Let it be known that I am a complete and utter coward when it comes to horror games — or games with jump-scares, or any level in a non-horror game with creepy ambiance (I STILL cannot bring myself to complete “We Don’t Go To Ravenholm”); I think what contributes to this fear the most is the fact that my brain doesn’t turn off after the game has. I’m the kind of player that’ll try a horror game for 15 minutes in the morning, and then wake up at 3AM later that night and have to wander out into the pitch dark hall of my very own home with a flashlight.
Because what if there’s something waiting for me, huh? And what was that noise? And what’s casting that shadow? And oh god it’s so quiet IS EVERYONE ALREADY DEAD?!
Yet I still play them, once in awhile, when I’ve worked up enough nerve to do so.
“The Witch’s House” caught my eye first, thanks to a post on Tumblr by one of the many people that I follow. It depicted the tragic “True End” of the story, which inspired me to look up everything about the game. I completely spoiled the whole plot twist and most of the intricate details of what happens, thinking that sating my curiosity would get rid of my interest in the game.
But it didn’t. In fact, it made me bother one of my best friends, who is also pretty cowardly when it comes to these games, and beg her to play it with me. We played it for about twenty minutes before closing it out and deleting it from the computer.
I still want to try again, though.
My brother had already heard of the game, and gave me links to several 8-Bit Horror games for me to try. I downloaded, played, and beat a game titled “Misao” — the story of a young student who searches for the dismembered body parts of her bullied classmate, Misao.
Now I know what some of you might be thinking: How can an 8-Bit game be scary?
I pondered that myself for a little bit, too. These games weren’t built on the latest game engines, where every gory detail was shoved in your face — most were built in RPG Maker VX or, in the case of Misao and Mad Doctor, Wolf RPG. They were pretty much on par with old Gameboy graphics. What was frightening about that?
Well, here’s the theory I came up with:
Point 1: The audio –Think of the creepiness many kids felt wandering around Lavender Town in the original Pokemon games. It’s that unsettling, melancholy sort of backdrop that puts players on edge. And since you’re not distracted by the beautifully rendered potted plant over yonder, all you can do is worry about where you’re going and what’s around you. Since your line of sight is limited by the scrolling screen, all you can do is try to figure out what’s coming next with your ears. It’s even more unnerving if you can’t quite figure out what that strange sound is, or where it’s coming from, or who made it.
Point 2: An innocent and limited Protagonist: Most of the protagonists of these games are innocent young girls who simply want to find somewhere safe. She can only run from the monsters, who everyone knows can rip the child to pieces easily, and solve puzzles. That’s it. It’s like being locked in a room with a hidden murderer, but your hands are shackled and you don’t know where the exit is. Goodness, just thinking about such a thing gives me the chills!
Point 3: Horror elements in an unexpected setting. 8-Bit games are typically associated with beloved retro classics like Final Fantasy, Excitebike, and SuperMario. If you suddenly shove survival horror elements–violent murders, sexual assault, suicide–into that kind of world, well…most people get pretty creeped out! The best example I can think of for this was the story of “Suicide Mouse”, an animated short in which our beloved Mickey Mouse repeatedly tried to kill himself. I believe this was proven true, but I’m not 100% sure (and I’m not about to go looking for it!) Either way, you can get where I’m going with this: Particularly dismal or violent stuff where we don’t want to find it can really mess us up!
Add “excellent storytelling” and “multiple endings” to the above mix and you’ve got a pretty awesome video game, graphics be damned! There is, of course, the downside of most games being rather short (even beating Misao to get all the endings and such took only a few hours) and the fact that some of the puzzles can be pretty difficult, but they’re still an excellent way to waste some time. Alone. At night. With only your computer screen lighting your bedroom…