One of the earliest versions of Mickey Mouse has now stepped into the public domain and we’re seeing the results of it already, the first being an exceedingly unsettling Mickey Mouse horror game. Infestation 88, a co-operative horror survival game, was just announced by Nightmare Forge Games, a company known for its horror-based content since 2010. Announced on 1 January 2024, the game will be available on Steam sometime in 2024. The Mickey Mouse horror game echoes the nightmarish style of Winnie the Pooh: Blood and Honey, taking something renowned for its kid-friendly innocence and turning it into complete nightmare fuel. While Disney has worked hard to keep its most celebrated character tightly wrapped within its protection, the rules are the rules and they have had to let go of the rights to the original Mickey Mouse and Minnie Mouse characters.

Infestation 88 A Mickey Mouse Horror Game to Set the Tone for 2024 (1)

Image credit – Nightmare Forge Games

The Mickey Mouse public domain entry was slated to take place way back in 1984 but through laws that the company actively pushed for, it was shifted to 2004 and the 1998 Copyright Term Extension Act added in another 20 years for good measure. Now, copyright laws apply for 95 from the original publication of the work, making the Mickey Mouse horror game possible for 2024. The Copyright Term Extension Act of 1998 is often nicknamed the Mickey Mouse Protection Act, owing to Disney’s considerable push for the law, even if the company itself may not have been as actively instrumental in its creation.

A Mickey Mouse Horror Game? How Did We Get Here?

If you’re wondering how Disney would allow a Mickey Mouse horror game to even exist, it’s because the company no longer has a say in the matter when it comes to the early Mickey design. Disney’s copyrights over Steamboat Willie, a 1928 short film that featured Mickey and Minnie, have now expired and are available in the public domain for everyone to use and rework without having to pay Disney for it. The expiration of the copyright allows works like Infestation 88 to exist, where these early character designs and art can be interpreted and used freely without requesting permission for use.

While that sounds simple enough to understand, Disney still holds the copyrights to more modern versions of the characters and the version of Mickey Mouse in the public domain is only the one from Steamboat Willie. Anyone who chooses to use the original artwork may still overstep their digital freedom and wade into modern Mickey territory, falling victim to any action that Disney chooses to take against them for copyright violation. It is going to be quite difficult for Disney to really regulate and moderate the many versions of Mickey we may start to see soon, and proving that the recreation of the character violates their copyrights is going to be a murky endeavor but for a company the size of Disney, it’s quite possible they might pursue legal action just because they can. 

Starting 1 January 2024, you can now use the Mickey Mouse from the Steamboat Willie character version for your own art and design, but there are limitations to what you can do. Trademark protections ensure that you cannot use the Mickey logo in a way that confuses consumers into thinking your work is a creation of, or sponsored by, Disney. In addition, you cannot use any of the newer, copyright-protected versions of Mickey Mouse as you will expose yourself to legal action as a result. Winnie-the-Pooh: the Deforested Edition and Winnie the Pooh Blood and Honey, are a few examples of the creative liberties you can take with the material once in the public domain. Infestation 88 is the first to redefine the Mickey Mouse identity.

Infestation 88—Exploring the Mickey Mouse Horror Game

The Mickey Mouse horror game by Nightmare Forge games was announced simultaneously with Mickey Mouse entering the public domain on 1 January 2024. Taking on a twisted version of the character that Disney cannot begin to claim is derivative of the character version still protected by its laws, the new horror game focuses on an infestation of rodents that can turn anyone’s stomach at the sight. According to Collider, the game might also feature some other familiar characters from urban legend such as Mothmath, making the Infestation 88 roster one to behold. 

Infestation 88—Exploring the Mickey Mouse Horror Game

The Mickey Mouse horror game is set to feature characters from urban legends, with Mothman being one example.

The Mickey Mouse horror game follows an extermination crew that has to locate and treat a vile rat infestation using the resources they have at hand and collecting others along the way. Designed as a co-op game, players should be able to team up into 4-player parties and do what they can to survive the rodents. The art resembles the iconic character designs from Five Nights at Freddy’s but its unique take on Mickey is quite distinct. It’s going to be interesting to see how the game plays out and its success will largely depend on how long it can sustain an audience because early adoption will be inevitably high with gamers reaching out to try out this new non-Disney experience

It is interesting how Disney has been holding on to copyrights, considering how a lot of their works are built upon works that have similarly entered the public domain. From their recreations of Alice in Wonderland and Cinderella to their popular title like Frozen being derivative of Hans Andersen’s The Snow Queen, Disney is no stranger to what can be built on works that enter the public domain which is likely why they are so determined to keep their own work out of it. This is only the first adaptation we should see in the next few months and many more reimaginations will likely follow soon enough. Characters like Peter Pan and Tigger are also going to make their public entry in 2024 and new stories and redesigns with these familiar faces will keep us guessing at the true potential of these icons throughout the year.