I hold the chess piece in my hand and pause before finally making my move. Dr. Summers nods and smiles.

“Well played. Now I want to ask you something Steven. Are you still seeing the masked men?”

I nod. My therapist takes his next move. I’ve lost another piece. I move my rook back defensively to protect my exposed king.

“Do these masked men ever speak to you? Ask you to do things?”

The gently probing questions continue as the game nears its end.

A phone rings. My phone rings. At least I think it’s ringing. I can’t be sure that I’m not just imagining it. Hesitantly I open the flip phone. “Hello?”

“This is Dr. Summers. Where are you? We were supposed to meet half an hour ago. I’m very worried about you.”

My stomach drops. Reality begins to cave in. Where am I? Who am I? And who have I been playing chess with all this time?

Miasma understands immersive horror. This is no surprise: they have been doing it since 2014, after all. With each show they’ve produced, primarily in their hometown of Chicago, creators Justin Brink, D. Brink, Liz E. and their team grow bolder in their artistic aspirations, never allowing themselves to rest on their past successes or settle into a comfortable rut. This year, Miasma pushed farther than they ever have before in a private show that spanned multiple locations over several hours with a story that combines science fiction, body horror, religious themes, and raw human emotions into an expansive, mind-bending epic called Death King.

Even with their usual 30-minute public shows, Miasma is not for the timid or casually curious immersive fan. The guest is always at the center of each dark story, and they must actively participate in intense scenarios designed to challenge them psychologically, physically, and emotionally. Death King takes this design philosophy and expands it.

Many “extreme” horror events focus so heavily on the physical brutality that they forget to be scary. The same absolutely cannot be said of Death King. Whether in an early scene involving the death of a loved one and the threat of violence or later in the evening as I knelt, naked and wet, surrounded by masked men, I frequently felt the fear gnaw at my insides. When I think back on everything I witnessed and participated in that night, the scariest moments always came without a single person laying a finger on me.

Make no mistake, Miasma does utilize “extreme” physical elements in their shows. Death King certainly utilized many elements you may have heard rumors of in other shows. However, these moments always served a purpose. Strikes across my chest mirrored the gut-punching feeling of tremendous loss. Self-inflicted lashes across my back stung like the self-hatred placed upon me by the harmful doctrines I was taught since childhood. A volley of “bullets” aimed at my chest brought my tragic story to an end as I reflected on the inevitable destruction that hatred brings into the world. These moments and others like them pushed me to my limits, but the Miasma crew always remained in control and left me feeling safe at all times.

Death King did not drop the ball with its emotional challenges either. Miasma took the time to understand who I am and what I look for in an immersive experience and built the story with this in mind- never exploiting my past, but using it to craft an adventure that would challenge me in meaningful ways. Over those approximately four hours within the world of Miasma, I lived two interconnected lives as one attempted to overcome the other. I experienced the story both as myself, a traveler seeking truth and genuine relationships with myself and those around me. At the same time, I experienced the story as Steven, a religious zealot manipulated into violence, whose consciousness had been embedded within my own mind. I witnessed two parallel paths my life could take and left with a renewed sense of gratitude for those in my life who love me unconditionally.

Any nitpicks I have for Death King can easily be chalked up to growing pains that come with trying something completely new and did not detract from my experience. On a couple of occasions it was clear the next scene wasn’t ready for me, as I was either stopped and asked to wait or taken for an extra lap around the block. In the end, this did not bother me all that much as it gave me more time to reflect on everything I had encountered and every word spoken to me at that point.

Death King was everything I could have ever asked for in an extreme immersive horror experience. The story was complex and emotional. The terror was real and sustained from beginning to end. Strong performances. Intense but purposeful brutality. I was promised a nightmare that I would never forget and Miasma delivered. Miasma has always been a show to fear, but Death King proves that Miasma is willing to descend deeper into the darkness than we could have ever imagined.

If you are interested in commissioning your own private Miasma experience, you can contact them through their website www.miasmaate.com. Keep an eye on their social media as well for future shows open to the public.

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