Darkness holds one of the primal fears of mankind. But why are we afraid of it? We are afraid, because something might be lurking in the utter blackness and when it is trying to harm us we will not see it coming. Since it easier for us to deal with the tangible than with the abstract, we tend to antropomorphise our feelings. And this leads to the birth of the bogeyman, our manifested anxieties. Especially children with their more vivid imagination combined with all their insecurities – born out of inexperience – are prone to conjuring them up. And since your fear can be turned against you, parents use it to make their children behave – as cruel as this might be. Yes fear is a powerful tool: Whomever you are afraid of has control over you. And this is one of the main themes of Bogeyman.
In this choose-your-own-adventure style of game you, that is a nameless child, got caught by one of the eponymous creatures. Now you have to survive a very dark fairy tale, one of the more morbid stories which would make an excellent bedtime story… if you want your children to be ‚good‘. Together with a couple of fellow captives you have to do everything your are told by your oppressor, or you can try to defy him and see what comes of it. What is really interesting about this scenario is, how relatable it is: Anyone has either some knowledge about fairy tales, had their own special fears about bogeymen or has been oppressed one way or another.
Another remarkable thing about the story is the writing. It is excellent at conveying a properly oppressed and dark mood for this kind of setting. With just a couple of cleverly chosen words per section it is always clear what is going on, yet there are more than enough blanks to fill with your own imagination, some bits of darkness so to speak which, like mentioned above, the reader tends to fill with more horrid visions than the author could ever have come up with. Just think of the better fairy tales, those that do not tell you whatever became of each and every person and do not tell you were everything is coming from. Those which take strange behaviour for granted, without the necessity to explain themselves. This conjures up just the right atmosphere for telling such a very dark and weird fairy tale like this one.
What make the experience of going through this game even more compelling are the very lively characters. The main character, the bogeyman, in particular is a great example of how to give a character personality. He is a nightmare come true, all the bad things about your parents (like knowing all your darkest secrets, being almighty and always breaking their own rules) combined with childlike violence topped off with a very dark sense of humour. A creature that revels in being itself, that knows what it wants and how to get it. And this gives him all the more power. The children around him might seem a bit pale in comparison, but for one thing this suits their fatigue just fine and for another they are still strong enough characters which you can easily tell them apart. This is not a given considering how many of them there are.
Technically speaking the author hit just the right spot between reading and making choices. There are thankfully no extra links to non necessary extra descriptions too, which keeps things focused. As for the choices: There are quite a lot of them and most of them give you a chance to reflect on how you feel about the things that happen to you. A good way to live up to one the good old ‚show and do not tell‘ rule. Yet it is a bit of a letdown, that most of them have almost no consequence. After three playthroughs (one of them following all of the bogeyman‘s orders, one of them defying him whenever possible and one of them testing all the missed choices) it was obvious that in the end it only boils down to one final choice totally independent of all the others. Still: The first time around the illusion works so well that it is still a memorable experience.
Since this is a fairy tale it is only natural to also think about what could be the moral of it all. But a warning first: Spoilers ahead, so if you want to have the most fun with the game give it a try and return here! Roughly speaking you could say that one of the main themes is whether you are willing to accept a forced change or not. Do you stay true to your old believes or are you willing to give in when faced with unfair odds against you? The final sacrifice is of course the classic dilemma whether you would rather live knowing you betrayed someone or whether you would rather die and give someone else a chance to go free. Yet the question everything boils down to is: Do you rather follow authority or your conscience? And I think one of the best things about Bogeyman is that it does not judge your final decision. An easy and patronising answer would have ruined the whole thing and in the end it is a lot more interesting to let the players decide and make up their own minds.