When people describe a story as Lovecraftian, they’re often referring to one specific theme that permeated his work: the theme of forbidden knowledge. A Lovecraftian story usually involves a character learning some secret truth that is too horrible to fully comprehend and is driven to some awful fate by the knowledge. Learning the truth is horrible, but being ignorant of the truth is equally horrible. There’s no escaping the horrors of the world.
It’s a powerful theme, but also a pretty wide-ranging theme. Most Lovecraftian stories take this idea at face value, wringing horror out of things that are supposedly unimaginable — fear of the unknown taken to the extreme. But there are more ideas to mine from this theme than the concept of confronting “unimaginable horrors.”
The Last Door is a Lovecraftian styled adventure game, released episodically over the past couple years. I wrote about the first “season” a few years ago for Indie Horror Month 2014 after the episodes were collected into a season pass and put on Steam. The second season came out on Steam earlier this year, and continues the story.
You previously played as Jerimiah Devitt, a common man investigating the suicide of his childhood friend. Season 2 gives us a new protagonist, Devitt’s therapist John Wakefield, who’s following a different path of clues trying to track down his wayward patient. With this change in perspective comes a slight change in theme as well. The Last Door: Season 2 doesn’t just find horror in the unknowable, but also in the forgotten.
This horror story plays out more like a mystery story as it revolves around investigation. We track down leads, question sources, and venture into seedy places populated by only the sad and the untrustworthy. Our investigation inevitably turns towards the supernatural, but those strange happenings always happen from a relative distance, off-screen or heard as a second-hand story, like the sudden scream and disappearance of an old woman from a locked room or an old soldier’s story of a comrade who came back “changed.” The game doesn’t shy away from the supernatural (Wakefield doesn’t spend a lot of time trying to rationalize these weird events and stories), but it also doesn’t linger on the supernatural. For the most part, the supernatural is kept at arm’s length, only appearing on-screen for sudden climaxes before a cut-to-credits ending. The game knows that real horror isn’t found in the supernatural but in those affected by the supernatural.
Throughout our investigation, we interact with people who have seen or heard or been touched by things better left unknown, and the encounter has changed them. They’re broken by it in some way, either mentally or socially. That old soldier who tells us his story is found in a ramshackle asylum. A sailor who heard the “Sea” call to him gives up sailing altogether, convinced that the ocean that he loves has been taken over by something else. A fisherman once saw a “thing” crouched on a rock and now watches the shores obsessively hoping for another chance to spear it. Everyone that we talk to is a victim of some sort of trauma that has left them separated from society.
Which is just fine with the rest of society. The rest of the world is all too happy to ignore these victims. The fishing village that serves as the source of many unsettling sightings is all but abandoned. The previously mentioned asylum is ramshackle because its funding has been cut and staff fired until there are only three employees left to care for a hundred patients. Those employees are then forbidden to leave the premises, now prisoners in their workplace. Society has deemed the patients unfit, and, thus, anyone associated with them is also unfit.
Everywhere we go we find victims scarred by trauma, and everywhere that we go we find a society uninterested in helping the; victims ignored because they’re victims. The true horror within The Last Door doesn’t come from the crazy cult or even from the creatures summoned from another world, but from the civil society that allows those things to happen by turning a blind eye to the pain that they cause. It’s the universal horror of victim blaming.
This Lovecraftian story sees ancient evils unleashed upon the world, but this time in a sad twist they could have been stopped. We could have fought back, if only people cared enough to face their fears. When we shun the victims of horror, we only invite more horror upon us all.
The Last Door: Season 2 is available on Steam for $9.99.