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The Town Of Light: Horror Tropes Or Genuine Humanity?

Horror games have an asylum level: them’s the rules. No, no arguing, it’s statistically proven to be the only environment human beings can be scared by. Well, fun fairs and orphanages too, but the quintessential horror asylum always has aspects of those anyway. Italian-made ‘psychological-thriller’ The Town Of Light is set in an asylum, therefore I presumed it was a straight-up horror game – but I might be wrong. It’s truly about an asylum, it seems, rather than simply using one as a shortcut for scary things. It’s recreating some 7,000 square metres of the real-life Italian asylum Volterra (which was closed in 1978), includes ‘real clinical documents’ and reckons itself to be concerned with ‘the true meaning of mental illness.’

I’m quite a bit concerned that this seems to involve creepy dolls and squeaky doors, but maybe it’s just trailers doing what trailers need to do?

Here’s the trailer I mean, which seems to imply jump scares and lazy ‘mad people are monsters’ horror shorthand, though I think some of that may just be in the melodramatic editing:

Rather more reassuring is this slightly less glossy footage from last year, which is slower, more emotionally haunting, offers more of the seeming effective, Italian-accented voicever and has me making potentially positive Gone Home comparisons:

It’s very hard to say, at this stage, quite what The Town Of Light is going to be, but I really do hope it’s not going to squander its purported historical accuracy and potential emotional punch with too many over-used and unsympathetic horror tropes. I remain somewhat wary that, even if it does side-step stereotype, it’s being based on ‘real events’ – i.e. real people’s suffering – holds a frightful degree potential for inadvertent crassness in the name of entertainment. It won Best Story And Storytelling Award at last year’s Paris Game Connection, which hopefully suggests there is something rather more substantial going on that LOOK SCARY PSYCOPATHS, but I’ll get in touch with the devs and try to find out more.

The Town Of Light is due for release this Autumn/Fall. More here.

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Alec Meer

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Co-founder of RPS. Dungeon Keeper & X-COM 4 Life.

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