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Steamboat Willie entering the public domain is great, but can't we do better than edgy horror games?

I'm sure someone can come up with something better than "messed up Mickey Mouse."

Disney as a company has done plenty of terrible things, what corporation hasn't, but for art as a whole easily one of the worst is the support it put behind the Copyright Term Extension Act, otherwise known as "The Mickey Mouse Protection Act." It essentially increased how long copyright can be held over a property before it enters the public domain. You've probably recently seen that even Disney wasn't able to stop the earliest incarnation of Mickey Mouse, Steamboat Willie, from entering the public domain, meaning that anyone can now use that specific version of the character however they like. So of course the first big project to come out of it was an overly-edgy horror game that might have some Neo-Nazi dog whistles in it.

Am I surprised? No. Am I disappointed? Of course, but not even just for the obvious reasons. Possible Nazi connections aside (the devs are changing the name and claim they're against any kind of Nazism), I just can't think of anything more creatively dull than making a game that's just "Mickey Mouse… but like… he's all effed up???" It's not even very original! On the same day, a Mickey Mouse slasher film was announced, which besides a pretty fun name (Mickey's Mouse Trap), looks horrifically amateurish. Judging by the full title of the trailer on YouTube - "FIRST EVER MICKEY MOUSE HORROR FILM!!!! [sic]" - you kind of get the impression those behind it were interested in being first over doing anything interesting. Plus, the costuming isn't even as good as equally-edgy Winnie-the-Pooh: Blood and Honey.

Sure, you can't exactly call the Steamboat Willie version of Mickey Mouse a particularly interesting one, but we've already seen that it's possible to do interesting things with him. It's obviously not for everyone, but for better or worse, Kingdom Hearts does have a version of the mouse that no other Disney media does. Come on, he famously left one of the main characters trapped in the realm of darkness, a place where time literally doesn't move and there's nothing good to be found, for a whole decade! That's wild!

Even better than Kingdom Hearts' take on Mickey is one of the best Nintendo Wii games ever made, Epic Mickey. Sure, you could argue Epic Mickey is a bit edgy too, but in a charming, Hot Topic kind of way, rather than a "we're really pushing boundaries by having Mickey Mouse kill someone" kind of way. It was a game that put genuine thought into all of the forgotten characters, the surplus amounts of merch polluting the world, even pondering the ethics of abandoning a star like Oswald the Lucky Rabbit and replacing him with some mouse. Epic Mickey was weird, and Disney certainly wouldn't let a game like that happen now, which is why we should cherish it all the more.

Even Epic Mickey's concept art is oozing with creativity.

It's exactly because Disney wouldn't make Epic Mickey now that we should be encouraging strange, weird, maybe even emotional takes on a character people can recognise all over the world. Honestly, it's pretty magical when Mickey Mouse, the Mickey Mouse, turns up in Kingdom Hearts, appearing only to deliver a handful of lines and save the day! It is possible to feel emotional about one of the biggest representations of capitalism there is, even within the context of its creators, so imagine what we could do if we distanced him from them and made him our own?

I don't know, maybe I'm just getting old (I'm almost 27, you see), but I think there's room to be a little bit more adventurous with classic works. At the very least, now that Steamboat Willie is in the public domain, there's always the potential for him to crop up in more interesting ways. Or maybe just a better looking horror game.

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Oisin Kuhnke avatar

Oisin Kuhnke

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Oisin is a non-binary writer based in the UK with bylines in Polygon, Fanbyte, Uppercut, Rock Paper Shotgun, GameSpot, and many more besides.
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