Over the past decade, we've seen indie games rise in a big way. Once an oddity known only to hardcore gamers, contemporary indie games offer a host of experiences that rival big studios for dominance over the mainstream discussion of games. While this increasing interest has only grown this massive in recent years, one particular genre has been flourishing in the indie space long before others: the indie horror game.
It's hard to recall a time that indies completely took the wheel on a genre like indie horror games did in the 2010s. While the horror juggernauts of the 90s and 2000s were either missing in action, like Alone in the Dark and Silent Hill, or panned by reviewers, like Resident Evil 6, we saw the rise of not only indie horror, but the "viral game" as a concept. Games like Slender, Amnesia: The Dark Descent, and Five Nights at Freddy's found incredible success online, and are often remembered as some of the most influential games of their respective years. Viral videos online made for marketing that money could never buy, but more importantly, these games understood their genre in a way that games of the time simply didn't.
Indie horror is, and will continue to be, a thriving genre for new and inventive ideas because, more so than any other type of game, horror games benefit from creative and technical restrictions. The most effective horror media plays on our mind's need to rationalize what we cannot see, what we don't yet understand. Putting aside that dark areas don't need as much fine detail to make look convincing and that the mechanics of horror games are often simple to code, making a successful horror game is easier than any other because what you are most trying to achieve in the single emotion of fear.
Of course, this isn’t to downplay other things within horror games that aren't pure fear. An interesting world, good overall game feel, these are still desirable things, however the goal isn't necessarily for the game to be fun, but to spark your interest and make the prospect of playing further to find out more terrify you. IMSCARED is a game that places you in dark, low poly world. The only monster is an image of a face, and yet, through its cryptic text, minimal gameplay, and subtle sound design, it creates an experience that hits hard on fear, while being a bone-chilling look into themes like loneliness and suicide. Games like this work so well not in spite of its limitations, but thanks to them. Uncanny visuals, lack of music with a heavy focus on sound design, and limited memory help these games to compact themselves into tight, effective experiences.
Rather than a conclusion reiterating everything said above, I'll end this post with a final example, and the highest personal recommendation for a game to play this October. Anatomy is a game by Kitty Horrorshow, and is quite possibly the most terrifying piece of media I have ever experienced. Using nothing but a voice over, a single house, and basic movement, Anatomy makes a strikingly horrific experience with such a distinct voice and theme, that it simply could have never come from a AAA studio. Best of all, it's free, with an optional donation. Happy Early Halloween.
Fear of the Unknown - How Horror Uses Our Imagination to Scare Us. (n.d.). The Cinema Cult. https://thecinemacult.com/2018/10/18/fear-unknown-horror-uses-imagination-scare-us/
ANATOMY by Kitty Horrorshow. (n.d.). itch.io. https://kittyhorrorshow.itch.io/anatomy