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Social media is hell.
I say this not as a curmudgeonly old man, but as a mid-twenty something who a big portion of their income to afford actual food and rent comes from working in social media. It’s extremely weird that if I did not schedule a batch of tweets and Facebook posts every two weeks, my dog would not have anything to eat. This is to say that I very much understand how mentally and emotionally exhausting obsessing over social media can be. Many of my internet friends refer to Twitter Dot Com as “the hell website,” and while I’d like to think I’m not that cynical, I have had actual nightmares about botched media campaigns. So, why not go the extra step and just make the digital platforms we spend hours of our days on the backdrop for a supernatural horror adventure?
Simulacra 2 is a found-phone adventure game, in the same vein of A Normal Lost Phone or Another Lost Phone, with a horror twist that has you investigating the inexplicable death of a rising fitness influencer. This type of game is one I’m no stranger to, as I have discussed both games in the Lost Phone series for our site previously, but I was shocked to not have ever known about Simulacra as a connoisseur of this genre and of all things horror. When we do take that step outside of games, obviously the concept of a haunted internet or haunted media is not entirely new. If you wanted to go way back you would find David Cronenberg’s Videodrome, but the immediate modern touchstone that comes to mind, at least for me, is Blumhouse’s Unfriended series of films.
With this in mind, the question I had approaching Simulacra 2 was, “How does interactivity change this type of story?” Simulacra 2 even uses full motion video cutscenes with real actors, so I don’t think it’s too much of a leap for me to compare it to a film like Unfriended: Dark Web in terms of aesthetics, style, and how they’re both about haunted computers.
Having finished Simulacra 2 and received one of its bad endings, I can now say that what it succeeds the most in by creating an interactive copy of Instagram and Twitter is eerily replicating that same mental and emotional exhaustion that comes from being on those platforms for so long. Simulacra 2 knows how cynical you feel about the glamorous lives of the sponsored and partnered individuals that reign supreme online. It knows the archetypes and language.
Digging around the game’s fake social media apps for possible leads and clues for too long had me feeling the exact same mental pain I would get from consuming an uninterrupted hour’s worth of the most bloated and phony content you might find on Instagram. I found sifting through emails in the game much more easier since the professional tone of voice that comes from an email is much more sincere than an inspirational tweet.
As you progress, Simulacra 2 uses your cynicism against you. You collect clues and have conversations with the various influencers close to the victim in order to solve the mystery, you have the ability to make choices. Many of the responses you can make are loaded with that negativity. While I have not seen all of the endings in the game, it sure does appear that many of the paths to failure end in their destination because that same cynicism clouded your judgement. It’s when you dig around deeper and consider the usernames on your screen as actual people with insecurities, who may have made some mistakes, that the game’s true ending reveals itself.
As a horror game many of the game’s scares didn’t really work for me. The visual effects it uses to throw the player off are very well done and the full motion video cutscenes are shot well, but I found all of this more interesting to see than frightening. I also think that in this context, being the person with the phone in which the action is happening to, was less frightening than seeing the events occur as a spectator who is helpless to do anything. Perhaps this speaks more to my level of immersion with the game.
It was genuinely bizarre not wanting to play Simulacra 2, not because of its quality, but because of how much it reminded me of the worst parts of my job and even leisure time. Which upon reflection, probably means I should at least try to cut down my time on Twitter.
Since we did touch on film, I would highly recommend the 2018 film Searching if you’re a fan of this type of adventure game. It’s not scary in the traditional sense, has heart, and has John Cho! Who doesn’t love that guy?
This game was played on a Google Pixel 3a with a code provided by a PR representative of the game.