Manuel Aguirre’s The Closed Space: Horror Literature and Western Symbolism (1990) drew critical focus to the importance of enclosed spaces and Gothic literature; caverns, catacombs and labyrinths. For Aguirre ‘the world is defined in horror literature as space and, furthermore, as a closed space’ (Aguirre, 1990: 2). There are few writers whose work better reflects this than H. P. Lovecraft, whose weird tales frequently turn on terrible secrets uncovered in secret, subterranean tunnels. Aguirre’s words, however, seem equally applicable to ‘dungeon crawlers’; a genre of computer game that sees adventurers charting forgotten castles, underground networks, and monster-filled mazes. Often punishingly difficult, these are equally recognisable for their atmosphere and tension as players move from room to room dreading their next encounter. As Aguirre states, ‘behind the many doors and walls of horror fiction lurks an Adversary’ (Aguirre, 1990: 3). The prominences of themes of encroaching darkness, ensuing madness, and the pursuit of unearthly powers across both dungeon crawlers and Lovecraft’s oeuvre demonstrates Lovecraft’s influence over this genre. Despite this, there has been little critical attention paid to the nature of this influence. This chapter seeks to explore this fruitful comparison by examining key Lovecraft stories alongside two contemporary dungeon crawlers that overtly draw on Lovecraft’s writing.
RedHook Games’ Darkest Dungeon draws on a wealth of Lovecraft’s short stories to present an innovatively told, disturbing narrative of ancestral corruption, otherworldly powers and crumbling mansions. Darkest Dungeon allows, even forces, players and their team of heroic avatars to confront this; risking madness, death and other afflictions as they penetrate deeper into the subterranean passages created by their sinister ancestor. What makes the game stand apart is its mechanics that, like Lovecraft’s prose, indoctrinate the player into this narrative of cosmic horror by placing emphasis on the psychological aspects of their mission. Lesser known than Darkest Dungeon is Powerhoof’s multi-genre take on the same themes, Crawl (2017). Crawl is described as the ‘local multiplayer dungeon crawler where your friends control the monsters!’ (Steam Storefront). By analysing these two games alongside Lovecraft’s fiction, this chapter will show how dungeon crawlers draw on Lovecraft, rather than simply adapt his work, to create potent new iterations of his core themes. Together, these two elements become a powerful articulation of some of our most primal fears: dark, unfamiliar surroundings, the underground, and doubting our own senses.
Corstorphine, K., & Crofts, M. (in press). The Crawling Chaos: H. P. Lovecraft, Closed Gothic Spaces and ‘Dungeon Crawler’ Videogames. In A. Alcala Gonzalez, & C. H. Sederholm (Eds.), Lovecraft in the 21st Century: Dead, But Still Dreaming (213-226). New York: Routledge. https://doi.org/10.4324/9780367713065