PopMatters is moving to WordPress. We will publish a few essays daily while we develop the new site. We hope the beta will be up sometime late next week.

Indie Horror Month 2013: 'Metrolith'

You will never know the metrolith.

Metrolith is a Twine text adventure by Porpentine, a popular and proficient Twine author, in which you guide various characters into an ancient derelict city. It’s hard not to draw comparisons between Metrolith and The Nameless City by H.P. Lovecraft as both stories capture the eeriness and wonder of exploring a mystery so vast you can never understand it. Metrolith is never outright scary but it’s consistently unsettling, which is the more impressive feat in my opinion.

Before entering the city you have to choose your character. There are a number of possibilities though only three are displayed at the start of any game. They get cycled out as you click on them. Each character has his own story that will play out depending on how successful you are at navigating the branching paths of the narrative.

Some paths will end your journey in an instant. You’ll investigate something weird and then without warning: “You become part of the city.” The abruptness of such endings is shocking, and while not particularly scary, the statement is deeply unsettling in its ambiguity. You simply don’t know what happens. You don’t even know if you actually died. All you know is that your story is over. It’s now, during subsequent playthroughs, that Metrolith really shines as a horror game. After it establishes that your end can come from any innocuous action, every little choice becomes a matter of life and death. But you still won’t see it coming. You won’t know when you’ve passed the point of no return because the prose imbues every page with a sense of eerie wonder. Things that seem dangerous are harmless, and things that seem harmless are dangerous. And all of it is so painfully intriguing that you can’t help but push onwards.

Your story doesn’t have to end with a maybe-death. Each character’s story has its own conclusion, sometimes multiple conclusions, and some end badly while some end well for the individual involved. The important thing is that these conclusions tell us nothing about the Metrolith. Staying true to its Lovecraftian roots, the city always remains a mysterious thing: You can enter it, and you just might find your way out of it, but you can never understand what this place is or was or what secrets it holds. It is utterly unknowable.

Some of the stories tease you with knowledge, possible connections that form possible explanations: One character wanders through a forest of pillars that seep something from up top, and another character eventually climbs a tower that gives him a vantage point over the stonework. One character sees an odd spider-millipede creature, and another character might turn into one of these creatures in the end (emphasis on the might). But even these possible answers only lead to more questions, more why’s and when’s and how’s. As it should. It’s tempting to play Metrolith over and over and over and over again, trying out every possible combination of choices and characters in order to see what happens, in order to gain just a little bit more insight. Does that white statue ever move? What’s behind the waterfall? What’s in the warehouse?

In this way, Metrolith is a shining example of interactive fiction. Specifically, how the “interactive” part changes our relationship with the “fiction” part. In Lovecraft’s stories, it’s easier to accept the non-answers and lingering mysteries because we know that when a story ends that’s all the information that we’re going to get.

(Though, to be fair, Lovecraft did subvert this expectation in his time by making multiple references to the Necronomicon across multiple stories, giving them a through line that adds just enough authenticity to make people wonder: Sure, The Nameless City is obviously fiction, but maybe the Necronomican is real? Now that we all know its all fake, his stories have lost that mystery.)

In Metrolith, it’s not clear where the mysteries begin and end. Answers could be waiting for me on another playthrough, another branched path. All I have to do is keep walking past the alley, and I’ll discover something that will blow my mind. Or not.

Metrolith effectively evokes the damning curiosity that drives the narrator of The Nameless City. Games are meant to be beaten, and I am determined to beat the metrolith by understanding it. I will explore this city, I will discover it, I will learn its secrets because I know that they’re just around the next corner. Of course this is impossible, and you’ll realize this over the course of multiple playthorughs with multiple characters. Your arrogance will guide you into the city, into that place of wonder and shock and fear, over and over again, until you’re finally forced to accept the humbling truth of your own inferiority.

You will never know the metrolith.

But if you’d like to try, Metrolith can be played on Porpentine’s website (where you should also check out Howling Dogs, A Place of Infinite Beauty, and, well, all the other games Eric Swain mentions in his "Porpentine of the Twine" post).

A direct link to the game is available here.

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology and hosting provider that we have less than a month, until November 6, to move PopMatters off their service or we will be shut down. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to save the site.





Peter Guralnick's 'Looking to Get Lost' Is an Ode to the Pleasures of Writing About Music

Peter Guralnick's homage to writing about music, 'Looking to Get Lost', shows how good music writing gets the music into the readers' head.


In Praise of the Artifice in George Cukor's 'Sylvia Scarlett'

George Cukor's gender-bending Sylvia Scarlett proposes a heroine who learns nothing from her cross-gendered ordeal.


The Cure: Ranking the Albums From 13 to 1

Just about every Cure album is worth picking up, and even those ranked lowest boast worthwhile moments. Here are their albums, spanning 29 years, presented from worst to best.


The 20 Best Episodes of 'Star Trek: The Original Series'

This is a timeless list of 20 thrilling Star Trek episodes that delight, excite, and entertain, all the while exploring the deepest aspects of the human condition and questioning our place in the universe.


The 20 Best Tom Petty Songs

With today's release of Tom Petty's Wildflowers & All the Rest (Deluxe Edition), we're revisiting Petty's 20 best songs.

Joshua M. Miller

The 11 Greatest Hits From "Greatest Hits" Compilations

It's one of the strangest pop microcosms in history: singles released exclusively from Greatest Hits compilations. We rounded 'em up and ranked 'em to find out what is truly the greatest Greatest Hit of all.


When Punk Got the Funk

As punks were looking for some potential pathways out of the cul-de-sacs of their limited soundscapes, they saw in funk a way to expand the punk palette without sacrificing either their ethos or idea(l)s.


20 Hits of the '80s You Might Not Have Known Are Covers

There were many hit cover versions in the '80s, some of well-known originals, and some that fans may be surprised are covers.


The Reign of Kindo Discuss Why We're Truly "Better Off Together"

The Reign of Kindo's Joseph Secchiaroli delves deep into their latest single and future plans, as well as how COVID-19 has affected not only the band but America as a whole.


Tommy Siegel's Comic 'I Hope This Helps' Pokes at Social Media Addiction

Jukebox the Ghost's Tommy Siegel discusses his "500 Comics in 500 Days" project, which is now a new book, I Hope This Helps.


Kimm Rogers' "Lie" Is an Unapologetically Political Tune (premiere)

San Diego's Kimm Rogers taps into frustration with truth-masking on "Lie". "What I found most frustrating was that no one would utter the word 'lie'."


50 Years Ago B.B. King's 'Indianola Mississippi Seeds' Retooled R&B

B.B. King's passion for bringing the blues to a wider audience is in full flower on the landmark album, Indianola Mississippi Seeds.


Filmmaker Marlon Riggs Knew That Silence = Death

In turning the camera on himself, even in his most vulnerable moments as a sick and dying man, filmmaker and activist Marlon Riggs demonstrated the futility of divorcing the personal from the political. These films are available now on OVID TV.


The Human Animal in Natural Labitat: A Brief Study of the Outcast

The secluded island trope in films such as Cast Away and television shows such as Lost gives culture a chance to examine and explain the human animal in pristine, lab like, habitat conditions. Here is what we discover about Homo sapiens.


Bad Wires Release a Monster of a Debut with 'Politics of Attraction'

Power trio Bad Wires' debut Politics of Attraction is a mix of punk attitude, 1990s New York City noise, and more than a dollop of metal.


'Waiting Out the Storm' with Jeremy Ivey

On Waiting Out the Storm, Jeremy Ivey apologizes for present society's destruction of the environment and wonders if racism still exists in the future and whether people still get high and have mental health issues.


Matt Berninger Takes the Mic Solo on 'Serpentine Prison'

Serpentine Prison gives the National's baritone crooner Matt Berninger a chance to shine in the spotlight, even if it doesn't push him into totally new territory.


MetalMatters: The Best New Heavy Metal Albums of September 2020

Oceans of Slumber thrive with their progressive doom, grind legends Napalm Death make an explosive return, and Anna von Hausswolff's ambient record are just some of September's highlights.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

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