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Real World Settings for Horror Games

Outer space, impossible worlds, and fictional cities have engulfed most of the horror genre. We've visited the terrifying imaginary worlds courtesy of writers and developers in games from Silent Hill to Dead Space, or have been exposed to horrific scenarios in more realistic settings like in Cryostasis. I adore scary games and although I am prone to pants-shitting while playing them, the feeling of impending doom doesn't stay with me because I realize this is all fiction. There is no actual Otherworld or Raccoon City. I think for a horror game to truly scare me after I've finished playing it, it would have to be either based on true events, or set in a real place. There are several terrifying places on Earth, and I think these would be the perfect setting for a video game.

Aokigahara Forest

Also known as the "Suicide Forest," this horrifying place is based in Mount Fuji and surrounded by myths of angry spirits and hateful curses. It's the second most popular place to commit suicide in the world after the Golden Gate Bridge in San Fransisco, and there have been at least hundreds of attempted and successful suicides. With Japanese ghosts already earning their triumphant spot in horror games, this is a recipe for soul crushing success. Imagine navigating this forest that has tree coverage so thick that it barely allows in light, and is completely silent due to the suspiciously low number of animals residing in it. The local police had to put up signs throughout the forest pleading for people to reconsider taking their lives, and reminding them that they are precious and important. This would be a great game to have little to no combat as your only equipped item would be a flashlight and maybe a cell phone as you try and combat the evil spirits that convince you to end it all, or attempt to make your remains appear that way. I would imagine sending a team of developers to map out this forest would be a bad, idea though...

The Waverly Hills Sanitorium

Located in Louisville, Kentucky this now closed sanitorium opened in 1910 in response to a devastating tuberculosis outbreak. Legends plague the sanitorium because of unethical experiments involving the removal of ribs to inflate balloons in patients' lungs that inevitably burst, and stories state that a few nurses have committed suicide in the sanitorium as well. People who died due to TB or balloon-lung-explosions were sent down a chute to an aptly nicknamed "death tunnel," and this was done in private in order to not show the other patients how many people were dying on a regular basis. (Sidenote: there is an awful, awful movie titled The Death Tunnel based on this place that I accidentally downloaded once and I urge you to not make the same mistake I did). This setting would be perfect for a horror survival game. Finding disturbing medical files, tracing the steps that led to the nurses' suicides, and making your way down to the horrors of the death tunnel is already sparking memories of hospitals from the Silent Hill franchise, except here you're less likely to encounter a polygonal rapist wielding a giant knife.

The Island of Dolls

Believe it or not, this is a tourist attraction in Mexico. It was created by a loner named Julián Santana Barrera who has covered every tree in the island with mutilated dolls. Some sources say this was intended to ward off evil spirits, while others imply Santana Barrera was haunted by the ghost of a little girl who had drowned in a canal near the island; when he would fish out what he thought were the bodies of drowned children, they were actually mutilated dolls. He was later found dead in the same canal the little girl had drowned in. Some say he was driven insane, but I think we know the culprit(s) when we see images of this horrifying place that is still completely accessible by boat. If this was in a video game, it would be one of the rare experiences when the daytime is just as horrifying as the nighttime because dolls and mannequins are deeply unsettling as we've seen in SAW and Condemned. We also have various tropes that would create a perfectly haunted setting for our protagonist: evil little girl, creepy dolls, crazy man isolated on an island, and the tourist trope is easily the best as many people can be lured to this island on a regular basis.

So there are my suggestions for settings if I was working on an upcoming horror game. These places are real, packed with their own mythos and lore to make even the least superstitious person check behind their backs while Googling pictures. Do you think these places would scare you? Can you think of other real locations?

Comments

  • Frank Hartnett 6 years, 8 months ago

    Ha, I remember the Ghost Hunters team going through Waverly Hills. That place really is incredibly creepy. I can see plenty of potential for Indie Horror games in these places. Makes me wonder why no one's jumped on the opportunity.

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    • Soha E. 6 years, 8 months ago

      I know right? The work is practically done for them!

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  • Absolutely_Daft 6 years, 8 months ago

    The backstories of your chosen locations are interesting. But however I think survival horror can take place anywhere. My two examples for this will be the movie Fallen (starring Denzel Washington and John Goodman) and the 1st Shin Megami Tensei. Fallen's antagonist, Azazel messes Denzel's character by constantly possessing people and singing "Time is on my Side". And with SMT you are slowly being introduced to a world inhabited by demons from the haunting dream scenes, and some demon summoning program you got in your spam folder. Walking outside your home could mean disaster if you encountered the wrong demon at your weakest shape in the game. I think one would be alot more scared during daylight as long as the player is being toyed with.

    Second of all I want to quote something from your Aokigahara Forest paragraph.
    QUOTE: "This would be a great game to have little to no combat as your only equipped item would be a flashlight and maybe a cell phone as you try and combat the evil spirits that convince you to end it all, or attempt to make your remains appear that way". Looking into becoming a game designer, I disagree with the Idea of confronting spirits like in Fatal Frame because the spirits get into your head rather than attack you. My second reason is that there really isn't a reason to be at that forest rather than looking for your loved one (which is a little bit of a tired plot) or having the character have second thoughts and find hope from ones that gave it up.

    Sorry If I wrote an essay, but I really like your posts Soha!

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    • Absolutely_Daft 6 years, 8 months ago

      The only place I can think about making a survival horror game would the deep sea. If you think about, your in a very claustrophobic space, in the dark. And back in my marine biology class in high school, I've watched recorded footage of crustaceans and sharks being bigger than their known counterparts and way bigger than whatever vassal one is spleunking in. Still would be odd to a horror game in the ocean, the best elements I would use would be psychological and limited resources in the plot. It doesn't have to take supernatural things to scare us at times. there I go with the long winded replies, so sorry.

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      • Godofspookiness 6 years, 8 months ago

        There is a survival horror game that takes place underwater called Deep Fear on the Sega Saturn, but it is a hilariously bad Resident Evil clone. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V48J035WitQ

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      • Soha E. 6 years, 8 months ago

        Thanks so much for the compliment AND comments! I think it's great you mention your interest in becoming a game designer because I never really look at anything from a designing/developing perspective, mostly just an artistic or player one. A horror game in the ocean would petrify me. Actually, any level underwater petrifies me haha. I remember playing Ocarina of Time and getting especially creeped out when Link would go further underwater and there would be a deep green tint to the world all of a sudden. You're right, though - any place outside of our comfort zones could potentially be a survival horror scenario and I think it would be awesome if developers could try and exploit an area that isn't supposed to be scary in comparison to haunted forests or abandoned asylums. Thanks again!

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  • TurnedtoGold 6 years, 8 months ago

    All of those settings are brilliant, especially Waverly Hills. There's an old asylum in PA close to my house. It's called Pennhurst State School and Hospital. It opened in the early 1900s and closed in the late 1980s. Anyone who had some sort of mental disability, or "imperfection," was brought there and locked away. The conditions were horrific. It was over-crowded, people were strapped to beds, and doctors preformed horrible medical procedures on the patients. If a patient bit a nurse more than once, his/her teeth would be removed. It's truly something out of a movie. CBS actually exposed the conditions of the institution in a multi-segment report called, "Suffer the Little Children." I'd love to see a game take place here. Nothing would have to be added to make it the perfect setting for a horror game.

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    • Soha E. 6 years, 8 months ago

      "If a patient bit a nurse more than once, his/her teeth would be removed." There's an enemy design RIGHT THERE. That sounds horrifying - I love it!

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  • pjunk 6 years, 8 months ago

    I've heard of the Suicide Forest before, but oh god the Island of Dolls. The Sanitorium wouldn't make for a terribly unique setting, but its history could potentially inspire a more unique plot than one might expect. I'd totally be down to play a survival horror in any of these settings.

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    • Soha E. 6 years, 8 months ago

      Dolls, right? Everybody hates them. I remember in one of my classes we were talking about personal collections and a girl mentioned she had inherited her grandmother's dolls. I wouldn't even hold senitmental value to that - KILL THEM WITH FIRE.

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  • Rorix 6 years, 8 months ago

    I've been to Waverly a number of times and it's definitely a creepy place. It's an enormous building with many unique areas and levels. Perfect for a Silent Hill style game. I'd also like to see a Suicide Forest game. I'm actually surprised that hasn't been a setting for more games (I'm struggling to think of even one).

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    • Soha E. 6 years, 8 months ago

      What on earth made you go to Waverly Hills?! I was surprised about the Suicide Forest, too. I was watching a Halloween series by Two Best Friends Play and one had assumed that Siren: Blood Curse was set there, which is really what got me thinking how brilliant that would be if it was!

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  • Dimensaur2 6 years, 8 months ago

    That Island of Dolls has been on my list of places to never ever go to since I first found out about it some time ago. I think all three of these settings would work great for a traditional survival horror game. I would however like to see a survival horror that doesn't focus so much on the ghosts and monsters aspect and instead does as you said the forest setting would. I would like to see one where the environment itself is what you're supposed to be afraid of. For example, a desert. You're character is stranded alone in the middle of a desert, now survive. Of course I struggle to find a way to make the gameplay interesting in such a scenario, but I would like to see the genre step away from "haunted house on a hill" type things and do a little more with letting players scare themselves.

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    • Soha E. 6 years, 8 months ago

      It would be awesome to see developers get out of the comfort zones of haunted houses and towns. I think players have a wonderful way of setting themselves up for scares in order to prepare for them and it would be really cool to see a developer try and exploit that instinct!

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  • Festive Jebus 6 years, 8 months ago

    There are some seriously eerie areas of Detroit. Image search "the ruins of Detroit" and you'll see. It's almost unreal.

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    • Soha E. 6 years, 8 months ago

      Oh, wow. I knew Detroit had some ruins but I didn't expect anything like this. On top of feeling haunted and eerie, it's also very eye opening and depressing.

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  • Shazza1990 6 years, 8 months ago

    Though games set in unreal places still scare the utter shit out of me (Silent Hill 2...*shudders*) I do like the idea of a horror game set in more real to life locations. I've always wanted a game that included creepy aliens in the forest or desert, giving the player an overwhelming sense of isolation and fear, would be rad :D
    I've heard of that island of dolls before, agreed, would make a great setting for some daytime horror in a game.
    Interesting read, thanks :)

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    • Soha E. 6 years, 8 months ago

      Daytime scares would be new for me! Even in scary games that plague me til this day (Silent Hill 2 for me, as well!) I always felt fine being outside because it was just foggy but not dark. Island of Dolls is horrifying all day round! Thanks for commenting!

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  • CommanderZx2 6 years, 8 months ago

    I believe there are several reasons why real world locations are rarely used.

    1. If you base the game on a real world location people will compare it to that location and your game will be lambasted if it is not accurate. Also that means tying yourself to that location's geometry and restricting creative freedom.

    2. You may encounter legal hurdles if you attempt to include a real world location. There was a legal dispute not too long ago when a FPS included a real world church within a game level. Even though the developers had acquired permission to do so once the game had released they received complaints and demands for it to be removed or something along those lines.

    3. Many games already include elements from real world locations, such as parts of portal 2 are based on real world locations. Perhaps taking an entire location is just a step too far and may encounter issues either in legality or restricting creativity.

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    • theottomatic91 6 years, 8 months ago

      Completely agree with you, good to see I'm not the only one who thinks of the consequences/aftereffects that basing a horror game (or any type of game) in the real world can have.

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    • Soha E. 6 years, 8 months ago

      Great points. I mentioned in response to an earlier comment that I rarely see things from a desinger/developer's perspective, mostly an artistic and player one, so I imagine I overlooked some hurdles that would make games like this possible. Also, you're right that the reputation for those places would be associated with the games, but I doubt Suicide Forest has the reputation of say, a beach in Rio de Janerio ;) haha. Thanks for sharing!

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    • noman 6 years, 7 months ago

      There weren't any real legal problems with Resistance Fall of Man and the Manchester Cathedral. The reverend threatened legal action, but he wouldn't have grounds unless he claimed that Sony was getting a false endorsement from them, and that would be incredibly hard for them to prove. A copyright claim would fail as English law permits the recreation of works on display, which includes architecture. They also wouldn't have a claim as copyrights in England expire 70 years after the creator. It was more of a social backlash that a religious landmark that supports victims of gun violence being the location of a major gunfight. Sony made an apology, refused to donate to their cause, and continued to sell copies without any changes.

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  • 1mrboy 6 years, 7 months ago

    I think that an open world survivor horror game with a location based off of the abandoned Chinese Disney Land project would be cool. It would be one of those maps that sticks with you cause of its diverse locations.

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  • noman 6 years, 7 months ago

    The problem with a lot of real scary places is the difficulty to translate them into a full length video game. The Aokigahara forest is hard to travel in real life because it a tangle mess of branches roots and vines that make it difficult to traverse as well as impair your vision. If a video game were to capture that, there would be no atmosphere as you would be more focused on not tripping over crap to notice the corpses they bumped five times and mistook as a cluster of vines. And if I recall correctly, the Island of Dolls is also really small. It is just big enough for a shack, shed, and dock; you trip out the door and land in the drink.

    There are some possibilities for on the spot locations though. I think Prypiat, the ghost town in which workers at Chernobyll lived, was used in one of the STALKER games. And I would suspect the Winchester House would make for an interesting locale if they are able to get the owner's permission. The house's bizarre set up with inexplicable stairs, doorways, and secret rooms would probably translate well into a video game and the lore would give the developers a lot to work with.

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