Fran Bow: Mental Care in the 1940s

A WORD OF NOTE:  This post contains gratuitous amounts of blood, gore, and other disturbing imagery.  These are presented via slideshows below.  It is highly recommended that you proceed with discretion.  You have been warned.


In 1953, the American Psychology Association established its first official code of ethics.  It was to ensure that all experiments and patient care not hurt participants in the long run.  Fran Bow takes place in 1944, nine years before it was established.

Fran Bow is a exemplar when it comes to using disturbing imagery and sound.  Given the mostly soundless nature of these posts, we will be focusing on the imagery.  It uses its visuals to effectively create two different disturbing atmospheres using the same area.  Our story is follows a little girl named Fran Bow whose parents were murdered and dismembered by a massive cloaked figure with a goat skull for a head.  Traumatized by this event, she is checked into an asylum for rehabilitation.  This is her new home.

This bleak, rundown looking building is the first atmosphere and sadly, was not uncommon during this time period.  Mental Care facilities at this time were often underfunded, and barely talked about, more a place to lock up the crazies rather than actually try and help people.  The uneven but clean white stone abrutply gives way to harsh red brick, lights constantly buzz and flicker, furniture is limited, and unnerving paintings hang on the wall.

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The state of the building is seen in each room.  Damaged walls, miserable or detached patients, and an atmosphere of hopelessness for everyone here.  There is also of course, the lower level.  Here is where the worst are kept.  A single look inside their cells gives an appalling sight of abuse and detainment.

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And as a cherry on top, the staff are bad people.  They are verbally abusive and accusatory toward the children they are supposed to be providing comfort and aid to.  In the case of the security guard, some of them are even a possible pedophiliac threat to them.  The support system that anyone with a mental illness needs is completely absent from this place and thus, no children seem anywhere near any kind of recovery.

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The only real attempt at trying to help Fran comes in the form of Duotine, the medication her doctor gives her at the start of the game.  Those red pills are the catalyst that takes this grim reality of primitive healthcare into a new world.  On its own, the building is a horrible place.  With the pills however…

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In the game, the player has the option to take the Duotine at any time.  When they do, they are taken to a nightmarish plane of existence, the second of the game’s atmospheres.

Blood coats every wall and floor, dead and eviscerated animals are common, gore is strewn about everywhere.  The adults and children are given horrifying replacements, with a physical manifestation of their illness around them, whispering horrible things to them constantly.  Given the point and click nature of the game, each screen is able to be crafted separately, presenting new horrors to the player every time.  In on screen there’s a dear carcass with its head barely hanging on, in another there is a bisected teddy bear, crawling along the ground, dragging its legs behind it.  The player is made reluctant to take the Duotine at all, lest they have to contend with the horrors of the nightmare world.  It pulls no punches, doing its best to sicken and terrify its players.

This images shown here are only from the beginning of the game.  These horrifying scenes are present at every moment of it.  Taking these pills is required to progress through the game at many points.

With everything Fran Bow makes its players look it, there is hardly any argument that it is a masterclass in blood and gore.


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