Silent Hills P.T. was taken from us like the hopes and dreams of a child being told that Santa does not exist. To soothe the pain we may turn to Indie Horror Games that do a great job in revolutionizing the genre of psychological horror step by step. If you are a fan of brain-fuckery, you might already have stumbled upon some of the games I will recommend in this post. Some of them are free or very low-cost, some of them are widely known and some are rather hidden gems.
However, since yours truly is inclined to exploring mental illness in media, I chose to compile a list of games that have mental illness as a central theme. In the following, I will go into more details on each one of the games. You can find them all on Steam.
If you are a fan of games that depict mental illness, why not give my article series on Hellblade a shot?
BTW, this post is NOT sponsored.
8 Great Indie Games with Psychological Horror
Layers of Fear
Topics: Alcoholism, Child abuse
“Layers of Fear” is widely known among Horror Aficionados. Reminiscent of “Amnesia – The Dark Descent” and mixed with a bit of a P.T.-ish feeling, “Layers of Fear” is a great example of a linear game with disorienting mechanics. It portrays the life of a once successful painter who has not only lost his family but also his mind. What is remarkable is the way the topic of alcoholism and domestic child abuse is used to unsettle the player. The protagonist turns into an anti-hero as we learn that he had terrible fits of rage when drunk. He vented his anger mostly on his daughter, whom we can play in the DLC. The player experiences the guilt the protagonist feels first hand, induced through scenes and visions with dolls depicting the emotionally neglected girl.
Topics: Child abuse, Self-Harm, Psychopathy
“Masochisia” is one of the hidden gems in this list. The side-scroller with a rather eccentric comic style deals with the story of a boy who is used to being beaten up by his alcoholic father and guilt-tripped by his co-dependent mother. One day, a very ambivalent mentor appears who calls himself Archangel Michael. The protagonist gains insight into his future: He will become a psychopath and a serial killer. It is not entirely clear if the player is able to change his fate or if this option is merely an illusion. The actions depicted in the game are hard to digest. You feel horrible about becoming more and more violent. Masochisia really is not for the faint of heart, but it is a new approach to psychological horror. It guilt-trips the player and violates their boundaries.
Topics: Trauma, Psychosis
Fran Bow is a beautifully illustrated point-and-click adventure. You follow 10-year-old Fran who lives in children’s psych ward after losing her parents to a horrible crime. Although Fran doubts it, she is told to have committed the murder herself. The doctor prescribes her pills that induce disturbing yet helpful hallucinations. As she finally manages to escape the ward, a fantastical yet dangerous journey begins into Fran’s own wonderland. The game will never fail to surprise with unexpected twists and an endless supply of creativity.
The Static speaks my Name
This free and simple game has an impact that is inversely proportional to its length. You play as a guy in his apartment who is obsessed by a painting of a palm tree. Saying anything more would be a spoiler. The graphics are really basic, the map is tiny, it takes you maybe 20 minutes to play. However, this game will leave a bitter taste in your mouth. There is no gore, btw.
Among the Sleep
Among the Sleep is a beautifully crafted game that takes you on a journey with a toddler who has just learned to walk. Well, more like, waddle. It‘s our birthday. We get a gift and a cake and then go to bed. However, we wake up in the middle of the night to strange noises. Soon, we find out that our mother has disappeared. With the help of our best friend and companion, our teddy bear, we go on a dangerous journey to find mom. Riddles and monsters pave the way to piecing together our memories.
Topics: Nightmares, Mourning
Neverending Nightmare is a side-scroller with unusual graphics. The drawing style, however, totally contributes to the oppressive atmosphere. I personally wasn‘t really into the style, but I gave it a chance and I am glad I did. The story is elusive. The protagonist, a young man, seems to be looking for a young woman who lives in the same house. It is not clear who that woman is nor if she is even alive. It is a story of guilt, disorientation, and darkness. After some time it becomes hard to endure. Not because of flaws in the game, but because of its perfect combination of music, graphics, and story.
The Cat Lady
Right at the start of this game, the player is forced to look into the abyss. Susan, the cat lady, commits suicide. However, on the other side, she meets a spirit that calls itself the Queen of Maggots. Susan cannot die until she has killed five “parasites” in real life. She then wakes up in the hospital and learns to grow into her new avenger role. The game intentionally does not define what diagnosis Susan is suffering from. Instead, it depicts the difficulties of a life with serious mental illness in a way that many people with similar issues can identify. As Ragnar Rox over on Youtube explains, this game is a gem in horror gaming not because of its creativity in depicting gore (of which there is a lot), but because of the very human and realistic way mental illness is shown.
In 19th Century Sweden, the protagonist ventures out into the forest at New Year’s Eve, when it is said that the veil between dimensions is thin enough for humans to look through it. Turns out this was a pretty bad idea. The game is a two-dimensional side-scroller with a story that is anything but two-dimensional. We get to know some mythical creatures from Swedish folklore, who are embedded in a story of love and jealousy. Once you`ve finished the first play-through, you have to give it another go to see the real ending of the story. I have to admit, it’s not exactly about mental illness, but I just felt that I HAD to include this beautiful piece of art in this list.
So here you have it. I hope you found something new to please your messed-up mind. Have fun!