Experimental Game: Almost Like Something You Know

Normally, I would avoid most horror games that I hear of, even if it’s mild horror. I certainly can’t play them myself; being in the driver’s seat only makes any jump-scare, ominous feeling, or creepy dialogue stick in my brain for longer than it should. However, I do enjoy experiencing them passively, whether that be reading the plot, or listening to a playthrough. Haunted Cities Volume 4 and 2:22 felt somewhat like an “active experience of the passive experience” for me.

Deterred by the description of 2:22 (“play at night, play alone,” something I certainly was not going to do if I wanted to be able to sleep that night), I instead watched the video essay and a walkthrough of Haunted Cities Volume 4 first with a friend. Of all the mini-games, “Exclusion Zone” was the one that felt the least like a horror game. The use of the noise, becoming louder before encountering a new text passage, was chilling. I expected there to be some sort of stereotypical jump-scare after the first few instances, but I grew used to the “text jump-scares.” As you explored the barren landscape, each encounter built an increasingly dark undertone. It became clear that there was a past to the place, and that where you now are is a place no more. It left me with the feeling that I almost brushed up against something dark, in the past, which is similar to how I feel when I consume horror games passively. While it certainly can be argued that I experienced this game passively, it was how the game delivered the story that gave me this impression.

“Tenement” and “Lethargy Hill” were similar to me in regards to how “horror-like” they are. They made much more use of noise, startling sounds, and jarring imagery to convey the atmosphere of the story. They were each horrifying, but avoided horror stereotypes. They felt similar to a “Black Mirror” episode, with the reveal happening at the very end after a long build up. “Grandmother’s Garden” felt the closest to typical horror for me, with a brief jump-scare and disturbing imagery. The unique camera angle and art style also contributed, making the experience visually creepy. Each game in Haunted Cities Volume 4 felt imbued with horror elements, but did not contain any over-the-top stereotypes. It was artful, to me, in that it left me horrified, rather than simply terrified from shock.

2:22 felt similar to me with its environmental storytelling. It was more unsettling than horrifying, but each, admittedly jarring and slightly confusing, encounter left me bracing for a potential scare. It felt like a liminal space, setting the stage from some loose, bizarre story arc that somehow made sense and no sense at all. 2:22 certainly impressed me with the impression it left on me, a strange “in-between” feeling where I wanted to know more about what the creator intended, but also nothing at all. Both games were unique, and interestingly genre-pushing. I’m curious to see other kinds of games like these, and better define the difference between what a game is and isn’t for myself.

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  1. Hey Annie, I like what you mention about passive vs active experience when it comes to horror! I think how you describe these games as “active experience of the passive experience” stems from the limited degree of agency afforded to the player by the game. For example, in Lethargy Hill, you can only look left and right, and you move through a very limited space with there being nothing else to do than walk around. By limiting the player’s freedom, the player can experience these scary things without necessarily fully embodying the character like one might do in WROEF.

  2. I was really interested in how 2:22 pushed the boundaries of traditional gaming genres. I was wondering, based on your experience with 2:22, how would you define what a game is? Are there any specific criteria or characteristics that you believe determine whether something is a game or not? The concept of a “liminal space” adds an extra layer of mystery and makes me curious about the game’s unique narrative arc. It’s interesting how the game left you both wanting to know more about the creator’s intentions and content with the enigmatic nature of the story.

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