Urban Legends, Myths, Scary Stories, Surreal Tales of the darkness that lurks behind the window and in the shrouded corners of our homes; these so very often form the life blood of our design ambitions, but are we truly doing them justice?
It’s been a popular trend ever since the famous found footage thriller Marble Hornets to make rapid adaptions of the often fascinating concepts and urban legends that have their genesis in the online public domain of anonymous forums and social media. However, it is this very trend which kicked off a seemingly endless assembly line of content, churning the latest viral meme of terror du jour into a cynical cash-in soon to be found in the dark alleyways of Steam recommendations and forgotten itch.io tags, with only a handful of genuine gems cropping up from time to time. This isn’t to say that interactive media is alone in this trend, television and radio have a longstanding tradition of revitalizing the most haunting stories in our collective subconscious across multiple decades, bringing us works like Sci-Fi’s Channel Zero which seek to create direct adaptations of work pulled from stories found on the notorious imageboards of the late 2000s.
While the mediums change, the stories stay the same, and now twitter has become home to the works of “micro-fiction” authors like @slimyswampghost AKA Trevor Henderson who produce bite-sized horror which translates well to short vignettes like Modus Interactive‘s Sirenhead.
However, for every Sirenhead there’s a large swath of failed attempts to recreate the internet’s most famous morbid cash-cow: the collective works of the “SCP Foundation”. It’s not to say SCP games are poorly made or uniquely known for lackluster implementations, but the production values and design often leave something to be desired. These adaptions have a tendency to draw from source material that either bandwagons a popular concept regardless of how well it will translate to the medium, or beat the ethereal, reptile-esque immortal horse to near death.
It isn’t easy to separate the concept of an SCP from more generalized internet horror fiction, given the former has a tendency to fold the latter into itself, laying claim to it within its extensive database of ghastly ghouls and intrepid cryptids in an attempt to flesh out it’s crowdsourced equivalent to a cinematic universe. Backrooms (which we covered JAM’s adaption of here), for example did not start out its unlife as an SCP, but quickly entered the debate as to how and why it should get cataloged like every other fear-inducing meme in recent memory.
It’s hard not to feel that, like the much ballyhooed Battle Royale genre, the perpetual motion machine that is viral horror meme adaptions has nobody at the wheel; a trait due, in part, to the decentralized nature of its drive to curate and seemingly consume everything within its path. The downside of this scattershot consumptive methodology is that without a cohesive vision to guide creative efforts, it’s inevitable that we will wind up with more chaff than wheat.
This analysis of the genre is by no means intended to be overly critical of those who attempt to tackle these interpretations, but rather a word of advice to those who decide to embark on this well-tread path. If you want to establish a note-worthy micro-horror title and separate yourself from the noise, it would be wise to pursue those undiscovered ideas well-suited to a game concept, or to imaginatively build off of a popular concept’s fundamentals instead of merely reiterating the core themes therein.
It is only from diving into the truly unknown and travelling to the darkest recesses that you can return with a jewel of resplendent horror, something to hold aloft before your audience as they recoil in fear and find themselves in awe, irresistibly enticed by its charismatic mystique.
Emily Rose is an indie developer who writes for rebind.io and resides in the pacific northwest. She’s often seen in the local VR arcade and developer community participating in pushing the medium’s horizons. You can find her on twitter @caravanmalice