Three Games You Should Check Out If You Love Severance
Clock in for some overtime, and praise Kier!
If you’re anything like me, you will have recently devoured the Apple TV+ show Severance. Directed by Ben Stiller and starring Parks and Recreation’s Adam Scott in a stellar performance, this dystopian series follows Mark, a man whose memories have been surgically divided between home and work. It’s an incredible viewing experience, full of mysteries and twists that keep you glued to your screen. Unfortunately, season one is only nine episodes long, and although season two has been confirmed, we’re still a long way from any release date. So if you’re hankering for your next Severance fix, I’ve highlighted three video games that you should check out.
One of the things that I loved about Severance is the way it treats the corporation at the heart of the show. In a sly move that those who have toiled in an office before feel all too keenly, Lumon founder Kier Eagan is elevated from a man to a god, the centre of the workplace’s very own quasi-religion. It put me in mind not only of recent CEO cults of personality – like the one surrounding Elon Musk, for example – but also a lot of Zachary Comstock from Bioshock: Infinite.
Both Comstock and Eagan are men with legacies that have been blown up to something biblical, their successes turned from human achievements into miracles. Comstock has made his word into the scripture that almost all the residents of Columbia subscribe to, the same way that Eagan’s teachings make up the sacred Lumon employee handbook. Severance is much more satirical than Bioshock: Infinite, infused with more black humour, but the comparisons are easily made. Eagan even has his own life-like figure in the Perpetuity Wing, reminiscent of the revisionist Hall of Heroes in Columbia. All Lumon is missing is a ton of candles.
If you’re more into the uncanny spaces and mysterious bureaucracy of Severance, Control is a great choice of game. Control takes place inside a secretive division of the US government known as the Federal Bureau of Control, which is devoted to finding and containing “paranatural” objects imbued with incredible powers. Their headquarters is an ever-expanding building called the Oldest House.
Inspired by Brutalist architecture, office spaces of the mid-20th century and Stanley Kubrick films, the Oldest House is full of disorienting hallways and liminal spaces, dotted with the kind of weird office detritus that wouldn’t be out of place in Lumon’s conference rooms. Posters remind workers that although the House may suddenly change its layout (possibly moving your office three floors down and behind a wall) that’s no excuse for not working. Employee memos complain of everything from a lack of state funding, to being given weird tasks like sorting a hundred human teeth. Invisible borders called thresholds act similarly to the stairwells and elevators of Lumon, transporting those who enter them into odd pocket realities. Every employee seems to be working on something, but just like the real purpose of Macrodata Refinement, it’s never quite clear what.
And of course there is the Board, an unseen managerial group that delivers its instructions to the FBC’s Director indirectly via telephone. If Lumon is ever looking for an inter-company exchange program, the FBC should be its first choice of partner.
SOMA was the first game that came to mind when I finished Severance. Much like the TV show, it’s an experience that is most enjoyable when you go in knowing very little about what to expect, so I’ll try to be appropriately vague. Created by Frictional Games, the team behind genre-defining horror game Amnesia: The Dark Descent, SOMA is a first person story set in a crumbling underwater facility. As the player tries to escape this ominous space, they will come across more and more information about what happened to the world outside, and who they really are – and who they were.
It has a few Amnesia-like scares, but what makes it far more interesting is the way it asks (and doesn’t always seek to definitively answer) questions about humanity, morality, consciousness and what it means to be a “person.” How do we define sentience? Can you be you if your body doesn’t exist? What lies beyond consciousness: immortality, or purgatory?
Although an optional “Safe Mode” allows players to make the facility’s inhabitants harmless if they wish, the greatest horror SOMA contains is pure existential dread. It’s the kind of game that will leave you thinking about it for days after you finish. If you like the philosophical and ethical quandaries that Severance presents, then I cannot recommend SOMA enough.