Monday, August 8, 2016


While not used much these days,  a common catch phrase used by children of the 20th century was "Olly-Olly Oxenfree!"  Basically it's a call for all kinds of kid's games including Hide-and-Seek, Kick-the-Can, and Capture-the-Flag.  It makes sense that the indie adventure game Oxenfree uses part of this phrase for a title considering the kind of tasks the player has to perform over their short, but memorable trip to an overnight party on an abandoned island.  Having played through the game four times though, I feel like the formula that Oxenfree uses could be applied to a variety of other setting as well.  Teenagers confronting a supernatural horror that weaves the narrative into the personal lives of each character and their relationships to each other isn't exactly an original concept.  However, it's done so well here that it kind of reminds me the novel "Ordinary People," by Judith Guest (except with a supernatural element).  In this case it's ghosts, but what if it were a different kind of horror in a different place?  The one possibility that stands out to me the most is Miskatonic U.

If you're not familiar with the school, it's a fictional ivy league university north of Boston in Essex count, Massachusetts.  Created by horror novelist H.P. Lovecraft, it outwardly looks like a pretty typical college with all the usual academic departments including Medicine, Psychology, Biology, Zoology, Chemistry, Mathematics, Physics, Engineering, Geology, Archaeology and History.  However, there are a few major oddities as well.  According to the short story "The Dunwich Horror," the only full intact English translation of the Necronomicon is kept in the school library, along with other occult books.  Another short story, "Pickman's Model," suggests that ghouls (humans degenerated into monsters through the practice of eating dead people) live in tunnels somewhere beneath the campus grounds.  Derivative works by authors other than H.P. Lovecraft have attempted to expand on the lore of Miskatonic University resulting in conflicting information.  For example the school motto might be "Ex Ignorantia Ad Sapientiam" (From Ignorance into Wisdom), or maybe "Ex Luce Ad Tenebras" (A Small Sacrifice for Knowledge).  The school mascot might be a badger or it might be an octopus.  Personally, I prefer the latter simply because it allows the school sport stadium to be referred to as "The Home of the Fighting Cephalopods," complete with the team chant, "Go 'Pods!"  Anyway...getting back to my idea.

Oxenfree is about a bunch of high school seniors, so it isn't much of a jump to bump it up a year to college freshmen.  Instead of ghosts the supernatural horror can come in the form of the Cthulhu Mythos.  What exactly that entails depends on the angel the story is going to take.  The table-top RPG company Chaosium published a scenario involving a Miskatonic U chemistry student re-discovering Herbert West's Reanimator Formula, but there's a bunch of other possibilities ranging from not-so-safe artifacts brought back from the ill-fated Dyer Antarctic expedition to one of the college professors being an avatar of Nyarlotep.  Perhaps the exact nature of the eldritch horror could depend on decisions made during the course of the game?

One last thing I should mention is the time period.  All of H.P. Lovecraft's stories are set in the 1920s and 30s, but that was the modern era for him so there's no reason the game could't take place in the 21st century.  Sure some of the characters mentioned in the original stories might be reduced to notes in a journal or a commemorative bust, but on the plus side the dialogue wouldn't have to sound authentic to the interwar period.  After all, one of the big appeals of Oxenfree is how the characters remind us of people we used to know in our teens, so why not keep the best of the new...and the old...?

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