Global news this week has been fixated on the missing Titan submersible, with rescue teams racing against time to find a vessel containing five people that has gone missing during a tourist dive to the wreck of the Titanic. It is a story that in some ways is made for 24-hour rolling news coverage, with the fatalistic ticking of the clock on the craft's oxygen underpinning constant updates that all amount to the same thing: They haven't found it yet.
One notable element in the reaction on social media has been frequent comparisons to a breakout indie hit from 2022, Iron Lung, to the extent it became a Twitter trend. In this game you play the sole crewmember of the titular craft, navigating an alien seafloor with analogue instruments and a black-and-white camera on the sub's exterior, while something stirs outside. The game sets out to horrify and, helped enormously by the confines and limitations of the sub itself, is a terrifying experience.
Some of the references are simply mind-boggled comparisons to the game's premise, and how similar it is to elements of what's been going on with the Titan and the nature of the craft (such as Titan's occupants reportedly being bolted-in from the outside and unable to open the craft from inside). Others are black humour, such as one tweet I saw saying "new Iron Lung teaser lookin' sick" with a link to how much oxygen the craft is estimated to have remaining. Others point out that both craft can be piloted using a game controller (the Titan craft apparently uses a Logitech pad in its setup).
The game's developer David Szymanski has clearly seen some of this stuff, and seems to feel as weird about it as you might expect.
"I definitely see the dark humor in this whole Titanic sub thing," said Szymanski. "It's just... like, I made Iron Lung the most nightmarish thing I could think of, and knowing real people are in that situation right now is pretty horrific, even if it was their own bad decisions.
"Like all the jokes I've been seeing are hilarious but also good lord nobody should have to die like that".
Szymanski also shared a graph of sales data that showed Iron Lung spiking over the last two days, adding "this feels so wrong" and later "I feel kinda uncomfortable about it tbh".
This feels so wrong pic.twitter.com/SMAKC6sOfHJune 21, 2023
I don't have any issue with black humour, and comparing the situation faced by the Titan to Iron Lung's premise is so obvious it's no wonder so many instantly started making the connection to one of the only pieces of media that reflects this unsettling experience. Games can legitimately help us embody and find a measure of understanding for different, even frightening, experiences. But this instance also brings to mind the concept of disaster tourism—is it somehow voyeuristic to explore something like this through the lens of a game, even as it's still unfolding?
Szymanski was asked after the above if he'd based what happens in the game on any real ocean incidents and said "Naw I just made up a scenario involving a sub that was as nightmarish as I could dream up". Which certainly sounds like some of the stuff being reported about the Titan. As of April, the game is already being made into a film.
Rescue efforts to find the missing submersible remain underway. The BBC News' live coverage has more detail.