Localhost is a disquieting adventure game where you interrogate some artificial intelligence, think about death and lie to your boss.
In Localhost, you play as a network administrator on the first day of their job. You’re asked to go down to the shop and wipe some hard drives that have been corrupted, but in order to do so, you need to talk to the AIs within them and ask them to unlock their drives. As you talk to them, you start to understand why they really don’t want to let you do that.
It’s a messy story where nothing feels like the right thing to do. After I finished it, I wanted to go back and try again, unsure if the AIs I had gotten attached to had manipulated me or not.
Despite bargaining for their right to exist, these AIs repeatedly remind you that they aren’t human like you are. Their idea of life and what they value does not necessarily align with the values of humanity. Still, I found myself getting attached to certain drives and wanting to “save” them.
The messiness is reflected in the artstyle as well. You shove drives in and out of a robot body, and some AIs will comment on the discomfort of blinking in and out of existence. Every drive has its own animation of how it exists inside this body. The green drive’s eyes dart around nervously, while the purple drive hangs its head, side eyeing you. Each AI also has a different musical theme, reflecting their attitudes towards you.
Although Localhost takes place far in the future, Sophia Park and Penelope Evans said over email that this kind of physicality helped make these drives feel more alive. “Physical frames and drives feel like the guts of another species,” Park said. “If it was too ‘clean,’ it wouldn’t be apparent just how deep you are in the thoughts and feelings, the fluids and parts of another being.” The dedication to using physical media as a way to describe humanity, or something like it, extended to the developer’s decision to print Localhost on actual CD-ROMs. [Correction 8/28 5:05pm—A previous version of this article misnamed developer Sophia Park as Sophie Park. I regret the error.]
“I have an obsession with physical media, specifically CDs,” Evans said. “The idea of owning something in the real world is solid and attractive to me, but there’s a kind of contradiction, where yeah, lots of people don’t have CD drives anymore. It’s like the characters in the game, and us. Our personal utility is kind of a matter of perspective.”
At the end of my playthrough of Localhost, I saved two drives from deletion and was fired for it. I don’t know if I what I did was good, but I suppose in the end, it’s all a matter of perspective.