Choose Your Own Nightmare!
It’s another Saturday night in the infamous pandemic. You have two options:
1. Open your laptop
2. Lay in bed and stare at the ceiling
If you picked #1: Continue reading.
If you picked #2: Start over. Unfortunately, you are not the girl from The Queen’s Gambit, and when you stare at the ceiling it doesn’t make you a chess genius, it just makes you sad 🙁
The familiar glow of your laptop screen shines on your face. You smile; this laptop has really become your best friend. You are faced with another two options.
1. Scroll through Instagram on your laptop and phone at the same time
2. Play Only Footprints, an online Horror Game for Le Festival de Bête Noire
If you picked #1: No judgement, we’ve all been there (at least that’s what I tell myself)… but start over.
If you picked #2: Excellent choice! Turn off the lights and let this choose-your-own-adventure style horror game take you for a thrilling ride full of tricky puzzles and heart-pounding frights.
Only Footprints: A Theatrical Horror Experience Like No Other
Last weekend, instead of gathering in seats in Moyse Hall for a production by the AUTS or Player’s Theatre, we opened our laptops and tested out a mixed medium, choose-your-own-adventure game that sent shivers down our spines. Only Footprints was produced by Cheyenne Cranston as part of La Festival de Bête Noire, a yearly theatrical horror festival in Montreal. We talked to the show’s writer and director, Steven Greenwood, about his inspirations for this unorthodox, albeit entertaining show.
“In my first year [at university], we did an Intro to Twine in English…I wanted to do a Twine project for the longest time,” explained Greenwood. “Twine is the software that you use to make video games. It’s basically like a Choose Your Own Adventure novel, except instead of flipping pages you just click hyperlinks.”
I am always worried I’m spread too thin because I want to do every medium…
Festival de la Bête Noire is no stranger to unconventional performance styles. In past years, actors have brought puppets on stage, incorporated dance into their acts, and have even given birth on stage… all in the name of theatrical horror. Yet, this year posed a unique challenge to the festival, as all fourteen of the shows have moved entirely online due to COVID-19 restrictions.
Greenwood shared how his experience working in the English department of McGill prepared him for this new multimedia format. “In the art world, I am always worried I’m spread too thin because I want to do every medium: TV, film, theatre. Normally, you are expected to devote yourself to just one.” He went on to enthuse about the positive aspects of his stream of English. “Cultural Studies breaks down disciplinary boundaries and asserts the idea pop culture is its own thing and doesn’t need its own boundaries.”
While Only Footprints may most closely resemble an old-school video-game, Greenwood’s roots in the realm of theatre still materialized in the final product. Every time a player dies, they experience a live-action cutscene that shows the mysterious, masked killer slashing them to pieces. Despite most of the show being communicated over text, the director explained how he filmed all of the ending cutscenes live in areas near McGill campus.
“My roommate Lucas, who played the killer, also designed all the costumes… It’s nice living with someone who is a costume designer and also a horror fan.” Greenwood also shared how he tried to transfer the authenticity of live theatre into this foreign format. “It was all just on my iPhone, live audio, I just wanted to get a found-footage sort of feeling…to make it feel like theatre as much as possible.”
Laughing and Screaming: Our Experiences Playing The Game
Zooming from Toronto and Cleveland, we embarked on the adventure of playing through Only Footprints. The first screen presented us with a choice between an ace card of each suit. Immediately, we were drawn to the ace of hearts. It was just Valentine’s/Galentine’s day after all! The ace of hearts transported us to a collection of vivid stories, each revolving around a mysterious death.
After multiple attempts leading to various deaths we began to play the game smarter, jotting down clues as we went and laughing at our own inability to save our lives in the game.
With the stories in mind, we were prompted to match a key and a lock to clues from each story. With the heart beat sound effects inducing an intense focus, we confidently matched a key to a lock. Suddenly, a video of a masked man holding a knife jolted us.
After experiencing our virtual death, we started the game over, unwilling to surrender. After multiple attempts leading to various deaths we began to play the game smarter, jotting down clues as we went and laughing at our own inability to save our lives in the game.
Unfortunately, we never made it to the end of the game without being murdered, but we did have a lot of fun playing. With theatrically written riddles, spooky sound effects, and horror movie-esque video clips, we stayed entertained throughout the experience. It definitely took a team effort for us to move further, but if you are a horror lover, the game is perfect to play in the dark alone at night for ultimate spine-chilling effects.
What Else To Check Out This Spooky Season
While Only Footprints was our sample game of choice, it is just one of the many virtual performances offered during this unorthodox year for La Festival de la Bete Noire. Other highlights from the 2021 season include “Poe in the Snow” by Quagmire Productions, which adapts four short stories by Edgar Allen Poe into a virtual format. Another standout, “Condoleance” by Dark Felina, fuses conventions of theatre, burlesque, and horror to create a dark, seductive story.
Only Footprints and all other offerings from the festival are available to play from now until March 15th, meaning that you can spend the week after Reading Week (a scary time already) browsing some truly petrifying performances. While we played our game together while connected over Zoom, you can also choose to tough it out and try these scary shows out on your own. But be warned! You might want to keep a flashlight on you afterwards.
To learn more about the festival’s programming, check out this link.