A Trip to Pony Island

Daniel Mullins’ participation in a game jam led to the creation of Pony Island, “a suspense puzzle game in disguise. You are in limbo, trapped in a malevolent and malfunctioning arcade machine devised by the devil himself. It is not a game about ponies.” Pony Island is a $5 Steam game which features many obscure gameplay aspects.

 

The theme of the game jam Mullins was participating in was to present an “Entire Game on One Screen. Just like Inkubus, the gameplay is seen through a screen, in this instance, a smudged and ugly CRT monitor. When first starting up, the game tricks the player, making the player believe they are about to start playing a children’s game controlling a soft purple pony. As soon as you select “New Game” the cheerful facade dissipates, replacing it with a depressing, terrifying greyscaled environment full of software glitches.

 

Pony Island creates a creepy and chilling atmosphere by consistently communicating with the character. The player is literally playing a game inside of a game, and the internal game has the agency to break the fourth wall, as the player already detached from the game. The internal game has many broken features, which the player is expected to solve through hacking minigames.

 

Playing Pony Island feels like you are trapped, the game removes player control by taking control of the mouse by replacing your typed words, as seen in the image below. The gameplay further separates you from the fact that you are just playing Pony Island, as it returns you to a desktop computer interface featuring: other games on the desktop, chat interfaces, and help documents. Many of these files are corrupted, leaving you to feel isolated and trapped in this interface, a feeling Mullins promotes throughout this devilish game.

 

Forcing the player to recognize their presence behind a screen detaches the player from the gameplay itself. It reminds the player that the importance is not the endgame, but the in game player’s experience. There is a distinct separation between you, the player of the Steam game Pony Island, and the player inside the game who is facing the CRT monitor.

 

Pony Island’s insane fourth wall breaking even goes as far as to the Steam Client itself. It ties the player in the game to us–the player playing the game. One such instance is where Pony Island overlays a fake Steam chat message on top of the screen as if a friend is messaging you, constantly creating a false fear, where one is constantly asking what is happening to your own personal computer. Pony Island even asks you to uninstall the game when you are done playing as a way to free the characters in the game. The game is constantly is messing with your head just like in Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem where the game blue screens or displays fake enemies on the screen, or like in Metal Gear Solid where Psycho Mantis reads your memory card.

 

Experiences like these in Pony Island are abundant, constantly enabling a fear of paranoia about the state of your current computer. Is Pony Island affecting your computer? Is it downloading malware, even making you question whether you actually have to uninstall the game to beat it–and just how important is beating the game?

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