‘90s virtual pet horror game Tattletail, released yesterday, is a game specifically about my fear of Furbies. More specifically, it’s about how unoriginal, how generational and how predictable my fear of Furbies is. Tattletail taps the well of millennial capitalist terror that ‘90s Nickelodeon cartoons injected into our bloodstream.
Your character wakes up in a bedroom with colorful quilts and a few glow-in-the-dark ceiling stars. It’s a few days before Christmas. You feel the overwhelming urge to peek at your presents early, downstairs, in the unfinished basement where they’re hidden under a table. You unwrap the present that contains Tattletail, a Furby.
On Christmas of 1998, the year of the must-have Furby, ‘90s kids were thrilled to tear open the plastic packaging and bond with the insipid robo-pet. IRL, Furbies didn’t behave like they did in the Nickelodeon commercials. We wondered what sort of companion were we expecting. In Tattletail, your Christmas companion is the jagged, frightening robot you felt under the Furby’s skin—the one that, maybe one or two times, you knew was alive.
In 1998, if you were easily spooked, carrying the Furby meant carrying another set of eyes. Was it the constant, self-referential jabbering that jerked us out of its “pet” conceit? Did it know it was a toy? In Tattletail, it does. That’s how it manipulates you. In Tattletail, we satisfy its needs with reluctance, feeding it and grooming it and playing with it and listening to it and watching it open and close its eyes with no love, but with a child’s sense of adult duty.
Collecting its accessories from nearby the Christmas tree, Tattletail players feel the darkness of the living room on their back. In that darkness, Tattletail’s eyes glow.
In 1998, when Furby’s eyes suddenly opened at night in our closets, did we ever think for a moment it would leap out from the shelf? Or would it just stare, observing our human sleep movements? Tattletail attacks. But only after it relocates itself around some semblance of a childhood home. I remembered how, in 1998, I sometimes couldn’t remember moving Furby from the living room to my bedroom. How did it get there? Was I dreaming?
What happened when you put two Furbies together? What inside of them was connecting? What made them friends? Didn’t they seem more like a conspiratorial flock of big-eyed, alien bats than inanimate objects? Why does Tattletail know that I thought that? Have I ever said that out loud?
In Tattletail, there are eggs stuffed with used bandages and pencil shavings scattered about. The hallway carpet is the same shade and texture as my parents’ house’s. The flashlight’s charge is low all the time and Tattletails shift places only when the lights are dim. There are jump-scares. A cloying, nonstop “ooooh” leads you to the garage, where more Tattletails have come together to destroy you.
Were moments from this game plucked from some hell plane where ‘90s kids store their collective fears? Is everything terrifying to me a result of commercials you and I saw as a child? How does Tattletail know me?