New Horror Game Asks the Boring Question “What if Mickey Mouse Was Scary?”
The Disney mascot can now haunt your dreams.
The first day of the new year marks Public Domain Day. During this annual occurrence, numerous works enter into the United States public domain and are free to use by anyone with no fear of any copyright claims being levied against them. In 2024, the most noteworthy addition to the public domain is the Disney animated short, Steamboat Willie. The short is considered the first appearance of Mickey Mouse. Within hours of the new year, one video game has already taken my advice and announced a new non-Disney Steamboat Willie game.
Developer Nightmare Forge Games announced its new game Infestation 88 on January 1, 2024 with a trailer that includes a horrific twist on Mickey Mouse. Infestation 88 is described as an episodic co-operative survival horror game for one to four players. Gamers must investigate mysterious infestations in the year 1988 that stem from these scary twists on classic characters. Nightmare Forge also announced that the game is currently scheduled to enter Early Access on Steam in 2024.
In an email to Inverse, Nightmare Forge said, “The 1928 Steamboat Willie animation short entering the public domain has allowed us to include our own derivation of the film's starring character in our game, which fits perfectly as an antagonist causing an infestation. However, rather than focusing on any one particular antagonist, the game will include multiple twisted versions of classic characters and urban legends.”
Some on social media have already called out the game’s title for using the numbers ‘88,’ which were noted on the Anti-Defamation League’s database as an antisemitic dog whistle. In response to these concerns, Nightmare Forge Games gave this statement to Inverse:
Unfortunately, when announcing the game, we were unaware of the additional implications associated with the number 88. Our game is set in the 1980s, with the year 1988 being chosen simply for its symmetrical design in our game's artwork. Therefore, the 88 strictly represents the year 1988; no additional connotations are intended. We are in the process of revising the game’s name, which we’ll be posting about from our Twitter once finalized.
When directly asked if the team were neo-Nazis, Nightmare Forge responded with the claim “No, we are not.”
On the studio’s website, Nightmare Forge describes itself as “a team of industry veterans who have specialized in creating horror games since 2010.” However, the studio does not disclose any staff attached to the project or any past titles the team has worked on. When asked about this, Nightmare Forge told Inverse, “Due to the large amount of attention and initial public reception, we're choosing not to disclose our identities at this time for the sake of maintaining privacy.”
It is unsurprising that a video game was ready to announce its use of the now public domain Steamboat Willie as soon as the new year began. But the specific use of Mickey leaves something to be desired. While Nightmare Forge insists that Infestation 88 will not focus on Mickey as the singular antagonist the use of “Mickey Mouse but scary” in the game’s first trailer makes me wonder if there will be much substance beyond the shock-value premise.
‘Beloved children’s character but scary’ isn’t very compelling. In 2022, Winnie the Pooh entered public domain, and in 2023, the horror movie Winnie the Pooh: Blood and Honey released. Here is the film’s description on IMDB: “After Christopher Robin abandons them for college, Pooh and Piglet embark on a bloody rampage as they search for a new source of food.”
Winnie the Pooh: Blood and Honey currently has a three percent Tomatometer score and a 50 percent audience score on Rotten Tomatoes.
There isn’t depth behind a premise that doesn’t go past a singular sentence pitch. This isn’t to say people shouldn’t make use of Steamboat Willie’s status as public domain. There is potential for interesting twists on the familiar short and its star. 2023’s Lies of P showed that you can get weird with how you use familiar characters, you just have to do it well.
‘Mickey Mouse but scary’ feels like a first draft, still a work-in-progress.
Update: 1/02/2024 2:44 PM ET: Developer Nightmare Forge Games has announced on Twitter that the game’s name will be changed to Infestation: Origins. Here is the full statement:
Our game "Infestation 88" is set in the 1980s, with the year 1988 chosen simply due to its symmetrical design in the game's artwork/logo. Unfortunately, we were unaware of any additional meaning the number '88' has. However, after learning about this, we're changing the game's name to "Infestation: Origins" We apologize for our ignorance on this and appreciate that this was brought to our attention so we could address it ASAP!
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