Catachresis, a fygure, wherby the propretie of a worde is abused: as, Facies simillima lauro [A face most like a laurel tree], where facies oonely belongeth to a man, and not to a tree, although it doth signifye there a similitude or fygure.
-The dictionary of Sir Thomas Elyot, 1538
For a while now I have wanted to write something about Catachresis: A Way Too Scary Game by Cameron Kunzelman, which you can play for free. Kunzelman set the stage by saying he “didn’t want to make a horror game like all the other indie horror games that are out there,” and with some self-deprecation admitted it probably wouldn’t be all that scary because one of his central influences was Ghostbusters.
How I would flip this around is to say that Catachresis is what would happen if Ghostbusters committed fully to a horror framework but remained rather funny, and also got a healthy dose of the Hellboy mythos. So if you need an endorsement to go play it before reading further, there it is — the game should only take you an hour or so, providing you are not Way Too Scared to finish it.
Videogame horror is obviously something I have an interest in, considering my other interests of videogames and horror. Kunzelman lives up to his ambition, I think, of making a different sort of indie horror game.
Most indie horror games work like this: there’s some scary stuff that will chase you/kill you/jump out at you, and you must navigate an environment while this scary stuff happens. Sometimes there are Silent Hill references. Context, if provided, is minimal or incredibly fragmentary, in the hopes of being “dreamlike” and “open to interpretation.” In more story-inclined games there is often a distinct possibility that you — yes you, darling player — might be crazy. Take a moment to adjust to that incredible twist of the narrative screw.
Here is what happens in Catachresis: you walk around, you talk to a demon computer, and some other things, and then the fucking world ends. It ends in a way that I can only describe as sublime — in the Burkean sense, that of huge and terrifying and somehow beautiful.
It is horror, yes, but a more subtle, yet also more cosmic sense than what you normally get in games that deal with the genre, and certainly far more careful than what you usually encounter with the horror trope of the apocalypse.
Apocalypse from the Greek means uncovering. In English it was rendered as Revelation, from the Latin revelare, to “lay bare.” To tear away the veil — to show that which has been hidden.
We live in a time when these words mean the End of the World. We are now inundated with narratives of Apocalypses — biological, ecological, technological, religious, vampiric, zombie, whatever. The issue with this use (abuse?) of the term however — this catachresis — is that it is a slide from the original meaning of the Biblical “Revelation.” John of Patmos had the future laid bare or uncovered or revealed to him — the Apocalypse was not the end of the world itself, but the position of seeing it before its time.
By conflating the revelation with the thing revealed, I think we foreclose on its possibilities — its immensities, for one. At the end of Catachresis nothing is revealed in any sense beyond the basic — you find out the world is ending and then it ends, welp! But furthermore, there is not a call to speculate as in some games, no sense that you need to piece together the mythology that has led up to this point, because the event (it is clear) is so much larger than us. There is no uncovering, but a descent into sublime unknowing.
The second foreclosure: I suspect Kunzelman, because I can’t count on him sharing my interest in Renaissance rhetoric, is reaching for Derrida’s sense of catachresis: “the imposition of a sign upon a meaning which did not yet have its own proper sign in language” — the possibility that that apocalypse-end-of-the-world is really a new beginning of a new type of world, a world that radically decenters us in our ways of knowing and feeling but which may not, as one character suggests in the end, be unlike going home.
The knotted, whorled creature from the forest bends closer to inspect you. "Goodness," it creaks, "this face almost looks like woodgrain."
— a Michael of quality (@WarrenIsDead) September 7, 2013