So far this month I’ve written about my favorite horror movies and horror stories, but I’d be remiss to not also write about my favorite horror games. By “horror games” I mean video games, but there are some good tabletop horror games as well. There’s something about games that get me more immersed than a movie or story, probably because you have to focus so much in order to finish puzzles or accomplish goals, so the scares feel more intense, and let’s not get started on playing a horror game in virtual reality. So, whether you want to play alone or with friends and family, here are some of my favorite spooky games for the season.
1. “Betrayal at House on the Hill”: This is a fun board game where you create the board as you play, drawing tiles from a deck that comprise the different rooms your characters are exploring in this cursed mansion. The game is for three to six players, is friendly for older kids (12-plus, or younger depending on reading comprehension and tolerance for scary things) and each game is about an hour long. You explore the house, building it tile by tile, encountering traps, items and omens. At one point in the game, usually after several omens have been found, a new phase of the game begins called the Haunt: One player becomes a traitor and, depending on what specific Haunt was triggered, is now working against the other players. There’s lots of different Haunts: In one, the traitor becomes a mummy, trying to collect artifacts; in another, the traitor becomes a zombie lord who must turn the other players into zombies. If your family is at all theatrical, then there’s a lot to work with here– put on some mood music, dim the lights and brace yourselves for some spooky family fun.
2. “Amnesia: Justine”: This is an extremely short video game that accompanied another game, “Amnesia: The Dark Descent.” The game is comprised of only three main puzzles and there’s no weapons or fighting: When you encounter a monster, you must run or hide. It’s a first-person game, so you awaken in a cell not knowing who or where you are. In your room, and scattered throughout the other rooms in the manor, is a phonograph which informs you that you’re a subject in a study, the nature of which is not made clear. “There are a few parts to this study and it is up to you – not only to pass, but figure out what elements are important. Please go on, move into the next chamber. Just remember they can all be saved, there is always a way,” the first phonograph tells you. There are three men held in traps throughout the manor and two ways to solve the puzzle which unlocks the trap and allows you to move forward: Either figure out the puzzle, which is slower and more difficult, but saves the man and allows you to progress; or don’t bother figuring out the puzzle, allow the man to die and keep going with the story. If you’re at all interested in Lacanian psychoanalysis and/or the philosophical underpinnings of the story “Justine” by Marquis de Sade, then this is the game for you.
3. “Luigi’s Mansion”: This isn’t a scary game at all but it’s a great game for the Halloween season. There are a few installments in the “Luigi’s Mansion” series and they’re all fun and adorable. You play as Luigi, Mario’s brother, as he explores a mansion and hunts ghosts using his special vacuum cleaner, the Poltergust 3000 (Poltergust 5000 in the second game). The original came out on the GameCube in 2001 and “Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon” came out for the 3DS in 2013. The newest game, “Luigi’s Mansion 3” is set to release on the Nintendo Switch this Halloween, Oct. 31, and I’m very excited for it, so playing one of the earlier iterations is a great way to prepare for the next release.
4. “Soma”: This video game is by the same developers as “Amnesia: Justine” (Frictional Games) which follows a male protagonist named Simon who goes in for an experimental brain scan following a car accident that caused severe brain damage. During the scan, he blacks out and comes to in an unknown place at an unknown time, seemingly the only person among many robots and machines. I won’t give too much away because it’s very fun and engaging to learn what happened to Simon as he learns it, but if you like the video game “Bioshock” and if you’re interested in philosophical questions like the teletransportation paradox, philosophical zombies and transhumanism, then this is a good video game for you to try. Like “Justine,” there’s no weapons and no combat– your only recourse for hostile encounters is to hide or run. It’s not as scary as other survival horror games, monsters are few and far between, but the real horror is in the story: What makes us human? What makes us who we are as individuals? What lengths will we go to “save the human race” in the event of an apocalyptic catastrophe?
5.”Dead Space”: This video game takes a lot from the movie “Event Horizon,” so if you liked that film then you’ll probably like this game. You play as Isaac Clarke, a systems engineer sent with a rescue team to investigate a mining ship that hasn’t been heard from in a while. Like in “Event Horizon,” just getting on board the ghost ship proves difficult and their own ship suffers damage, stranding them. They explore the seemingly abandoned ship only to find horror: monsters, infected humans and insanity. Being able to fight and shoot the monsters helps mitigate some of the fear factor, but there’s a lot of great scares throughout the game and lots of little things to find that helps paint a bigger picture of the last moments of suffering that the humans on board went through before being plunged into darkness.