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Submarine game spikes on Steam as search for OceanGate vessel continues

A news story that inspires thalassophobia

The sub of Iron Lung, a cramped environment with simple controls meant to traverse an alien moon’s blood ocean. Image: David Szymanski
Cass Marshall is a news writer focusing on gaming and culture coverage, taking a particular interest in the human stories of the wild world of online games.

The world is watching the search for the OceanGate submarine, lost at sea with five occupants within. The vessel went missing on Sunday morning, roughly an hour and forty-five minutes into its expedition to the Titanic. It’s a terrifying situation to imagine yourself in, and while Canadian, American, and French officials are conducting a massive search operation, the situation looks grim. As people learn more about the Titan submersible and the situation its occupants may be in, their interest is being re-directed to a surprising source — Iron Lung, an indie game about an alien moon and oceans of blood.

The Titan submersible is a small craft, with trips aboard conducted by OceanGate Expeditions. A “seat” on the submersible is priced at $250,000 a person. (As footage shows, there are no seats per se; the occupants lounge on the floor in a cramped, windowless space.) OceanGate claims the Titan can travel up to 13,000 feet underwater, and the Titanic is 12,500 feet deep. At that depth, there are millions of tons of water pressure bearing down on the craft, which is part of what makes the following news footage of the Titan so terrifying.

As authorities continue to search for the Titan and its occupants, people have been posting their reactions on social media. The conversation includes everything from genuine analysis of the situation to jokes attempting to make light of the tragedy. One obvious point of comparison is the indie game Iron Lung, created by David Szymanski, a short tale of piloting a tiny submarine with rudimentary tech through an ocean of blood on an alien moon. And, grimly, interest in the game seems to have taken off this week — echoing, for example, the popularity of pandemic films like Contagion during the first year of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Syzmanski shared that the game was seeing a spike in sales and popularity on his personal Twitter, posting a chart with the caption “This feels so wrong.” The game is also being bombarded with positive reviews, one of which reads: “Retroactively based on a true story.”

For those who are interested in Iron Lung but averse to playing the game, YouTuber Markiplier is set to direct and star in a movie adaptation that may be less frightening. Nevertheless, these unfortunate real life events are fertile ground for cultivating a sense of dread, and it seems some gamers are choosing to confront their thalassophobia in a sub of their own.

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