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Mastaba Snoopy is a Cronenbergian nightmare vision of childhood
01.13.14

Mastaba Snoopy is a Cronenbergian nightmare vision of childhood

For what feels like a fever dream, Mastaba Snoopy’s beginning is incredibly polite. Text appears in small, digestible snippets explaining the scenario: 14,000 years in the future, humanity has perished. All that remains is a single alien organism bent on repopulating reality, its guide a solitary children’s book: a collection of Peanuts comics. The introduction continues as though it were the scrolling prologue to a Star Wars film, laying out the scenario as the player finds it. The book now lost, existence is filtered endlessly through “half-remembered dreams” of the comic. The result is something glorious, something filled with character clones that are mutant tributes to Schulz’s original comics.

This is the world of the enigmatic videogame Mastaba Snoopy, which appeared quietly last year and has beguiled quietly ever since. In it, you play as Woodsnoopy 799. As you progress through the text-based game by clicking on rudimentary branching choices or detail-revealing side notes, they reveal scenes of huts made from catcher’s mitts, a terrifying birthing ground of Linuses (Linusii?), and caves filled with Snoopy heads: mutants sprouting up from the ground like mushrooms. At a certain point, a Snoopy head emerges from the vaginal region of a monstrous Peppermint Patty, supported by a primal Marcy made up of 49 heads and one hand. The walls are coated with an orgasmic scream—“first figuratively and then literally,” while hydra-Marcy echoes a concerning—yet apparently soothing—orchestra of “sirs.”

Obviously, the world of Mastaba Snoopy isn’t exactly pleasant. But it’s a staggering mental spectacle, one whose grotesqueries are only heightened by the game’s form. It’s easy to think of interactive fiction (or IF) as the outsider art of videogames, where through the use of free tools such as Twine (with which Mastaba Snoopy was created) anybody can create a game, a narrative akin to ancient Choose Your Own Adventure novels, or early text-based adventure games. The game’s origins don’t do anything to disprove the “outsider” tag. It exists on an anonymous Dropbox URL and its author is the anonymous gods17, whose only traces are now-dead social media accounts, or comments on blogs where the game popped up about a year ago.

In one such comment, on the blog of the prolific IF author Porpentine, gods17 states that Porpentine’s own game, Batman is Screaming, was his or her prime inspiration. In Batman is Screaming, black and green text bubbles against a purple background, emulating Batman’s Joker. Batman is reduced, mysteriously, to a gelatinous ooze contained within a thin, ant-farm like prison. gods17 ends his or her comment with an appropriate credo: “BODY HORROR FOR LIIIFE MOTHERFUCKEEEEEEEERS.”

The allusion is an appropriate one. Mastaba Snoopy is filled with the stuff of vaguely defined nightmares, that when put under a microscope begin to drip, glisten, and mutate. Its imagery draws from the same well as Batman is Screaming, some deep, dank place filled with images of tentacles, oozing pustules, or spatchcock limbs. At a certain point, after being smashed by a falling zamboni, your character—formerly a mutant mix between Woodstock and Snoopy—is transformed into a zamboni. Shortly afterwards, a crocodilian Snoopy bites you in half. Nearby, a bicycle screams.

The surreal sum isn’t far from the infamous images of the body-horror film genre. In movies such as Tetsuo the Iron Man or Videodrome, the protagonists go on a journey of the mostly corporeal. Metal emerges from the face, loins, and body of Tetsuo’s protagonist; Videodrome’s lead develops a gaping bio-VCR-simulacrum in his stomach. (One half-expects someone to insert a VHS copy of A Charlie Brown Christmas into your deformed torso after playing this game.) But while traditional horror would see the victim continually run from that external torturer (axe murderer or ghost), body horror watches the source of anguish move to the interior. The result is something biological and psychological at the same time: not only must the afflicted deal with the physical pain of their mutation, but they must watch in horror as something develops outwardly from within, changes their flesh and body into something decidedly not theirs. The result is a self and another, contained completely within one body, and as that other—be it metal shards, wires, or tentacles—becomes an antagonist, the self becomes the antagonist. The psychological torment is in figuring out how to stop what is essentially the self without surrendering the self: how to extricate an individual from something unknown, yet familiar; young, yet apparently endless. Long live the new flesh, indeed.

The synthesis of Peanuts and body horror is perhaps not an obvious one to anybody but gods17, but there’s a sort of logic to it. Just as Alien’s chestburster scene is forever ingrained in top-ten lists of greatest scenes and the minds of even those who haven’t even seen the movie, so too is Peanuts and Charlie Brown’s downcast childhood, his inability to ever kick a football. But while body horror is about the exploration of an external or internal presence growing and mutating from the body, at heart, Mastaba Snoopy is about an alien presence growing and mutating from a beloved piece of American cultural innocence. Both are ultimately about the unknown growing from the known, the comfortable becoming uncomfortable.

Imagine the infamous scene in John Carpenter’s The Thing: a disembodied head sprouts spider legs after pulling itself with an outstretched tongue. A grizzled Kurt Russell is only able to respond with a pair of choice words: “Good grief.”

All illustrations were done by Stephen Maurice Graham. You can see more of his work on Tumblr and Facebook.