Many people are familiar with the late 19th century short story The Yellow Wallpaper (1892) by Charlotte Perkins Gilman. A piece of early feminist and classic American literature, it is a semi-autobiographical captivity narrative about a woman whose “treatment” of her “hysteria” (a non-existent illness commonly assigned to women at the time) leads her to madness. She becomes obsessed with the yellow wallpaper in the room where she is imprisoned, imagining women crawling around in it, and eventually imagining herself to be one of them. As if that wasn’t terrifying enough, Bad Girl Games, a part of MAGIC Spell Studios, has adapted this story into a first person horror game called Charlotte (and it’s not the first videogame adaptation of the story, either).
As you explore the house, selections from The Yellow Wallpaper frame your descent into madness. The people you share the house with pop up and disappear like ghosts, quick to admonish you for any kind of independent thought. But besides the clear retelling of The Yellow Wallpaper, there are also abundant texts and paintings from the 19th century that give context to the story. Through medical texts, etiquette books, erotic paintings, and feminist calls to action, the story is given the meaning that one might understand through research and discussion, but perhaps not with reading the story alone.
Charlotte does not just adapt The Yellow Wallpaper, but adds another dimension: the story of Charlotte A. Perkins (a representation of the original author), the woman who owns the building you are staying in. Her story can only be pieced together through bits of journals and letters scattered throughout the house, and what some of the other inhabitants have to say about her. While everyone you interact with in the game keeps insisting that you must be domestic rather than intellectual for your health, the story of Charlotte serves as both a warning and a ray of hope as to what an independent life could give.