Why Phantasmagoria is awesome (and why it could never be released today)

Roberta Williams is a sweet looking woman who created some of the most memorable and influential PC games of the mid ‘80s: most importantly, the beloved King’s Quest series. Those classic adventure games were some of my favorite growing up and will forever hold a place in my lovely childhood memories (along with me running through a tulip-covered field with a litter of puppies).

But then the ‘90s rolled around and something – um – happened to poor, family-friendly Ms. Williams. Instead of creating a new iteration in her King’s Quest series, the talented designer decided to try something new and ended up creating one of the most gory, ridiculous, awesomely violent games ever made: Phantasmagoria.

But the strange thing is: this game could never have been released today. Sure, there was some mild controversy surrounding the game back then, but that didn’t stop it from easily hitting store shelves and was nothing even close to the huge firestorms it would experience here in the present.

So what is so “hardcore” about this ominously-titled game? And why are we here at Destructoid so obsessed? Hit the jump to find out (warning: videos are NSFW).

If you have ever played Phantasmagoria for the PC you must already know what I am talking about. The game is incredibly graphic, to say the least. But it isn’t just the obvious gore that makes this game so wrong (and nabs it the dubious title of the Showgirls of the videogame world; trust me, that is not a bad thing).

For the people who haven’t experienced this sick gem, here are the basics: Phantasmagoria is a point-and-click adventure that uses real actors interacting in computer-generated environments. Like most adventure games, you must solve almost nonsensical puzzles using a variety of items that you collect over the course of your journey.

The game tells the story of author Adrienne Delaney and her husband Donald Gordon. The two buy an enormous mansion in the middle of nowhere that was once owned by a mysterious old magician, Zoltan Carno. You see, Adrienne feels the old house will help inspire her to write a string of hopefully successful novels.

As Adrienne explores the huge mansion, she starts to see flashbacks of the now deceased magician and his many wives. It is during these flashbacks that the game goes from creepy survival horror to offensively over-the-top snuff film.

Now, there have been many videogame deaths over the years that may be even more hardcore than those in Phantasmagoria. I am not going to argue that. But when you combine the use of real actors with the shameless battering of women, well, the result is unlike anything you have even seen in a game before. This graphic violence towards innocent women is the main reason the game would never be released today.

Before I show you some clips, let it be known: I am not saying that any of this game should have been or should be censored. In fact, the overdramatic acting and jaw-dropping death scenes are the reasons I love the game as much as I do. I am just stating the obvious fact that this particular type of violence would most likely not be tolerated today.

With that being said, be prepared for some of the most ridiculously awesome cutscenes you will ever see in a game. Call them my Halloween treats to you …

First up we have poor Hortencia. She loved gardening and did nothing wrong her whole life. Well, except for marrying the horrible beast that is Carno. Seriously, take a look at this sequence. The woman does nothing wrong.

Now we have innocent Victoria. Again, she is just minding her own business when her “loving” husband randomly decides to walk up and brutally murder her. What a wonderful message!

While less graphic as the others, this next death is just as violent and offensive towards the game’s helpless female victims as all the others. I guess marrying that guy was a huge mistake, huh Leonora?

It’s time for the most offensive and controversial of the bunch. Actually, I am not even going to say anything about this one. Just watch:

Those poor women. What did they do to deserve all that horrible treatment (answer: NOTHING!)? But at least nothing gruesome happens to the cute protagonist, right? Um … well … watch the two clips below (the second one is a doozy):

And, oh yeah, did I mention that there is also a full on rape in the game as well (I will spare you the video for that one)? Needless to say, Phantasmagoria is one of the more incredibly violent and adult games ever released. Does that make it bad? Not at all. But do you really think a game like this could make it past the Jack Thompsons and extreme Conservatives of today? Probably not.

What do you think? Does this game seem tame by today’s standards, or, like me, is there something about the extreme violence towards women that just feels wrong?

Chad Concelmo