'The Sinking City' Isn't Shying Away From the Racism in Lovecraft's Work


Content warning for discussion of racism and xenophobia.

The Sinking City
is a fascinating proposition: It’s an ambitious detective game from Frogwares (creators of several Sherlock Holmes games), set in a directly HP Lovecraft-inspired universe complete with cosmic horror, a literally sinking New England town, and plenty of characters who exhibit bald-faced racial prejudice. It will be a radically difficult needle to thread, but what I’ve played of the game inspires intense curiosity.

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://waypoint.vice.com/en_us/article/pajyem/the-sinking-city-lovecraft-racism-horror


Speaking of Lovecraft ‘response’ fiction, what is there outside The Ballad of Black Tom and Lovecraft Country? Those are the two ones you hear about the most, and I was wondering if there were any works of literature that were similar.

And this game looks really interesting, but GOD I aesthetically HATE this backpack on the detective character:

When I think of a detective, I don’t think of a STALKER lugging around a huge backpack full of junk.

This has been a pet peeve of mine since I started paying attention to the game.


There is the book Winter Tide by Ruthana Emrys. I didn’t really care much for it personally when i read it, but its another “Post Lovecraft” book.


I had a sinking feeling about how Lovecraft’s racism would play into the game but this piece really lifted my spirits about it.

The PR person’s wording makes sense to me honestly. “we are not aiming to show it from a modern perspective, and it’s not the main theme of the game” doesn’t mean they’re not critical of it or that the game has nothing to say about it. And I prefer that to stuff like Human Revolution or Far Cry 5 that dumps a huge chunk of its budget into marketing to convince people that their game has volumes to say.

“Just get out of here, D.E.T.E.C.T.I.V.E.”




Also, did you intend that ‘sinking’ pun you monster?


I sense some anger bubbling to the surface here.


I’ve been meaning to pick this up sometime: Heroes of Red Hook

Heroes of Red Hook is a collection of eighteen cosmic horror tales taking place during the Jazz Era with a very specific focus. Our heroes and heroines are the outsiders who are most often blamed (wrongly so) for the actions of various alien horrors of the mythos. Our heroes and heroines are members of ethnic and religious minorities, immigrants, independent free thinking women, those with special needs, and members of the LGBT community. This collection features people struggling to overcome not only the horrors beyond mankind’s understanding, but an oppressive society seeking to deny them basic human rights.


The way this article reads, it sounds like the game is just going to show a lot of racist things from the 20’s under the guise of “Lovecraft-historical” accuracy. On one had I think it’s good that they aren’t sweeping that under the rug, but I’m not sure I’m good with them deciding not to engage with it and comment in any meaningful way?


yeah going from the video game standard of white-people-presenting-historical-racism to the film standard of the same is maybe more of a lateral move than a forward one.


“The Sinking City. The 12th Film by Quentin Tarantino.”


Idk about this one. I’m interested but concerned, I suppose, that this is just another game that’s attempting to use the veneer of politics but attempts to handwave being political.

I want more games where the devs come out and say explicitly what their goal is for their project.


Ditto @EXWeis and @epigraph, and more.

I’m glad things like the KKK are explicitly in the game rather than putting a winking, nodding placeholder. Hopefully the game as a whole will end up having more to say than the team is letting on? I both understand why they’d say that racism isn’t a main focus of the game, but when Lovecraft’s racist ideology was essentially the main idea of a lot of his stories, it’s likely the game will end up saying a lot regardless of the team’s intent.


Elizabeth Bear’s Shoggoths in Bloom comes to mind. Not literature, but I’d also plug Chris Spivey’s Harlem Unbound, a Call of Cthulhu supplement that places players as black folks and immigrants fighting the Mythos in the context of the Harlem Rennaissance.


After listening to the latest podcast I think this is maybe not the case as Danielle seemed very positive about the game in the longer discussion. I think it’s more concern that when you’re dealing with subject matter like this it’s very easy to get this wrong, not that necessarily that anything she had seen had seen was getting it wrong. They were also disappointed that the pr statement wasn’t more strongly worded but wanted them to “take their swing” as austin put it so they could see what the game is on release.


“Lovecraft in Brooklyn” by The Mountain Goats captures his racist paranoia and how it’s inextricabe from his fiction. Again, it’s a white guy trying to respond to something he clearly likes, so there’s some limit to its value as a response to Lovecraft, but it’s a pretty great impressionistic take on the root of the man’s fears.


There aren’t many that I would consider “literary” or even of the same caliber as the two you’ve listed. I enjoy The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe by Kij Johnson but this is a novella set in Lovecraft’s dreamland and riffs on “The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath.” It does address some of the problems of Lovecraft’s work but in a much more passive manner—largely off-comments and winking at the reader. What makes it actually comparable to the books you note is that it is a work that manages to simultaneously pay tribute to Lovecraft while also using his work and themes to build something else. The works are all “Lovecraftian” without having to rely on Cthulhu and tentacles showing up like so much bad Lovecraft “inspired” work does.