Con-man, pacifist, business woman, Nazi, scientist. Five improbable entities stuck together in a pit of darkness. A prolonged nightmare of 109 years conducted by a sadistic self-aware supercomputer with unlimited power. This is Harlan Ellison’s I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream.
Although on the surface IHNMAIMS is a straightforward story about five people trapped in an endless underground complex after a nuclear war, it has transcended into a franchise. The human characters from the short story were greatly expanded upon in the 1995 video game while the supercomputer, AM, gained some depth in a 2001 radio drama. A comic adaptation exists as well. This has become one of my favorite post-apocalyptic stories due to the development of the characters and the themes at play.
In this series, we’ll break down each of the humans: exposing their fatal flaws and identifying what led them to redemption (and further punishment).
Gorrister. The first character introduced in both the text and the video game. Originally, he was a conscientious objector, a peace marcher. In the game, he was an electrician and truck driver before the machine captured him. The only similarity between the two versions of this character is the spoken wish for death.
Like Benny, Gorrister was made into a parody of his former self. AM transformed an anti-war organizer into a man of indifference. Gorrister no longer cares enough to take action against AM (even if it was possible); all he can do is hope the machine will finally kill him. What’s interesting is that AM didn’t necessarily need to physically alter Gorrister’s mind; it’s possible that the torture and hopeless atmosphere of the machine’s complex was enough to reduce this character into an apathetic shell. Additionally, there’s an excellent irony to be found in this character. Staying out of the war is what led to his eternal torment. Had he been on the front lines of the war, he likely would have been nuked along with everyone else.
AM’s alterations of Gorrister are easily identifiable in the original text. Reduced to a shoulder shrugger, Gorrister sided with Ted in the belief that there was no point in journeying to the ice caverns. Further, even when practically immortal and on the brink of starvation, Gorrister could not be bothered to fight AM’s giant mutant bird. Perhaps he knew that AM would never let him have the flesh or perhaps he knew that fighting the beast was simply not worth it; either way it goes to show that Gorrister’s state of mind has been worn down to complete indifference.
There is however one exception to Gorrister’s alterations that has always stuck out to me. When Benny is attempting to climb to the surface, Gorrister slaps Ellen to the ground for displaying her concern for Benny. I found it to be particularly interesting that the so-called shoulder shrugger, the so-called objector was so annoyed by Ellen’s concern that he attacked her. In the comic adaptation, he even goes so far as to kick Ellen in the stomach while she’s already down.
Gorrister’s psychodrama is by far my favorite scenario in the video game. Whereas the other psychodramas rely on riddles and interesting gameplay mechanics, Gorrister’s story is almost entirely metaphorical from beginning to end. From its odd humor to it’s almost steampunk-noire atmosphere this is (in my opinion) one of the best adventure game levels ever made.
Starting the level, Gorrister cannot determine where he is or what he’s riding due to extreme cloud coverage. This is a clear metaphor for Gorrister’s understanding of the situation; as he uncovers the mystery of the dining room, the airship sinks below the clouds, making everything clear. Further, Gorrister’s heart is literally ripped out of his chest by order of his mother-in-law, a clear allusion to Edna’s effect on the trucker’s marriage. This is just scratching the surface of the excellent metaphorical storytelling present in Gorrister’s psychodrama. Like Nimdok, the events relate to the character’s past, but in Gorrister’s story, they are told in a manner that relates to the situation at hand and gives you a tingly “ah-ha” moment when you realize the connection.
From a gameplay perspective, Gorrister’s story has far more choices (and dead ends) than the others. One wrong step can trap the player in an unwinnable situation, especially when dealing with Edna. However, in many ways this only adds to the charm and replayability of a simple roadside honkey-tonk in the middle of the desert.
Although he began as an apathetic husk in the original story, Dreamer’s Guild really knocked it out of the park with Gorrister’s psychodrama. Like Nimdok, Gorrister was greatly expanded upon, allowing him to shift into a three dimensional character. The character’s quest to find death unexpectedly becomes a strongly metaphorical journey of self-discovery and inner peace.