Horror has been on my mind a lot this month. I mean, it’s pretty wild that one of the most popular genres of entertainment relies on making ourselves uncomfortable. For me, I have found that horror is all about putting the things which make me squirm in sharp relief to the things which make me feel the safest. Is there anything better than the breathy, adrenalin-laced laughter that follows the scream that follows the jumpscare? When I pass the controller to a friend, or hide behind my fingers, or pull the duvet up to my chin because I can’t bare to look away -- that’s the beauty of horror. Figuring out where your little bits of safety are: friends, self, home.
The games I’ve chosen here to round out my month of thrills and chills rely precisely on challenging those same three things. They explore the horror of interpersonal relationships, the horror of being in the world, and the horror of domesticity. I think they are some of the very best that contemporary horror games have to offer.
Octavi Navarro’s Midnight Scenes: The Highway and The Goodbye Note
You might know Octavi Navarro from his work on Thimbleweed Park, the detective-noir point-and-click game. Navarro, one of the artists on the game, is an accomplished pixel artist of his own right out of Barcelona, and currently working under the name Pixels Huh. His Midnight Scenes are a series of short black-and-white games which follow different people through different evenings of their lives. Those evenings are harrowing, eerie, and brilliantly delivered.
I will not mince words: Navarro’s Midnight Scenes are nothing short of masterpieces. The use of light and sound, timing, cuts and scenes -- each pixel is perfectly placed. The pair here are evocative and thrilling, worthy of the best X-Files episodes. Does anyone know if Jordan Peele looking for inspiration for his upcoming Twilight Zone reboot? I have a couple of games he needs to play.
Angela He’s I woke up next to you again.
Angela He is a computer science and art student at Stanford. She is nineteen, and already has amassed a substantial following on various social media platforms for her games. It’s not hard to see why: her games are beautiful. I woke up next to you again is about a one night stand -- or maybe a two-night stand -- with a compelling stranger. He deftly showcases the certain brand of horror found in a sudden attraction. Love makes us crazy, sometimes.
Lox Rain’s The Shadows That Run Alongside Our Car
What happens when you meet someone? What happens in that space between two people? The Shadows That Run Alongside Our Car is a visual novel from Lorelei, Laiska, and Auro-Cyanide working as the studio Lox Rain. Made with RenPy, the game follows two people who meet during a zombie apocalypse, and are now driving off into nowhere together. Refreshingly zombie-free in 2018, Lox Rain makes smart decisions about how to present the end of the world in a collection of moments between two strangers who find themselves relying on each other.
98demake’s SEPTEMBER 1999
SEPTEMBER 1999 from 98demake bills itself as a “five minute horror game,” but even that’s not quite right. It’s five minutes and thirty seconds. 98demake is more widely known for his YouTube videos, but his game OK/NORMAL hit this past summer to quite a lot of buzz. SEPTEMBER 1999 is a fantastic and tense follow-up.
Taking place over five-and-a-half minutes from twelve different days at the end of September, SEPTEMBER 1999 gives you a brief glimpse into an unsettling one bedroom apartment. A few weeks ago, I wondered what House of Leaves might have looked like if it had been written after the housing market crash. What is the contemporary foil to a fear of a house which goes on forever? SEPTEMBER 1999 is a likely candidate: the horror of what you keep close, what happens in small spaces.
Kitty Horrorshow’s Haunted Cities v. 3
Kitty Horrorshow’s recent release of her typically Patreon-only anthology has already gotten some RPS treatment, but I couldn’t let the month close out without putting it on this list. Haunted Cities Volume 3 is four games in one, and each of them make my skin crawl in one way or another.
Basements, Ghost Lake, Castle Wormclot and Seven Days run the gamut of Horrorshow’s strengths, and the ReadMe for the collection offers a slew of content warnings. Basements is probably the most immediately horrific of the four, but I suggest you give them all a play to get a taste for her work.
Two things have always struck me about Kitty Horrorshow’s games: 1) Her commitment to horror, and 2) Her consideration for bodies (even when they are absent or troublesome), homes (sometimes too present), and interpersonal relationships (difficult, but worth it). It is the job of great horror to remind you what is true and good and delightfully un-scary in the world. And sometimes it takes getting really boots-shaking scared to find it.