I studied graphic design in college and learned a fair bit of coding on the side. The goal was to be a video game designer, but it turns out I’m not terribly artistic. A few years after college and I DID manage to get into the industry, only as a tester and not a designer. It was still a solid position in the career field I loved, and the dream job of every geek like me. Not to mention it paid fairly well. The office I was at was pretty well furnished for maximum geekery. The testing floor was an ocean of disheveled cubicles, humming with flashing screens, childish taunting and popping energy drinks. The break room was filled with classic gaming cabinets and stockpiled with junk food. The floor above us was development and design, and the floor above that was marketing and execs. The floor below us was the ground floor, composed of a reception office and security; you’d be surprised at how seriously these guys took security. I had been told there was a gym somewhere too but had no idea where. I was about two years into the job when I first heard there was a basement floor-a place the designers referred to as “Purgatory”, and it was the only floor not accessible by elevator.
Not a lot of the testers knew about it and getting any of the developers to share the details was like pulling teeth. They either feigned ignorance or told me it was above my paygrade. One even threatened to get me fired if I kept pushing it. It wasn’t until one late night at the office, after downing about half a bottle of rye with one of the designers (him way more than me), that I finally get someone to spill the proverbial beans. I think it also helped that he was about a week from retiring, so he didn’t really care what happened.
Purgatory was essentially a floor dedicated to defunct title storage and disposal. Only a hand full of designers had ever been down there and are reportedly bound through contract to keep quiet about it. There are apparently hundreds of obscure projects that have been vetoed from production for one reason or another. The ones that the company decide to destroy are disassembled and liquidated, though they are apparently quite picky on what gets scrapped. The execs opt to keep most of the discontinued titles for reasons unknown. Perhaps to revisit them in the future or whatever. It took a bit more begging and a lot more alcohol to convince him to sneak me down there. He luckily knew the night security manager pretty well, who was a big fan of ‘supplemental income’.
10 minutes later and we were on our way down, albeit $250 lighter.
The stairs led into a wide, cavernous warehouse that looked like the floor of a wholesale club. Only, instead of large quantities of stuff for discount prices, it was lined all the way down with steel cages, more than I could count. They were about eight feet tall and as wide as a bookshelf, lined with row upon row of different gaming cartridges and discs. Each cage had an electronic lock that required a different pin-code to open. I had to cough up another $200 to get security to open one, which he did while assertively telling me not to touch anything. I was giggling like a little kid at the excitement of seeing the some of the missing links of the gaming world. The cage he opened was for the TurboGrafx-16, a pure gem from the console revolution. I had one of them growing up and knew every title like the back of my hand, or so I thought. The first few cartridges I perused had white mailing stickers in place of game art, each with a collective series of numbers and letter. A few had mock titles and dates scribbled below the serials: Sci-Fi platformania/shootem-1988 or RACETILLYOUDIE-1986. It wasn’t until the third or fourth row that one cartridge distinctly caught my eye: UrUselessDogBoySqueal-1997. Keep in mind that the TurboGrafx-16 had been well phased out by 1997, which means someone had designed this title purely for their own agenda. The guard was starting to get antsy now, so we locked the cage back up and headed upstairs. The next day, I returned to the office at night and gave the same guard $500 for another peak; I told you my job paid well.
He led me downstairs, and I asked to see the same cage. I stepped through the doors and immediately went back to UrUselessDogBoySqueal-1997. It took about two minutes for him to look away at the static of his radio, and I made my move, swapping the game out with a cartridge from my pocket I had doctored to look just like it. He was none the wiser. We headed back upstairs, and I jumped in my car and tore down the street like a maniac.
I begun live-streaming my recreational gaming sessions about six months prior, gathering a modest 300 followers or so. I blasted out a social media message while driving about a special event stream I would be hosting that night, revealing something no other gamer has seen. This was a terrible idea. Most of my followers were watching as I plugged in the mysterious cartridge and booted it up.
The game started on a black screen with big ballooned letters that said: “Press Start to Begin Purification!”
I pressed the button and the game emitted a noise that resembled a crying child. The game was in first-person perspective and played like those old point and click adventures. It started in an average looking home, with an inventory bar at the bottom of the screen and a numerical score bar at the top left. It was kind of plain in design but rendered in full color and had crisp sound effects. You could interact with the environment by moving your cursor over items or entering a different room. I heard that same child crying sound from the title screen about a minute into me exploring the kitchen, only this time it was softer and sounded muffled, like it came from a different room. One of my followers said they heard it as well.
I began clicking any discernible item I could see in each room I entered, the crying sound popping up every minute or so. I collected a knife, an umbrella, a rope, a bottle, a hammer, a box of matches, and a bottle of salicylic acid. I’m sure there was more items to find, but that sporadic crying sound had piqued my interest. I decided to pinpoint where it was coming from, which eventually led me to the basement door. Clicking on the door queued a grainy cinematic of my characters feet descending each step with a loud thud, all the while the muffled crying sound growing louder and clearer from the darkness at the bottom. When the sequence ended, I was standing in the basement and staring at something or someone that was chained to the wall, huddled and whimpering in the corner. My viewers exploded the comments in horror as we came to collective realization that it was a young boy. When I scrolled my cursor over the child, the word “Squeal” appeared over his head. Some of my followers immediately logged off from my stream, while others prompted me to interact with him. Clicking on the boy only made the crying louder for a moment. I tried to give him the hammer to break the chains but pressing the item against him created the sickening sound of bone crunching, followed by the boy shrieking. I nearly puked when I noticed the score bar increase by 100 points.
This was a simulation for abusing and torturing a child.
I panicked and killed the stream, tearing the cartridge from my game system and hurling it across the room. I debated calling the police but knew they would find out I stole the game, and I didn’t want to lose my job or end up in jail. It is just a game, after all. Maybe it would be best if I just swapped it back out and forgot this whole thing never happened. The next day at work, security was waiting for my in the lobby; someone had sent footage of my live stream to the company. I was forced to hand over the game and lost my job, threatened with a lawsuit for violating company policies and theft. The designer that told me about Purgatory was implicated as well and lost his entire pension. The security guard was also fired and threatened with legal action. That office relocated soon after, as did the entire collection of god-knows what kind of other defunct game titles. I don’t know what would prompt the company to keep something so terrible as UrUselessDogBoySqueal-1997, but they obviously didn’t want anyone knowing about it. What’s worse is that I distinctly remember seeing on the shelf next to that game a cartridge titled Return2Squeal-2019.