Like Legs, Uncle tells a horror story from a child’s point of view, building up a gradual sense that things are very wrong that reaches a point of strong suspense. It does not have quite Legs‘s singular focus and linearity, though: this one is lightly puzzly and is structured a bit more like a visual novel, in that there are several endings to unlock, including a master ending. If you play, don’t consider it done until you’ve unlocked the final end. You’ll know when that’s happened, and the endgame screen can even furnish some hints about the endings you haven’t unlocked yet, in order to help you get there. It’s worth a try, and worth not being spoiled about first.
And now I’d like to talk a bit about where the story winds up going, for which
For much of the story, the Uncle is a nameless, faceless, and inexplicable entity, and in most of the endings when he shows up, it’s not really clear how you and he relate. Is he able to speak semi-code to you in your mind because he’s a monster who has that ability with everyone? Because you yourself are not real, are only a simulated child in a simulated house? Or a real child in a simulated house? Several of the middle endings made me think that The Truth was some sort of Matrix/Thirteenth Floor explanation, whereby you’re tucked at least one and possibly several layers deep in VR, and you yourself may or may not be an AI.
In the end we discover that this is in fact a parable about the Recent Internet Horribleness That Must Not Be Named, which has been affecting people (especially women) in the gaming world. In the final ending, we gain the ability to rescue our friend, and others, from being sucked into a Faustian bargain in which games promise them power and financial success and an alpha lifestyle, in exchange for the destruction of all their friends.
This shift from the highly metaphorical to a more literal significance diminished my sense of horror, even though the actual social phenomenon in question is both plenty frightening and far more relevant to my life than nameless monsters that can speak inside your mind with code. Certainly ending with the option of finding or leaving the Gameboy would have been more in line with the classic tropes about horror stories that create the possibility of reawakening the monster.
I think that this was intentional, and that the experience is meant to be horror sliding into something more hopeful instead. But I experienced it more as a diminishing of the story’s emotional potency. I’m not sure I believe that there’s a straightforward “rescue operation” that can change the manifestations of fear and disenfranchisement in our culture, and that made it harder to commit to the hope than it had been to commit to the fear.
All that said — I did find this a memorable, effective piece overall, and I also recommend reading Lutz’s closing notes. If more horror were like this, I would be a much bigger fan of horror than I am.