And why it's a good thing...
It’s no secret that Outlast is a pretty terrifying game. A first-person survival horror title developed and published by Red Barrels for PC and later PS4 and Xbox One, horror fans were left salivating at the prospect of playing as freelance investigative journalist Miles Upsher, who receives an anonymous tip from a source identified only as a whistleblower. The leak tells of inhumane experiments committed at Mount Massive Asylum, a remote psychiatric hospital situated deep in the mountains of Lake County, Colorado and owned by the Murkoff Corporation. Upon entering the asylum, Miles is horrified to discover the mutilated corpses of the staff, including a dying SWAT officer who warns him to get out while he still can.
From there things get decidedly bloody. Two severed fingers and enough trauma to warrant a lifetime’s worth of therapy later, Miles is thoroughly regretting his life choices and dreaming of career prospects that don’t involve hiding in lockers and avoiding naked hulking psychopaths (guess that rules out a career in professional rugby, then). But just as poor Miles was reduced to hiding under beds at many points throughout the game, so too were gamers finding themselves seeking refuge behind their own fingers. In a time where ‘survival horror’ has come to mean Resident Evil-style run and gun affairs, Outlast managed to terrify even seasoned survival horror players by making its main character utterly powerless.
This is especially true in the overlapping prequel DLC Whistleblower, which follows Waylon Park, the anonymous tipster who alerted Miles to Murkoff’s shenanigans and shows the events both before and after the main plotline. Both Miles and Waylon are completely incapable of fighting back against the horror’s inside the asylum, except for scripted sequences allowing them to shove enemies out of the way. Without any traditional weapons, players are expected to navigate the facility’s ransacked environment by vaulting over low obstacles, crawling, and sliding through narrow gaps, all the while hiding from or avoiding enemies…
…and that’s where Eddie Gluskin comes in.
Anyone who’s played Whistleblower likely felt a slight drop in their stomach at the sight of that name. Anyone who hasn’t, well, gather round and let uncle Joe tell you a story. You may not sleep afterwards and the males among you may be walking away from your screen with crossed legs, but it’s a story you probably won’t forget.
Referred to as ‘The Groom’, ‘The Man Downstairs’ and ‘The Thing Below’ by the other inmates, all of whom are utterly terrified of him, Eddie is a misogynist and a sociopathic killer who mutilated women before being committed to the asylum. Sexually abused by his father and uncle as a child and now pushed over the edge by the experiments conducted on him at the asylum, Eddie acts out his misogynist fantasies by capturing and mutilating other men to make them look like women in an attempt to create a “bride” for himself – including genital mutilation.
Eddie spends much of the later stages of the game stalking Waylon through the asylum, determined to make him his bride. With combat not an option, the player’s only choice is to hide and try to sneak away from Eddie, who calmly and leisurely searches for Waylon while singing the barbershop song “I Want a Girl” and trying to coax Waylon out of hiding by telling him how good they’d be together. Every now and then his frustration will get the better of him and he’ll shout misogynistic slurs about Waylon before switching back to a gentler, more charming tone of voice. After injuring his leg jumping down an elevator shaft in an attempt to escape, Waylon limps into a locker and tries to hide, only to be found by Eddie and dragged into another room where he is gassed to “calm him down”. Shortly after this, Eddie strips Waylon of all his clothes, ties him to a table and prepares to cut into him with a buzzsaw, with Waylon’s body placed in a way where his genitals are aimed at the buzzsaw. As he runs a hand over Waylon’s naked legs, Eddie whispers:
Anyone who’s played Whistleblower likely felt a slight drop in their stomach at the sight of that name…
“You have amazing bone structure. Such soft skin. You’re going to be beautiful. A woman…has to suffer some things. It’s not pleasant, I know. But just try to…endure. For my sake. For the sake of our children. It won’t take long. A few snips at the flesh here, and here. Cut away everything…vulgar. A soft place to welcome my seed. To grow our family. The incision will hurt. And the conception. And birthing is never easy. I’ll make the cut fast. Just close your eyes and think of our children.”
Before the blade can reach Waylon, Eddie is distracted by another inmate who bursts in and tried to attack him, giving Waylon a chance to escape. He is quickly pursued again by Eddie, who now shouts misogynistic insults after him and calls him “a whore, just like all the others”.
Eddie eventually meets a grisly end, but the effect he had on this particular gamer still lingered long after his demise. For while Eddie may be one of the most disturbing characters in video game history, he’s also one of the most thought-provokingly brilliant.
Why? Because for the majority of male gamers, Eddie Gluskin is the closest any of us will come to understanding the degradation and horror of being stalked or raped. True, men and boys are raped by other men and even by women. It’s not something we like to think about, but we all know it happens. Yet we also know that women are more frequently overpowered and sexually abused than men, causing many females to be constantly wary of men they don’t know, especially ones that have a leering glint in their eyes.
For the first time in video game history, a male character is forcing his desires and sexual perversions onto another man.
Eddie doesn’t want to kill the player (although he will if you get too close to him while trying to flee). He wants to cut away your genitals and make you into a woman. His woman. And then he wants to commit horrific sexual acts on you. It’s an extremely brave move by developer Red Barrels, and the interactive nature of video games just makes it even more disturbing. Unlike films that have depicted sexual brutality, the fact that you’re controlling Waylon and helping him try to avoid Eddie’s sexual desires makes it feel all the more personal. I’ve been playing survival horror games since I was 12, but the sense of unease, anxiety and disgust I felt while hiding under a desk in a dark room while Eddie calmly searches for me, telling me all the while about how he knows I’m not like the others and will love him for who he is, was unlike anything I’ve ever experienced before. For the first time in video game history, a male character is forcing his desires and sexual perversions onto another man, albeit with the intention of making him into a woman through some truly questionable surgical procedures.
As a former newspaper journalist, I’ve covered dozens of cases sexual abuse against women, from inappropriate workplace behaviour to the sort of violent sexual attacks that devastate lives beyond repair, and each of those women said they had experienced the same feelings. Dread. Anxiety. Powerlessness. Wanting to hide or escape but being unable to do so. The creeping fear of hearing their abuser’s voice. Knowing they would be overpowered in a struggle. No video game could ever truly replicate the horror someone in that position feels but in Eddie Gluskin, Red Barrels have created an antagonist who can give male gamers a glimpse into how it feels to be put through the kind of ordeal faced by thousands of men and women on a daily basis. It may not be pretty and it sure as hell isn’t pleasant but it’s extreme enough to make you think. And in a society still dealing with misogyny and rape culture, that’s by no means a bad thing.