Ghosts! Spectres! Ephemeral apparitions! No matter what they are called, ghosts have been with us for centuries. Sending people on vengeance quests about their uncles, throwing families out of their houses, and pestering old misers at Christmas time.

The scariest phantoms want nothing more than to bask in the suffering of others, spill blood, and, perhaps, just be left alone to haunt a place for eternity without being disturbed by some intrepid mortal. Other spectres are less hostile, occasionally even friendly and helpful. It’s rare, but it happens! With this list list we investigate ghosts from across the gaming landscape, the terrifying monsters, mischievous haunters, and cute spookers.

Take out your Ouija boards, we’re going to talk ghosts in video games! Beware the phantom spoilers, because there are some.

Ghost video games

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Adam - Observer

The first ghost on the list, and it’s already a non-standard one. Observer’s action takes place in Poland of year 2084, after a devastating nanophage and a corporate takeover. You’re playing as Daniel Lazarski, an investigator equipped with cybernetics allowing him to hack people’s brains for information. That ability includes hacking into dead people and leads him to finding a ghost of his son Adam.

Adam Observer_
Adam

The thing is, that ghost isn’t a spectral apparition leaving behind wisps of ectoplasm, it’s a transfer of consciousness into digital space, leaving the physical body behind. In that form it turns out that Adam can even possess, willingly or forcibly, people who can plug into the network his consciousness resides in, which is pretty ghostly. You should check Observer out, it’s a great science fiction horror.

Key features
  • Psychological horror in a cyberpunk world
  • Stars Rutger Hauer of the Blade Runner fame
  • Features a (cyber)ghost in the machine
  • The protagonist can HACK BRAINS

Alma – F.E.A.R. (franchise)

Going into F.E.A.R. you’d expect a cool, tight shooter with solid bullet-time mechanic. What you haven’t necessarily signed up for are horrifying apparition reminiscent of the girl from Ring, but not kind enough to give you seven days before it comes after you. Her name is Alma, and you’ll have way too many disturbing encounters with her, courtesy of her personal link to your character.

Alma
Alma

Alma’s main method of appearing on screen is straight out of a horror movie, and after her brief apparitions end the scenery looks like the set of a gore horror. Although physically dead, she’s sustained by her powers and unfiltered rage induced by her history, which is, honestly, what every ghost should aspire to. If you want a great shooter with dreadful ghosts, give F.E.A.R a shot, if holds up very well.

Key features
  • Great use of bullet-time
  • Alma is properly terrifying
  • The story of the games is pretty messed up
  • Good multiplayer

Boo – Ghost Master

Also known as Boo the Younger of this list, Ghost Master’s iconic frightener looks like a malnourished Ghostbusters ghost covered in Ecto Cooler and is a versatile and reliable member of your roster, with a variety of classic ghost shenanigans such as spooky howls, rattling chains, and telekinetic mayhem. He can also subtly lure mortal to a place, making Boo useful for freeing tethered ghosts.

Boo
Boo (Ghost Master)

Even though Ghost Master features many creative ghosts Boo is probably the only one that can be reliably used in every mission. When you’re out on a mission to tactically scare Sims-like mortals out of their brains, having a reliable haunting talent becomes very important. Ghost Master is getting long in the tooth, but there’s no game like it, and with more fun ghosts.

Key features
  • Boo works with classic tricks, and does it well
  • Looks like an uncle of Casper the friendly ghost juiced up on Ecto Cooler
  • The one and only objective-driven tactical ghost haunting management game
  • After you meet Boo, the ghosts only get weirder

Boo – Mario (franchise)

Publisher: Nintendo
Developer: Nintendo
Release year: 13 September 1985 (first game)

Boo the Elder, for the purposes of this list, has been with us since 1990, when this type of enemy first appeared in Super Mario Bros. 3. In the thirty years of its existence it’s become a common sight in the series, so much so that Boo even make it to Mario spin-off games, including Mario Kart and even the Picross games. Of course, Luigi tangled with Boos as well, braving (kind of) a mansion full of them.

boo mario games
Boo (Mario)

They look both cuddly and intimidating, with round, soft body and a set of vicious teeth clearly visible in an open, ready to bite, mouth. Interestingly, Boos have a King, who has a grudge against Luigi, Mario’s unjustly ignored brother. King Boo is big, powerful, and has a nice crown on his head. Boos are probably the oldest ghosts on this list, and this seniority must be respected.

Key features
  • Shaped like a friend, but with sharp teeth
  • Their King is Luigi’s archenemy
  • Deadly, but shy
  • Oddly enough has a driver’s license

Celebrimbor – Shadow of Mordor/War

Celebrimbor is a ghost of the “annoying mentor variety”, but to be fair the spectre of a millennia-old elven lord is extremely useful to Talion on his quest to avenge his family. Celebrimbor supplies the not-dead ranger with abilities beyond human understanding, such as warping from enemy to enemy, or breaking the willpower of orcs to make them obedient to the Bright Lord until death.

Celebrimbor
Celebrimbor

Yeah, Celebrimbor isn’t a very nice guy, or even a good one, except in the sense that he wishes destruction upon Sauron. Which is good, because Shadow of… is a pretty combat-oriented series, and a violent, callous ghost makes for a nice contrast with mild-mannered Talion. If you want to explore Mordor with a spooky elven ghost, give the Shadow of.. series a shot, it’s very good.

Key features
  • Wander the orc-controlled lands with an angry elven ghost attached to you
  • Learn to fight like an elven lord thanks to Celebrimbor’s wraith powers
  • You can brainwash orcs into obedience and becoming Trojan horses in enemy army
  • An interesting take on the underexplored time in Middle-Earth’s history

Gastly - Pokémon

Publisher: The Pokémon Company
Release year: 27 February 1996 (Pocket Monsters: Red and Green)

The Gastly evolution line was the first, and only Ghost-type Pokémon in the series, so, much like Boo (the Elder) it deserves some recognition. Gastly’s form is pretty simple: it has a spherical head, with two expressive eyes, and a mouth with two fangs visible at all times. It’s also surrounded by sweetly-scented, poisonous, purple gas cloud. It’s quite benign, as far as Pokémon go, but its evolutions are less chill

The first evolution is Haunter, with a sharper design, vicious claws, and life-draining lick. It can also cause shuddering that can only be cured by the sweet release of death. Gengar is even meaner, with a penchant for casting curses and stalking people by hiding in shadows. The Gastly line means business, and holds fast against newer Ghost-types. Gengar even got a Mega-Evolution!

Key features
  • The original Ghost-type Pokémon
  • Starts shaped like a friend, and then gets mean
  • Can kill you in several different ways, including suffocation
  • Gengar received a Mega-Evolution and a Gigantamax form in the recent games

Ghosts, the lot of them – Pac-Man

Publishers: Namco / Midway Games
Developer: Namco
Release year: 22 May 1980

Remember when we wrote that Boo (the Elder) is the oldest ghost on this list? That was a bald-faced lie, because Blinky, Pinky, Inky, and Clyde are clearly the oldest game ghosts here. If you’ve ever played Pac-Man, you know who they are. They’re the pesky ghosts which interrupt your peaceful grazing on pellets by chasing you away. Each has a different personality and used different tactics.

Pac -Man Ghosts
Pac -Man Ghosts

Sure, every now and then you get to chase them, but even when you eat them they come back pretty soon, going back to their usual antics of chasing you and making sure you don’t get your daily calorie intake. Pac-Man has been going strong for forty years (the latest release came in 2019), and what would the series be without its ghosts?

Key features
  • Each has a different way of chasing Pac-Man
  • The ghosts were even featured in the Pac-Man cartoon
  • Colour-coded for your convenience
  • Date back to 1980

Spirit of the Ocean Hotel – Vampire: the Masquerade - Bloodlines

It turns out that even when you’re playing a vampire, an urban apex predator of fantasy, there are things that can scare you. Vampire: the Masquerade – Bloodlines has a few scary moments and sequences, but one that is always worth bringing back is a brief visit to the Ocean Hotel, a place closed due to a series of grisly murders which took place there, which is already a good spooky premise.

Spirit of the Ocean Hotel
Spirits of the Ocean Hotel

The best thing about it is that unless you really try, there is very limited threat of death (such as it is for a vampire). It’s all in the atmosphere, which includes the story being told in notes and old newspapers, and the occasional apparitions of an axe-crazy ghost which is behind everything going on. And it will go after you, now that you’ve intruded on the scene of its haunting. Good luck.

Key features
  • A fantastic horror sequence in an already dark game
  • One of the classic RPGs
  • A literally axe-crazy ghost
  • A sequel scheduled for 2021 release

Just about everything - Phasmophobia

2020’s ghost-hunting hit came seemingly out of nowhere, and suddenly was everywhere. In Phasmophobia (literally: the fear of ghosts) there’s a dozen different spectral types, with evocative names like “Jinn”, “Poltergeist”, or “Oni”. Your task is to find proof of their existence in a location you’re scouting out, and to bolt before they start aggressively discouraging your investigation.

Phasmophobia ghosts
Phasmophobia ghosts

Each ghost has different behaviour patterns, including aggression levels, and preferred methods of interacting with world. Each can also mess you up royally if you overstay your (questionable) welcome. Phasmophobia is also very VR-friendly, and best played in co-op, so while the close encounter with a ghost will scare you witless, at least you’ll be witless with friends.

Key features
  • A dozen ghost types with procedurally generated identities
  • Great in co-op and VR
  • The ghosts aren’t harmless at all
  • Features voice recognition for extra immersion and interaction

The Walrider - Outlast

We started with a cyberghost in a digital space, so it’s fortunate, and fitting,t hat we close with a techno-ghost in a physical space. The Walrider from Outlast isn’t a spectre in a traditional sense, but rather a cloud of nanomachines floating about in a vaguely humanoid shape. It’s also very violent, responsible for some things that happened in the Mount Massive Asylum. Not all of them, though.

The Walrider outlast
The Walrider

The origins of the entity known as the Walrider is rooted in Nazi experiments during World War II, and their follow-up in a modern-day asylum. Of course, until you get to the bottom of everything that’s going on, you’ll hide and run for your life, because the nanocloud of nanites is vicious, aggressive, extremely dangerous, and very easy to confuse for a proper, ectoplasmic ghost.

Key features
  • A machine ghost
  • Horror set in a dilapidated asylum
  • Solid prequel-DLC, Whistleblower
  • Even without the Walrider the asylum is full of dangerous people

The dawn has come

That concludes out list of ghosts nice and mean, scary and friendly. Hopefully, you’ve found some game to be scared, or at least spooked, this evening. Happy hauntings!