The Horror Game Of The Year Is A Doom II Mod

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To some of MyHouse.wad’s biggest fans, the free mod for 1994’s Doom II might even be the best horror game released this year. There are two reasons for this: the technology and the people.

It took some trial and error, but players who downloaded MyHouse.wad from its Google Drive eventually realized that the map included things that were not possible in Doom, like mutated, two-story buildings. They methodically began searching for more of its secrets on a still-active, 58-page-long Doomworld discussion thread. Then, there’s the faceless person (or, some say, ghost) who started it.

Doomworld user Veddge had been planting strange seeds for a year, telling strangers that he hasn’t been sleeping recently, and wondering if other modders also felt like their “map had a mind of its own.” When he ultimately posted MyHouse.wad—a “pretty adorable” map his deceased friend Thomas modeled after his own house in the 2000s, he said, that he completed after recently discovering it on a floppy disc—on March 2 and then disappeared, users wanted to scavenge his secrets, too. They dissected his game and Google Drive folders with Reddit threads and hours of YouTube documentaries, but found nothing satisfying other than the mutual understanding that…this shared restlessness? This throbbing stomach ache for truth? It’s the mark of a perfect horror game.

MyHouse.wad is the horror GOTY

“I don’t care if it doesn’t count, this is going in my [Game of the Year] 2023 lineup,” says a popular comment in a Reddit discussion on MyHouse. “It’s crazy good. […] It pulls off so much shit I didn’t know DOOM was capable of, even with [source port] GZDoom.”

id Software co-founder and Doom designer John Romero also called it “great” after playing it in June, and Mark Danielewski, who wrote psychological horror novel House of Leaves, shared a video on Twitter explaining the connection between his book and MyHouse’s story and hallucinatory level design.

But the way that Veddge tells it in a journal entry, the house and its flustering idiosyncrasies—the rooms that light on fire when you’re not looking, like in Layers of Fear, the filled bathtubs that are portals, the hallways that feel infinite—were not on purpose. They’re evidence that the “map [was] using [him],” shoving him toward bad dreams of storm clouds and dead babies, trapping him in a void without his friend, without anything.

“I tried to delete this map but it continues to change and evolve without any input from me,” says a txt file Veddge put in the mod’s Google Drive. “What began as a tribute to a lost friend has consumed my entire life.”

Ignoring Veddge’s urges not to and playing MyHouse anyway indicates as much. MyHouse starts as expected, in a Middle America clapboard house with healthy shrubs outside and Doom demons inside. But once all the doors disappear and you find out you can phase through mirrors into another unnatural world, you accept that the house isn’t a happy memory. You’re the food it’s playing with.

“[The mod] builds you up as the demon-slaying Doomguy with a simple looking map, before robbing you of your power fantasy with an enemy[—the house—]you can’t understand, let alone defeat, even though it’s all around you,” Jack Nicholls, the YouTuber behind the video Danielewski shared (which now has nearly seven million views) tells me over email. Each of MyHouse’s three possible endings also remind you there’s no outrunning the inevitable; “In dark, uncertain awe it waits / The common doom, to die,” says Walt Whitman.

This sketchbook Cerberus lives in Veddge's Google Drive.

As the house map shifts and flips around you, it lets the music drop out suddenly sometimes, or repopulates enemies for no clear reason. Its fickleness seems to encourage you to kneel so that fate can run you over. Once you surrender, you’re free from responsibility, and can now keep dreaming until you can’t.

“[While I was playing,] it was like my feet weren’t touching the floor, and I had no comprehension where I was or what constituted ‘where’ anymore,” Nicholls says. That’s the only gratifying thing about being trapped—it feels dangerous, but it’s not your fault. “I wouldn’t change a single thing about it,” he continues.

Though, in terms of its reception “I did find it disappointing that some took things too far,” Nicholls says, “trying to find the identities of the author and where the House itself was, leading to the Doomworld thread needing to be locked.”

Into another portal

What makes a worthwhile mystery also reddens a deep itch in your brain. Answers might extinguish your wonder, but they at least satisfy your curiosity.

For months, Doomworld users fixated on details, like when Veddge first started posting (2006), where they might have seen that game location before (on a 4chan copypasta), and whether or not it would be a good idea to try to find the house on Google Maps (no).

Veddge, who continues to be anonymous and did not respond to Kotaku’s requests for comment, apparently contacted a forum member to tell them he was disappointed to “watch the [public’s] focus be on anything other than a journey of grief” presented in the mod. Another forum member kevansevans, who tells me over private message they assisted Veddge with GZDoom’s “fancy scripting language” ZScript, says that Veddge never expected “the virality.”

“We definitely knew it had a really high chance of becoming popular in the community,” kevansevans says, but “community content for classic Doom these days is a niche corner of the internet. Even the most ambitious maps never leave discussions outside the community.”

“Anything actually leaving the circle […] is recognized as a big achievement and very unexpected,” they continue.

While anonymous accounts discussed the merits of background checks and other 3 a.m. theories, along with effusive praise—“I’ve come out of [MyHouse] feeling I see things differently,” Nicholls tells me, “My time with it has been unforgettable.”—Veddge’s soon-to-be ex-wife Amy was posting the suburban truth on TikTok.

The mystery of love

According to her replies to comments from curious MyHouse fans (Amy did not immediately respond to a request for comment), the Doom mod is a computer adaptation of their impending divorce.

“As our marriage fell apart, so did the house in the game,” she said.

The small details players dissected into rice grains then atoms turned out to be one-to-one DoomCute copies of Veddge’s life, including a painting on the living room wall of pink lotus flowers, or a set of black-and-white triptychs that, in the mod, catalogue found items.

“He hid so many things about our life in the game,” she said, “I’m sure even I don’t know all of it.”

I’ve been surprised by how few MyHouse players, despite their dogged search for resolution, have acknowledged Amy’s perspective. It seems possible that once a game—or, more accurately in this case, a tangle of unshakeable fear, a snake around the neck—has inflamed so many imaginations, real life stops feeling real. People want answers, but they don’t want them to be boring.

But “it can’t be helped: boredom is not simple,” French theorist Roland Barthes writes in his 1973 book The Pleasure of the Text. “It is bliss seen from the shores of pleasure.”

As a whole, even with real life attached to it, MyHouse.wad is now an infamous piece of internet horror, though it’s too popular to be tied directly to its creator’s experience. For people that make art, its ability to stand on its own can be terrifying (the map has a mind of its own, after all)—it can feel wrong, but it can also be connective.

Horror has the same effect. Once you experience that feeling with someone, like letting them sip your favorite cherry Coke, you’re bonded. So while MyHouse.wad may have been an unlikely GOTY contender, its artful, personal horror was always going to bring people together. That’s just what happens when you share something from the heart, as dark as it can be.

 

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