What’s cool about thecatamites’ games is they are Lynchian in the sense that they confuse the surreal and the absurd and the mundane. In Lake of Roaches, your friend wakes you up and takes you downstairs. You’re on a fishing trip, and it’s time to fish. There are a ton of old people sitting in the hotel lobby, and none of them have eyes. “Hotel lobbies are outside all human time,” chimes your friend. You go outside, and the world sounds like static scraping against more static. Less audible is a constant, tiny roar that would sound like lapping water if it didn’t have this digital edge to it that makes it sound like insects crunching on something. The (roach) lake itself looks like static and has a tide that looks real, but sped up, waxing and waning way too fast. The landscape clutching the lake is bare, and NPCs shamble around oblivious, like things almost dead.
I bring up David Lynch because he is an auteur who really takes advantage of the fact that viewers must surrender to the screen in order to experience a film. This is why Lynch’s films are never boring, but it’s also why you have to psyche yourself up before watching one of them. Lake of Roaches exploits a similar sense of confinement. This is a fishing trip. The characters are supposed to be on vacation. Presumably, these two men have taken a trip in order to escape, yet the destination for their escapism feels oppressive. The camera glares down at our heroes Bill and Bob (one squat, one gangly, both with noses made of black boxes) from a sort-of-fixed Resident Evil-esque perch. Our heroes march and about-face in creepy unison, as the camera swerves nauseously. You can only move backwards or forwards because the left and right arrow keys are for turning. You feel confined because you have to grapple with the game for control of perspective. This sense of confinement is exacerbated by the layout of the world—narrow corridors, the camera jumps whenever you turn a corner. The game ends abruptly when you are dropped into a space from which there is no escape.
Thecatamites’ games are also Lynchian in a way that only games can be. Besides exploiting a tension between surrender and agency, what these games consider mundane are the things that are mundane about videogames—press X to receive some canned dialogue, try to get the camera to look in the direction you want, try to figure out which part of the world you can interact with. Consider the treatment of the justice system in Murder Dog IV: The Trial of the Murder Dog. A court room is a real-life mundane thing, mundane not because it has no significant consequences, but because of how slow, stupid, bureaucratic, inefficient the experience of a court room typically is, and pretty much everyone sitting in a court room already knows and expects it to be this way. Similarly, in videogames, it is normal to murder everyone in any given environment. In games, murder can be mundane. Thus Murder Dog, a character who murders everyone, is the perfect videogame soulmate for this mundane real world space.
For me, the most clear connection between Lynch and thecatamites is in the absurd formal treatment of the mundane, or the converse of that, the mundane formal treatment of the absurd. A Lynchian example of the former is the scene in Mulholland Drive in which the camera lingers on the elderly couple after Betty (Naomi Watts) is dropped off at the airport. This scene is so creepy! The elderly couple is in the back of a car, and both of them are smiling, which is a normal, human thing to do—usually not scary. But the camera remains focused on them for an extra few seconds, and the old folks just keep smiling, and the scene becomes terrifying. As this basic human action is drawn out, exaggerated, dragged on for too long, it ceases to be recognizably human. As a viewer, I start to wonder why I am being assaulted by this inexplicable mirth, and wonder begets anxiety begets fear.
Lake of Roaches sort of does the opposite; it takes something that is digitally mundane (i.e. static) and gives it a very specific, absurd, definition (i.e. lake of roaches). Then, the game uses language to suggest that fishing from a lake of roaches is the most normal thing in the world. In Kafka’s Metamorphosis, what is revealed to be most absurd is not the thing that is most apparently ridiculous—that a man has turned into a bug—but how the characters choose to respond to the situation. David Lynch uses the mundane/absurd technique to expose the viewer to his best guess at what Pure Evil looks like. Thecatamites uses the technique to talk about the frustrating, the bureaucratic, the everyday, the things some people take fishing trips to get away from.