Some short nostalgic ramble about A Dark Room, a browser game. Now also on Android and iPhone.
I came across the the browser game A Dark Room several years ago, about the same time that I discovered other silly idle games, like Candy Box. They look like the simplest possible games, at first glance. Click click click, and then instead of waiting around watching the numbers go up, you alt-tab away to whatever it was you’re supposed to do. By the time you alt-tab back, there’ll be more numbers in the- oh, hey! That button wasn’t there before.
What should we call it, these expansions to the idle genre? Incremental minimalist RPG? They look like nothing at the beginning, but it gradually opens up more options as the game progress. Even after an hour in and you start getting the hang of the game, it can still throw out some more surprise options.
A Dark Room is probably the best of this sort of game, not just because it deals out its surprises well, but also in the narrative that it builds up. The descriptions are simple; they’re easy to follow as you alt-tab your way around the browser. But they still manage to set a mood, they set up the base for the world to grow out of it. The room is mild. The fire is burning. Builder puts up a hut, out in the forest. says world will gets around. Pieced together, the short clear sentences start to show a coherent world that’s a lot unlike our own. A stranger arrives in the night. A pack of snarling beasts pour out of the trees. The villagers retreat to mourn the dead.
In a way, it’s sort of like how the best horror stories show its ghosts: they slip in some details in the mundane that feels off. Little surprises that prickle at your skin without forcing you to jump off your seat.
A Dark Room isn’t the first game that has pushed me to make a fanfic out of it, but it’s probably the first one where most of the pieces can take perfect form in my head even though they’re blank spaces in the game. The experience is always a bit different from person to person, in quite more ways than the imagination a good book can provoke.