I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream (1995 videogame) [Steam]
The role and story of AM stays pretty much the same compared to the original story, while the game focuses a lot more on the individual stories of the other five characters, and it does so by having AM tailor its torture methods based on their past experiences, personality and fears. This is a unique way to experience the character’s psyche – which translates particularly well to exploratory nature of the point and click graphic adventure genre. Getting to know the characters better also leaves with a few additional questions: why were these specific individuals picked by AM? No such reason is mentioned in the book, so one may assume they were chosen at random. In the game, though, it is stressed how all characters in the story had some kind of flaw or sin they committed in their past which AM is “punishing” them for – with the exception of Ellen, who did not seem to have committed such crimes. Or it could be that they were all indeed picked at random, and it just happens that statistically 4 out of 5 humans are inherently flawed?
While Ted was the main narrator in the original story, in the game it is AM – whose terrific, filled-with-hatred voice was provided by Harlan Ellison himself – who introduces each of the main characters and their game arc:
“Do they know you’re a fraud, Ted? Have you told them there wasn’t any money, and no great home on the shore drive, no speedboat and no wonderful cabin cruiser that could sleep twelve and a crew of six? Do they know? Have you let them in your other secrets, Ted? Are they ready to cut you, to torture half as well as I can, just to find out the secrets? Maybe I’ll rat you out, sweetheart!”
Ted’s story takes place in a medieval castle as he pictures himself as a knight in a shiny armor whose mission is to save Ellen – towards whom he has feelings of jealousy, not unlike his book counterpart. But unlike the book, he is hardly the hero of this story. He is depicted as narcissistic, selfish, a liar and a womanizer, he feels entitled to the love of Ellen, although depending on player’s actions he can redeem himself.
“Do you remember the last words you heard your wife speak before they took her to the asylum? Huh? Before they locked her away in the room? That tiny room? She looked at you so sadly, and like a small animal she said, “I didn’t make too much noise did I, honey?” The room is padded, Gorrister. No windows. No way out. How long has she been in the padded room, Gorrister? Ten years, twenty-five…or all the 109 years that you’ve lived down here in my belly, here, underground?”
Gorrister’s story is filled with dread and depression, and unlike his book counterpart, his life was filled with these already prior to being imprisoned by AM. Gorrister felt responsible for his wife’s insanity and ultimate institutionalization, which led him to have suicidal thoughts. His torture scenario created by AM deeply explores these psychological elements, bringing back a few characters from his past.
“Sometimes I blind you and permit you to wander like an eyeless insect in a world of death. But other times, I wither your arms so you can’t scratch your chewed stump of a nose. And I’ve changed your handsome, strong masculine good looks into the hideous warped countenance of an ape-thing, haven’t I, Benny? Do you know why? Can you guess, Benny? Remember Private First Class Brickman in a rice paddy in China? No…? It wouldn’t hurt you to remember, Benny. Then you might be able to suffer my torment with a little greater sense of retribution. You might walk a mile in my shoes.”
Benny is the character whose backstory most differs from the original novel. Not a brilliant theorist and college professor, in the game, Benny was instead a cold-blooded military commander who is depicted as arrogant, pitiless, and racist. AM turns him into a monkey-like beast, and regularly cripples him, makes him blind, and takes away his ability to speak – although before his torture scenario he restores his mind so that he can “savour the horror of his repast”. His animalistic appetite is a main theme in the game, and in a particularly fucked up scene he even ends up eating a baby. This scene was deleted from the game before release but it’s available on youtube.
“How are things in the pastry corps, Nimdok? Tell me again how you saw the smoke from the furnaces and you thought they might be roasting chickens? Or don’t you want to talk about all that, about your pal, the Good Doktor Mengele? For everyone else, it must be Hell, but it must be Heaven for you, eh, my good friend…we’re so much alike… we enjoy the same pleasures, mein good brother.”
Nimdok was the most enigmatic character in the book, and the game adds a lot of information to his back story. Like in the audiobook, he is given a German accent, although his appearance is tanned possibly due to his Jewish heritage or him having lived in Brazil. And by the way – he used to be a Nazi. Yup. Working as a scientist hand-to-hand with Dr. Josef Mengele (who even appears in the game!), he is responsible for horrific medical experiments and the death of thousands. Needless to say, his story arc is… unsettling, and filled with horrific images from World War II concentration camps.
“So think, think about the yellow box, Ellen! Remember the pain? Remember the many caverns in which you felt the pain? Now, now, don’t start to cry, it’s only pain. Tsk tsk tsk. That’s such a sexist stereotype! Just remember the pain, Ellen, and think about how to end it, Ellen, to survive here in the center of my beating heart, my hungry belly, my tightened bowels. But be careful, dear, look around you…the only woman in the center of the earth… and these filthy creatures with you are men. Just a sweet warning, Ellen, my love.”
As aforementioned, Ellen is the only character who seems to have been picked by AM at random, or at least who seems to have been tortured gratuitously rather than as a form of punishment for something she’s done in the past. Instead, reviving her past is the punishment for Ellen, as she has to face a traumatic event that has led her to become terrified of the colour yellow. AM fully exploits this by having her explore a pyramid filled with everything yellow – constantly triggering her PTSD until the cause of her psychological trauma is revealed to the player in what is arguably the strongest scene in the game.
Unlike the original story, the game provides the characters with some degree of hope, as the Russian and Chinese super computers that had been absorbed by AM secretly try to help by giving one of the characters (chosen by the player) a chance to defeat AM. Depending on player’s choices, seven different endings are possible – with none of them being 100% “good” endings. In most cases, the character chosen meets the same fate that Ted had in the short story, becoming a mouthless monster and quoting the final section of the story including the titular sentence. Unlike the book, though, AM is revealed to have kept alive another 750 humans on the moon, cryogenically frozen, who may or may not be reawakened in the hope of repopulating Earth. It is a much less pessimistic plot turn, which suits the videogame medium – it would be unfair to make the player go through all the quests and puzzles in the game without giving them a chance to impact the story in a positive way.