a target, one you know you're out to hurt.

There are many more games that practice this idea, however. For instance, if one thing truly frustrated me about Heavy Rain, it was the stubbornness with which my player's instincts resisted making empathetic decisions. This drew into sharp focus during the Shark trial with Ethan, in which I was faced with the decision to have Ethan shoot a drug dealer in his daughters' bedroom or spare his life. In that moment, my thought process was not what my character would do or I would do in his place, but what was necessary for the gameplay to advance.

This correlates with what I wrote about last week, in which I described the dilemma of game mastery often being in opposition to story immersion ("The Neo Conundrum and the Cost of a Perfect Game Ending", PopMatters, November 16, 2010). Here in Beautiful Escape, however, you are directly confronted with your ludic choices as being akin to your character's sociopathy. You baldfacedly need to separate empathy from your gameplay choices in order to make the right ones, just as Verge has already done to advance in his craft. But while for the most part the torture sections may as well be vanilla (I've done more gruesome things in a God of War game and that wasn't rendered in 16-bit sprites), the thought and interactive processes leading up to them are the most truly jarring parts.

Why? Because they're much more familiar.

Final note: This game includes vicious acts of violence, sexual assault, and copyright infringement. Please exercise discretion before deciding to click the site link above.





Alright Alright's "Don't Worry" Is an Ode for Unity in Troubling Times (premiere)

Alright Alright's "Don't Worry" is a gentle, prayerful tune that depicts the heart of their upcoming album, Crucible.


Tim Bowness of No-Man Discusses Thematic Ambition Amongst Social Division

With the release of his seventh solo album, Late Night Laments, Tim Bowness explores global tensions and considers how musicians can best foster mutual understanding in times of social unrest.


Angel Olsen Creates a 'Whole New Mess'

No one would call Angel Olsen's Whole New Mess a pretty album. It's much too stark. But there's something riveting about the way Olsen coos to herself that's soft and comforting.


Masma Dream World Go Global and Trippy on "Sundown Forest" (premiere)

Dancer, healer, musician Devi Mambouka shares the trippy "Sundown Forest", which takes listeners deep into the subconscious and onto a healing path.


'What a Fantastic Death Abyss': David Bowie's 'Outside' at 25

David Bowie's Outside signaled the end of him as a slick pop star and his reintroduction as a ragged-edged arty agitator.


Dream Folk's Wolf & Moon Awaken the Senses with "Eyes Closed" (premiere)

Berlin's Wolf & Moon are an indie folk duo with a dream pop streak. "Eyes Closed" highlights this aspect as the act create a deep sense of atmosphere and mood with the most minimal of tools.


Ranking the Seasons of 'The Wire'

Years after its conclusion, The Wire continues to top best-of-TV lists. With each season's unique story arc, each viewer is likely to have favorites.


Paul Reni's Silent Film 'The Man Who Laughs' Is Serious Cinema

There's so much tragedy present, so many skullduggeries afoot, and so many cruel and vindictive characters in attendance that a sad and heartbreaking ending seems to be an obvious given in Paul Reni's silent film, The Man Who Laughs.


The Grahams Tell Their Daughter "Don't Give Your Heart Away" (premiere)

The Grahams' sweet-sounding "Don't Give Your Heart Away" is rooted in struggle, inspired by the couples' complicated journey leading up to their daughter's birth.


Gloom Balloon Deliver an Uplifting Video for "All My Feelings For You" (premiere)

Gloom Balloon's Patrick Tape Fleming considers what making a music video during a pandemic might involve because, well, he made one. Could Fellini come up with this plot twist?


What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .


Brian Cullman Gets Bluesy with "Someday Miss You" (premiere)

Brian Cullman's "Someday Miss You" taps into American roots music, carries it across the Atlantic and back for a sound that is both of the past and present.


IDLES Have Some Words for Fans and Critics on 'Ultra Mono'

On their new album, Ultra Mono, IDLES tackle both the troubling world around them and the dissenters that want to bring them down.


Napalm Death Return With Their Most Vital Album in Decades

Grindcore institution Napalm Death finally reconcile their experimental side with their ultra-harsh roots on Throes of Joy in the Jaws of Defeatism.


NYFF: 'Notturno' Looks Passively at the Chaos in the Middle East

Gianfranco Rosi's expansive documentary, Notturno, is far too remote for its burningly immediate subject matter.


The Avett Brothers Go Back-to-Basics with 'The Third Gleam'

For their latest EP, The Third Gleam, the Avett Brothers leave everything behind but their songs and a couple of acoustic guitars, a bass, and a banjo.


PM Picks Playlist 1: Rett Madison, Folk Devils + More

The first PopMatters Picks Playlist column features searing Americana from Rett Madison, synthpop from Everything and Everybody, the stunning electropop of Jodie Nicholson, the return of post-punk's Folk Devils, and the glammy pop of Baby FuzZ.


David Lazar's 'Celeste Holm  Syndrome' Appreciates Hollywood's Unsung Character Actors

David Lazar's Celeste Holm Syndrome documents how character actor work is about scene-defining, not scene-stealing.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.