You wake up at 3:00 AM in the morning, with a sense of unease deep in your chest. The air feels thick, you can’t hear the reassuring hum of the fridge, and the darkness of the late night (or early morning) has robbed you of your sight. You climb out of bed, stumbling toward your bedroom light to illuminate your way to the kitchen, where you might grab a quick drink of water before going back to sleep. As you hear the light-switch click, the bulb burns your retinas, blinds you for a moment – as your sight returns, however, you feel an unwelcome presence behind you. With a quick affirmation, “Nothing’s there, of course it’s not”, you spin around, greeted by your empty bed and drawn curtains. “What a relief”, you think, as you turn back to your hallway on the journey to the kitchen. But you freeze, a cold sweat embalming your skin, as the gaze of your wide eyes is met with the two empty sockets of a young girl, most of her face obscured by flowing black hair. “Wanna play?” She asks, mockingly, as you reel in inanimate terror. Sound familiar?

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Monsters bearing an uncanny resemblance to humanity have dominated the horror domain of gaming for many years. The typical, relatable situations, like wandering through a home alike that of your average player, to then be confronted with monsters resonant of figures the same average player might recognize from their own day-to-day life, have been used almost to a point of exploit in psychological horror video games. We likely have Silent Hill to thank for this – the turning point of atmospheric horror, forcing us to flee from hordes of monsters with extraneous limbs and no facial features, stumbling after the player while spitting corrosive acid from their chests. Silent Hill’s Game Direction, Keiichiro Toyama, even went as far to present a number of these abominations as symbolising the unconscious motives of Silent Hill’s protagonist, such as Pyramid Head’s representation of James’ desire for punishment after Mary’s death. Silent Hill inspired countless psychological-horror successors, such as Fear, where the player flees from the seemingly innocent yet murderous Alma Wade, all the way to Outlast, where in the expansion Whistleblower the player flees from Eddie Gluskin, A.K.A. The Groom, whose brutal killings are dripping with marital sexuality.

All of this Freudian horror makes for an intensely personal and unsettling experience for the player, forcing them to confront themes that they are relatively likely to want to avoid. All of this is all well and good, but it makes for very little diversity – I’m certain most of the horror games I’ve played have been reliant on making the player uncomfortable in this Freudian sense, using sexuality, the uncanny, or some other type of moral transgression as a means of inflicting terror on the player. But – as with anything – you can’t have too much of a good (or terrifying) thing, else it becomes worn out and loses its effect, as Freudian horror has with me, and (I assume) many other avid horror fans.

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So, what’s the alternative? As the title of this article may indicate, Lovecraft! It’s always shocked me that there has been a relative lack of Lovecraftian horror titles on Steam or otherwise, it only makes sense that the virtual world of gaming would be the perfect domain to create the massive, unimaginable creatures that Lovecraft became so well known for. The sparse Lovecraftian horror titles I’ve played have been entirely captivating and terrifying – such as Bethesda’s own Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth. Inspired by Lovecraft’s own story of the same name, Call of Cthulhu confronts freakish cults, dark obelisks and massive, unstoppable forces that all reek of mystery and futility. The game was an immensely refreshing break from your run-of-the-mill psychological-horror title, and kept me immensely captivated by the ever-changing twisted plot.

I should probably say now that I’m not condemning the idea of Freudian horror in its entirety in exchange for that which is Lovecraftian. I imagine, in an alternate universe where Freud’s theories never caused as much of a ruckus as they did, that I would be writing an article about the over-abundance of giant tentacle-monsters wreaking havoc upon Victorian villages, begging for a few more faceless and twitching resemblances of humanity to run from in your typical suburban home. Rather, I think we should aim for a little more diversity in the genre, which, with the release of Darkest Dungeon, Sunless Sea, Bloodborne and my recently reviewed Reveal the Deep, appears to be actually happening.

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As with “Simulator” titles on steam, the popularity of Freudian psychological-horror essentially served as a pointer for all those creating a frightening game, indicating that, in order to produce a successful horror title developers would need to conform to the currently popular Freudian conventions of the genre. It gives me hope to know that there are developers who ignore what might assure success in order to complete their own horrifying vision, whether this be inspired by Lovecraft or otherwise. Darkest Dungeon’s mid-17th century dark and plague-ridden setting might be seen by some as a risk, since the player may not be able to fully associate with characters, enemies and landscapes in the same way that they might with the closer-to-home forest of Slender. But the separation from reality simply meant that the developers would need to go about a different route in order to make the game frightening. Instead of an ambiguous jump-scare here and there, Red Hook Studios established a setting with themes of infallible darkness and futility, then made this excessive setting feel authentic by inhabiting it with characters who were vulnerable to their environment and realistic, leaving it to the player to bring them to salvation or sorrow through a path of necromantic occults and grotesque creatures of the dark. Red Hook Studios clearly took a risk, and it very clearly paid off.

So, is this piece a big morose complaint at the grey and monotonous field of horror in video games? Unfortunately for those into that kind of thing, no. I thought I’d write this piece to celebrate the beginning of the genre’s transformation, and to celebrate the innovative creators and developers that constantly push their work to unexplored and original grounds. With the aforementioned releases of Lovecraftian horror games, I keenly look forward to countless more exciting and deeply frightening experiences to come, and think you should too.