The Controller of Cthulhu: H.P. Lovecraft’s Impact on Gaming


Today is August 20, which happens to be the birthday of Howard Phillips Lovecraft, who is inarguably one of the biggest influences on modern horror and weird fiction.  Lovecraft’s take on horror was unique for the time, focusing on a greater sense of cosmic insignificance and impending doom that was stitched together with a contiguous mythology centered on the Great Old Ones.  The Great Old Ones were a pantheon of gods that, according to Lovecraft, predated even mankind itself and would ultimately return to deliver death and destruction upon the human race.  The grandiose scale of the horror and unique bestiary has made a tremendous impact on all forms of media, from the artwork of H.R. Giger to the films of Stuart Gordon.  Games are no different, with the elements of Lovecraft’s writing being given both subtle nods and outright reference in the digital realm.

Shadow of the Comet

One of the earliest games based off of the writings of H.P. Lovecraft, Shadow of the Comet cribbed from stories like The Shadow Over Innsmouth and The Dunwich Horror while introducing its own story elements.  Players are sent to the town of Illsmouth, where they hope to observe Halley’s Comet on its return.  However, Illsmouth has dark secrets bubbling just beneath the surface which are to blame for the madness of the last astronomer who visited the town the last time the comet passed by.  In spite of its age, the simple graphics and MIDI score still hold up surprisingly well when it comes to building up an intense atmosphere.


Prisoner of Ice

Infogrames’ follow up to Shadow of the Comet once again pulls elements from Lovecraft’s writings, particularly At the Mountains of Madness, in its tale of Antarctic horror.  Set in the twilight of World War II, it follows the American Soldier Lieutenant Ryan as he takes on a mission in the Antarctic to rescue a pair of Swedish anthropologists, but has to face a greater plot involving Nazis, strange ruins, and a pair of crates that must remain frozen at all costs…


Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth

When it comes to games based off of the writings of H.P. Lovecraft, Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth is the apogee of adaptations.  The fanservice comes fast and furious, with virtually every aspect of the Cthulhu mythos slithering into the plot, and several scenes in the game ripped straight from the pulpy pages of Lovecraft’s writing.  The harrowing chase scene from The Shadow Over Innsmouth is adapted to complete perfection, with the game’s protagonist running helplessly through the halls of his hotel, doing everything in his power to stay one step ahead of the fish-folk of Innsmouth.  The game also places a strong emphasis on stealth over gunplay, encouraging players to avoid the horrific cultists and creatures that are doing everything in their power to make sure that you don’t understand the full gravity of the situation.  Hell, the game even starts off on an appropriately Lovecraftian note, with your character committing suicide within his cell at the asylum.


Digital Pinball

While most of the Lovecraft-inspired games fall firmly into the adventure category, a company called KAZe ran with the Cthulhu mythos in the strangest direction possible: a pinball game.  Distilling the weird tales of Lovecraft into three thematic tables—Arkham, Cult of the Bloody Tongue, and Dreamlands—is already a peculiar idea, but it’s made even more odd with the involvement of Dream Theater guitarist John Petrucci, who supplied a prog-metal soundtrack to the ball-bouncing gameplay. 


Cthulhu Saves the World

What could possibly be stranger than Cthulhu-themed pinball?  How about s retro-throwback RPG where Cthulhu has to—you guessed it—save the world?  Players step into the reptilian feet of the Greatest of Old Ones, who has been depowered by a wizard.  The narrator explains that Cthulhu can only regain his power through the act of becoming a “true hero,” which the eavesdropping deity determines is his best hope of destroying the world.  The strange humor runs throughout the game, with Cthulhu smashing the fourth wall, teaming up with a groupie, and just generally goofing off with Lovecraft’s mythos to humorous effect.  Who knew “fhtagn” could be an expletive?