What makes a successful horror game? Terrifying enemies, a sense of suspense due to limited resources, and a horrifying plot filled with unexpected twists.
But what if that plot isn’t just the creation of a director’s imagination, but a reflection of real events? That only adds an incredible atmosphere to the game and makes it even scarier… Discover some real-life horror games inspired by actual events!
|Inspired by Centralia, PA's mine fire
|Based on psychiatric hospital abuses
|The Town of Light
|Set in an Italian mental institution called Ospedale Psichiatrico di Volterra
|Based on the Dyatlov Pass incident
|Set in Chernobyl Exclusion Zone.
|Fatal Frame: Maiden of Black Water
|Based on haunted Himuro Mansion
|The Possession Experiment
|Inspired by the "Dibbuk Box."
|Double Helix Games
Silent Hill is a survival horror game released in 1999, created by Team Silent and published by Konami.
In this title, you play as Harry Mason, who, along with his adopted daughter Cheryl, goes on holiday to a small, charming town named Silent Hill. Their car crashes shortly after entering the town, and when Harry wakes up in the wreckage, he realizes that Cheryl has disappeared, and the town is engulfed in a mysterious fog – it no longer resembles the serene, charming place they were heading to. Suddenly, in the distance, Harry spots a figure resembling his daughter, so he tries to catch up, delving deeper into the eerie, fog-covered streets.
While the plot and storyline of Silent Hill are indeed the creation of Keiichiro Toyama, the game’s setting was inspired by real events and an existing town – Centralia, located in Pennsylvania. Until the 1960s, it was a quaint, small coal mining town (interesting fact: in the Silent Hill film, the titular town was also a mining town). In 1962, authorities ordered local firefighters to burn garbage in one of the mines.
The task was carried out, and life in the town continued until the ground literally started to open up, spewing forth massive clouds of toxic smoke and destroying homes and streets. It quickly became apparent that the uncontrolled fire had spread to underground coal deposits in several mines. The town was enveloped in a thick, gray fog, and residents began to fall ill. By the mid-1980s, almost everyone had moved away or been relocated to safer areas, leaving behind a dilapidated, desolate “Ghost Town.” Interestingly, the underground fire is so massive that it continues to burn to this day, and scientists believe that Centralia’s underground fires may burn for another 250 years…
Outlast is a survival horror game released in 2013, created by Red Barrels. It is one of the more famous and terrifying games of the last decade.
In this title, you step into the shoes of Miles Upshur, a journalist looking to create a report about the patients at the Mount Massive Asylum in Colorado. The hospital had been closed for many years but was recently purchased and turned into a research facility. Miles receives information suggesting that something sinister is happening there, hinting at dangerous experiments, including those related to mind control, known as MK-Ultra.
The plot and mechanics of Outlast already sound terrifying, right? But that’s not all. What’s most horrifying is the fact that Outlast’s story is based on true stories! MK-Ultra was a real research project from the Cold War era (the 1950s) that involved administering various drugs to unsuspecting people.
A variety of substances were given to agents, military personnel, doctors, and unwitting clients of pleasure houses. Because the results were unsatisfactory for scientists, they decided to expand the project, testing new substances on prisoners and… students, subjecting them not only to explosive mixtures of dangerous substances but also to hypnosis, electroshock therapy, paralytics, and many other “treatments.” The truth only came to light in the 1970s after an article was published in the New York Times describing the experiments.
The Town of Light
The Town of Light is a psychological adventure thriller developed by the Italian studio LKA.it and published by Wired Productions in 2016.
In this game, you play as a 16-year-old girl named Renee, who arrives at the abandoned Volterra Psychiatric Hospital in Tuscany to recover her memories. Renee suffers from schizophrenia and anxiety, so during her journey through the facility, she experiences various visions caused by her illness. As she explores, she slowly uncovers the hospital’s dark secrets.
The creators openly admit that The Town of Light, as well as the Volterra Asylum itself, are based on true events and places, and the game is intended to be an interactive story about this place and a tribute to all those who endured a real-life hell there. The Volterra Psychiatric Hospital was opened in the late 19th century and housed nearly 5000 patients. It was infamous not for the number of recoveries but for its gruesome methods of treatment (including electroshock therapy, random doses of drugs etc.) and the mistreatment of patients, who were subjected to torture by the staff. Fortunately, in 1978, the hospital, like many other facilities, was permanently closed.
Kholat is a first-person survival horror game developed and published by the Polish studio IMGN.PRO in 2015.
In the game, you play as an explorer who traverses a dense forest at night. Your task is to find the right path and face the lurking dangers in the thickets. The game’s mechanics are designed to keep the action going at all times. This means that unlike other titles, the action doesn’t pause when you check the map, compass, or inventory – something can surprise you while you’re analysing the route for too long…
The creators, when designing the game, drew inspiration from a true story that took place in 1959 on the Dyatlov Pass, located in the Ural Mountains in Russia. A group of students went on a mountain expedition and never returned. Their frozen bodies were found on the slope of Kholat Syakhl (meaning Dead Mountain). Interestingly, their tent, located a few kilometres away, had been cut open from the inside, indicating that the group hastily fled the camping site. What happened there? We may never know…
|The Farm 51
Chernobylite is a game released in 2021 by All in! Games, created by the Polish studio The Farm 51. This title is another first-person survival horror game with adventure elements on our list.
In this game, you play as a physicist named Igor, whose beloved one disappeared under mysterious circumstances on the eve of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant explosion in Ukraine. Despite more than 30 years passing, Igor has never come to terms with his girlfriend’s disappearance. Therefore, when he receives a mysterious package with her photos, he decides to return to the Exclusion Zone in search of his loved one. On-site, he discovers that the place is not abandoned at all – the eponymous Chernobylite, a mysterious substance, is being extracted near the reactor, and mercenaries are guarding the deposits. However, Igor will have to face more than just them.
We don’t need to explain the Chernobyl reactor explosion, do we? The event was widely covered both in the 1980s shortly after the tragedy and last year when hostile forces attacking Ukraine started approaching the Pripyat area. The 1986 reactor explosion resulted in the loss of thousands of lives as people, unable to evacuate, were exposed to lethal doses of iodine isotopes.
As they say, life writes the best scripts, and undoubtedly the scariest ones. Horror games based on fictional scenarios, no matter how bone-chilling they may be, will always remain fiction that doesn’t threaten our real-world safety. It’s different for games that are based on real events. The awareness that something so terrible actually happened adds even more horror to these games.
As you can see, there are at least five titles that directly reference eerie past events or weave real motives into the 3D world. However, this list of real life horror games doesn’t end here. Do you know of any other games that tell stories based on real events?