In preparation for the ending of season 1 of HBO’s Lovecraft Country, I have been searching for something to fill the Eldritch hole that is about to be in my life. While it is definitely more humorous than traditional Lovecraftian media, The Call of Karen seemed interesting enough for me to give it a try. Although there are several technical drawbacks, which is to be expected of an indie free to play game on Steam, The Call of Karen contains several endearing and entertaining features.
Despite the ever-approaching menace of a Cthulhu-esque entity, The Call of Karen is mostly a comedy. The player’s avatar is a 1950’s housewife named Karen who must carry out various mundane household tasks, all while a sinister presence infiltrates her home. However, it is not the supernatural scares that get Karen down, instead it is society’s underappreciation of her role as a homemaker. This is displayed several times early in the game, primarily through Karen’s underwhelmed and disgruntled reactions to things she hears on the radio.
In addition to Karen’s lack of concern for the approaching evil, there are also several small touches to the environment that add humor. For example, one of the books the player is tasked with putting away is titled “Your Nuclear Family: no not that kind of nuclear” and is written by a Jane Strangelove. In this one game object alone there are numerous references (i.e. the perfect white-cisgender suburban family, reliance on nuclear power, and arguably the best satire of the Cold War ever made) that reflect the post-World War II aesthetic that permeates the game. I could have easily spent the entire duration of my gameplay examining each object for Easter eggs. This is something that I feel is important for games to have, but is not present as much as it should. Not only does it help with worldbuilding and immersion, but it also shows that the creators of the game cared enough to add such little details. It gave me the sense that the developers enjoyed working on and really cared about the game. This is something I rarely feel when playing video games, but that I hope to instill in the games I make in the future.
The Call of Karen. Worcester, MA: Trumbus Games, 2020. Video Game.
Typically when people think of the word mechanics, they conjure up an image of a person working on a car, possibly in ill-fitting jeans. In the context of games, however, mechanics are the components by which players engage with the game. (Hunicke et al. 3) They can take the form of algorithms, card shuffling, or weapons to name just a few. (2, 3) While playing Medieval Dynasty for the first time, I came across a game component that I had not originally considered to be a mechanic. However, as I played the game I came to realize that it did act as a game mechanic, and a useful one at that. This is the game’s music.
Music has been a part of video games for decades. Sometimes it acts to foreshadow the arrival of a boss, or heighten tension during an encounter. In Medieval Dynasty the music serves a less overt, but nevertheless important purpose. This is to immerse the player in the game world. Roaming around the idyllic valley where Medieval Dynasty takes place could have been a stressful nightmare. My hunger bar slowly ticks down while I balance conserving my energy and darting after a rabbit, desperate to get some food before the sun goes down and my vision all but vanishes. However, the constant presence of the calming exploration music soothed my nerves and helped me relax. Yes I’m a starving peasant, but I’ve still got a moment to stop and admire the rolling hills bordered by a meandering river. This unexpected dynamic of nature hiking and admiring panoramas was not unwelcome, especially considering the limited options for travel and exploration during a global pandemic. The music and resulting dynamics in Medieval Dynasty made me feel relaxed, happy, and interested in exploring more of the beautiful game-space.
Since it is currently in early access, I am hopeful that Medieval Dynasty will add to its existing repertoire of soothing exploration music in its final iteration.