As a child I was repulsed by people drawing and putting stickers on themselves. Any injury I or another received was a drama of the highest order accompanied by tears, heaving and alarming, unsettling amounts of screaming. I had grown to five-feet five-inches by the time I was time eight years old but couldn’t sit still for a doctor when they gave me a shot because I hated the idea of something penetrating my skin and upsetting the safety of my natural biome in spite of the fact it was supposed to protect me. Cuts were a visceral trauma, any blood outside my body was a mortal threat. Whether consensual or unwilling, any submission of change in the human form was terrifying to me. Later the irreversible damage of a bad haircut as a kid hit me brutally not because I was embarrassed but because the sanctity of my vessel had been breached by an outsider whom I had previously trusted.
At six I attended a summer camp at a nearby gym. The camp counselors set up a fort one afternoon and we told scary stories. I was a natural born liar (storyteller by trade) and began spinning complex horror fantasies so graphic and macabre I was beginning to frighten myself. Later that evening I told my mom about why I couldn’t sleep: that we had told scary stories all day and was now too afraid to be alone with my thoughts. She was furious with the camp for spoiling our evening and frightening her child at such an intense level, she called them in a rage and demanded they explain to me the falsity of things like skinwalkers, phantoms and brujas. They retorted at her, rather tellingly, that it was from my lips that many of these horrific images had been uttered and the teenage counselors were simply sitting there, listening to my imagination and sharing their stories because they felt it was a safe space to do so, that I could handle it because I was an active participant. In their defense, I was huge, I didn’t look like a five year old and I read way too much to sound like one. Retrospectively I wonder if my fear was shock at the manner in which these stories, which had seemed so harmless and entertaining during the day, began taking new shape at night, their threats more intimate, personal; around each corner, underneath my bed, in all my closets: their proximity, which grew ever closer with the recognition that many of these specters had spawned from within.
I became interested in gore when I was still in elementary school. I caught the beginning and end of Kill Bill Vol. 1 on TNT and the frivolity with which it treated the human body was liberating. This temple I held so sacred could be chopped up diced, mutilated and rendered meaningless with some carefully placed slices of the katana. This made me interested in zombie literature, sci-fi novels and dystopian fantasies at a fairly early age, not unusual to become interested in genre for the gore and end up staying for the weighty themes and daring concepts. Some of my favorite films at that age were 28 Days Later and Halloween while I was trying (and failing) to ingest books like 1984 and comics like Watchmen. Not only were there things that I could not understand about these works (I was a child!) there were incalculably vivid feelings that I was helpless to articulate because the themes and implications of these work, while perhaps lost to me in vernacular, were articulated to my young mind perfectly in feeling.
My first instance of existential dread was watching Armageddon as a five year old, the man at the beginning with his pile of dinosaur toys (a thing I related to as a child, I was a materialist from the get, I loved my toys but especially the dinosaurs) staring up at the sky as he helplessly watches an asteroid hurtle towards the earth, the evocation of a past extinction with a present one, man holding an inflatable beast which perished on that same Earth, in that same way, death by hurtling ball of rock and fire from space. The absurd annihilation of the meaning which I had imbued my relationships to people and things with dissipating in an instant. I spent the entire duration of the film talking myself out of its plausibility and thanking God that Ben Affleck and his group of miners were at the ready to blow-up an asteroid. In science, a few years down the road, this sensation overtook me again as I recognized the sheer improbability of oil-drillers destroying a god damned asteroid.
At ten, a friend and his mom took me to see Zombieland, a treat for us youngsters to be allowed in an R-rated film. To her credit, she tried to get us in after the trailers so we wouldn’t be subject to any of the content in trailers of films we were not planning to see, however, we came in with just one left: the 2011 remake of Wes Craven’s classic A Nightmare on Elm Street. I remember the trailer with such acute detail that when I began watching it again for the purposes of this article it was entirely redundant because it’s fashioned such a distinct groove in my brain. The trailer tells you a lot, the whole Freddie origin story, what he does, and why he does it. My dreams were off limits. I spent most of Zombieland, a movie I (at the time), adored, thinking about how I could never sleep ever again. When I couldn’t sleep later that evening my mom said I could no longer go to any rated-R movies because I clearly couldn’t handle it. This was probably true. Advice, at this age, however, is seldom heeded.
When Netflix streaming arrived just a year and a half later I began consuming classics like The Thing and Evil Dead absolutely entranced by the tendril-tangled bloodied beasts and rapidly decaying claymation corpses on screen. By that time, I had begun my own journey as a filmmaker and managed to create some works of my own (mostly zombie pictures and me putting basketballs in my shirt to make it look like I had breasts!) so I had developed an appreciation for special effects, camera movement, tone and cinematic immersion.
So what does this have to do with the biomass? Everything.
Carrion is a game that tasks you with being the biomass. That horrific thing you’ve seen in Society? John Carpenter’s meaty dog-Pangea in The Thing? In this game, that’s you.
I cannot express the sheer degree of empowerment I felt at becoming something I was so utterly repulsed by. As the biomass you slosh around the room with flailing tentacles and gnawing teeth. Human enemies are an ease to dispatch and they are quickly absorbed into this ceaseless, consuming beast. They replenish your health and increase your size allowing for new abilities and more significant monstrous forms. And it’s fun, it is an absolute joy shuffling through vents, taking over enemy soldiers or unlatching my jaws to chomp down on an unsuspecting guard.
The final moments of the game remind you why we are scared of such contrary utilizations of our form, displaying why body horror resonates in such a primal place within ourselves. Fear of death is one thing, however, care for our form, being conscious while undergoing a radical alteration in configuration and content: losing a leg, a laceration is less distant, more certain. When your form is the contradiction to an others norm there is no terror because it’s familiar, by the end of the game the developers have made the biomass a home to the player only to come to the realization that in the process they’ve made alienated you from your origins. The sections where you are forced to play as a human are clunky and encumbered, making you eager to become the biomass. Body horror shows us the mortal and chemical limits of our form; Carrion does so by going far beyond that form in the juxtaposition of our helpless bodies before a tidal wave of urgent, churning flesh. The feeling of empowerment gives way to a recognition of impotence that is equally painful and humbling.
Carrion is a game made to simultaneously quench and provoke many of the anxieties particular to the genre of body horror. By putting us in the driver seat of a nightmare we get to experience the blind tunnel vision of a beast made for murder and consumption ultimately instigating our own doom in the process. A brilliant and audacious experiment in perspective that made me a little more content with the borders of my form and it’s expandability under the pressures of a malignant biologic machine, where other games insist on terror through withdrawing power rather than placing its implications and responsibilities in your hands, Carrion, stands out for it’s willingness to make you the monster.