The Well is the latest microscopic horror game from Yames, the dev behind other unnerving fare like Water Womb World and Discover My Body. It takes about 20-30 minutes to see through to the end (maybe a little longer if you, like me, struggle with getting the game to run full screen). Yames releases these small games periodically, first to their Patreon subs and then for a small fee on itch.io sometime later. They’re secret until they’re not, and I still don’t quite remember how I stumbled upon them.
From December 27, 1929 to January 4, 1930, famed weird fiction author and noted bigot H.P. Lovecraft published a series of 36 sonnets known collectively as Fungi from Yuggoth. Yames’ game The Well is based on the 14-line poem of the same name, expanding the original’s tale of obsession into an interactive experience that’s played with a single button. Both are as grisly and beautiful as one might expect, but the game nestled somewhere so deep and dark in my mind that I’ve yet to divine how to flush it out.
Over the course of The Well’s half-hour or so, you’ll use the Z key to lower a rope into a hole in the ground, pull it back out, examine what you find, pet a friendly cat, and advance through the game’s disturbing plot. The story deals with a farmer by the name of Seth Atwood, who, just as in Lovecraft’s poem, went mad digging a well on his property. His nephew, who was helping on the project, eventually killed him and carved “godless signs” in his naked body.
Since then, the well has been bricked up, and it’s up to you and your unnamed companion (he owns the cat, by the way) to see where it leads. What you find is a confusing collection of tokens, each one more disconcerting than the last: a totem that twitches and transforms in your hand; something fleshy and pulsating “like a woman’s belly fulla slugs”; and eventually, the dead body of the cat who’s graciously accepted your affection as you worked, easily identified by the pentagram medallion it wears.
Suddenly, you are somewhere else, perhaps at the bottom of the hole itself. It’s your job to aid in something’s birth. You pull on what appears to be an umbilical cord until the creature is free. “She’s beautiful,” are the last words you hear before the credits roll.
The act of creating something—whether it’s jotting down a poem, digging a well, giving birth, or focusing every fiber of your being on guiding an eldritch abomination through the fabric of reality, from its ethereal world of eternal torment to our much briefer one—can be painful. To tell you the truth, just getting through that previous sentence, making sure to imbue it with a sense of flow and purpose, was enough to briefly exhaust me.
I say “can be” because there are some among us for whom creation, at least to outside observers, looks as instinctive as breathing. You know the type, the brilliant, natural artists who can plink out a gorgeous original melody minutes after sitting down at a piano, or doodle a hilariously realistic caricature of the loud couple at the next table over with just a broken crayon and a napkin. I’m not one of those people. Sure, these skills are almost always the product of years of hard work to which I’m not always privy, but I hate and love these people in equal measure all the same. My own lesser flirtations with creation never come quite so easy.
I experienced several nervous episodes of various intensities while writing my recent No More Heroes 3 review, with solutions ranging from “I need to stand up and get a drink of water before I scream” to “I’m going to bed and sleeping for 14 hours.”
Not only was it important to me to “get it right” as a longtime fan of Goichi “Suda51” Suda’s work, but also the fact that professional criticism still doesn’t come naturally to me. When I was done, it felt like every sentence of that 2,056-word review had been viciously ripped straight out of me. And although it was tidied up a bit for Kotaku, it felt like my blood was on those draft pages alongside the comparisons to El Topo and Alejandro Jodorowsky.
Even the most skilled artists are restrained by physical limitations. No work is ever going to match the limitless imagination of the human mind. The realm of possibility doesn’t have to contend with hiding brush strokes or hewing to some academic’s idea of perfect grammar and word usage. Concessions, painful or shrug-worthy, will always be necessary to transform something from thought to reality; no one reaches across that border without losing something in the process, be it a finger or a fingernail.
The Well is ostensibly about a cult and its monstrous deity, yes, but it’s also about the cost of creation. Artists of all stripes and mediums etch their works into their skin for all to see. They give up a piece of themselves to provide the world with something new, even if it fails to live up to the flawless image they hold in their minds’ eye. The artist does the best they can to shape reality into at least a passing resemblance of the beauty in their imaginations even if, in the end, all the they see is a bloody, slimy mess where others perceive a poem, a sculpture, or a painting.