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7 Psychological Horror Games You Need to Play

Freudian, Frightening, and Filled to the Froth with Fear, 7 Games that Get Inside Your Head... Whether You Want Them to or Not

Plotholes, James. Plotholes. (James Sunderland, Silent Hill 2)

When was the last good psychological horror game released? SOMA, maybe, in 2015? But that was more a sci-fi horror game, albeit with some moralistic undertones. I would consider Little Nightmares, but I feel like that game should have been longer since its campaign was little more than a vignette that could be played in as little as three hours. The Silent Hill franchise hit a new low since its puppeteer, Konami, literally turned its legacy into a gambling machine. You can keep it on the ventilator all you want, you corporate bastards, it's still too brain-dead from all the horses you beat on top of it!

So, what do we do to keep our souls from dying in this drought of mindfuck horror. Zombies are all well and good, but you can just shoot zombies. Manifestations of a character's inner turmoil? Now, that can kill ya. Don't get me wrong, there are artists wanting to channel their craving for Silent Hill into their own projects, too bad those ideas are just generic "object-head" type of horror. The Year of the Ladybug was a survival horror game pitch but is now being released as an art book. The premise? People with fucked-up heads. Okay, why do they have fucked up heads? "They... just do?" You do you, my dude, but that ain't worth my time or lack of money. 

So, without further ado, let's countdown seven psychological horror games you need to play.

7. 'Eternal Darkness: Sanity's Requiem'

Eternal Darkness goes a step farther than conventional scares. Not only does it instill a sense of dread into its characters but the game reaches beyond the screen, so to speak. Its fourth wall scares are the things Creepy Pastas are born out of. Each character has a sanity meter which certain effects and events are reliant upon. If a character has severely low sanity, fourth wall effects can happen such as: the "screen" turning dark as if the TV's been cut off; a fake Blue Screen of Death; your inventory will appear completely empty; the volume control will change; during an attack, the controller will "disconnect" and there's even one that goes to a black screen then asks if you're sure you want to delete your save games and then it does (not really, but it pretends to). 

A few in-game sequences also take place. The characters can turn into zombies without warning, casting spells can cause the player to "explode," characters with guns will have them "explode" causing a fake death. Sometimes, upon entering a room, everything can be upside down, the walls will be bleeding, the character might become inexplicably trapped. This is truly haunting because this isn't just monsters causing turmoil, it's the characters' own minds. Amnesia tried to recapture this game mechanic, but the sound of Daniel chewing his nails made me want to vomit after ten minutes. 

Want to know a surprising fact? This game was made by Nintendo! Like, come one, fuck these Mario and Zelda cash-ins, let's see more horror games, Nintendo! 

6. 'I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream'

But how will I eat ice cream?

Based off the 1967 novel by Harlan Ellison, its game counterpart truly encapsulates the ultimate fear: our own psyches. In this post-apocalyptic scenario, the Cold War doesn't end and three global superpowers secretly launch a network of supercomputers to fuel a war to end all wars. The American supercomputer becomes sentient and absorbs the other two to become a force to be reckoned with and surely enough the whole of humanity is wiped off the face of the planet, except for five very unlucky people. 

The Allied Mastercomputer, or AM, tortures these five people, whom he keeps alive for 109 years thanks to the research of one of his captives who was a Nazi doctor. Each of his captives has psychological trauma and throughout the game, AM exploits them all in order to drive them into madness through a sadistic game. Without spoiling huge chunks of the game, it's basically an assault course engineered by the World's Worst Therapist. Each character has to come to terms with their fatal flaws and traumatic pasts in order to break free of AM's control. I highly recommend playing this for yourself or watching a spoiler-free walkthrough to experience it firsthand as it is a masterpiece of video game storytelling. See, Mom, you were WRONG. Games can be educational! How else do you learn about morals? Being turned into a caveman and eating a baby, of course!

5. 'The Cat Lady'

This is not your average cat-loving old maid story. 

Depression. Suicidal ideation. Hallucinations. Such topics are not your run-of-the-mill video game themes because most people play video games to escape their mental illnesses. However, I feel like depression is under-represented in the game industry. Most action titles prefer a protagonist with brawn and bravery over one with melancholy and hopelessness. That's why The Cat Lady is such a departure because it's entirely about feelings of taboo topics. 

This isn't to say I don't have gripes about the game as a whole. The onslaught of perverts Susan has to fight gets a bit ridiculous toward the end which could be seen as length padding. But this game offers moral choice sequences that leave you reeling long after their over. For instance, there's one where you have to coax a person off a ledge but she jumps anyway, regardless of any reassurances you give her. This could be interpretive of just how much of an illness depression is, that no amount of mollycoddling and kind words will persuade a suicidal person out of their plan and that they really need help before it's too late. 

I encourage you to check out this game on steam and uncover the whole story, because it is a masterful representation of depression in a video game setting. 

4. 'Deadly Premonition'

Raise the roof! Is that how the saying goes, Zach? (Francis York Morgan, FBI, Deadly Premonition)

If you requested Twin Peaks as a video game, look no further than Deadly Premonition. The game follows a criminal investigation in the humble town of Greenvale, where things are not quite as normal as they seem. This game is Weird, and that's a deserved capital W because the kind of Weird that you put off of at first but it grows on you. All of Francis York Morgan's quirks are endearing to the point of ridiculousness and he is one of the best protagonists of a video game I've had the pleasure of controlling. 

If I were to try to explain the plot to you, you wouldn't believe me. York's Weirdness is best experienced firsthand, including his ability to sense details of the murder case from the milk in his coffee and his newfound love of jam and cereal sandwiches as recommended by a wheelchair dude in a gas mask. The pacing is a bit sluggish, but you'll never see the ending coming. Play the game for yourself, Zach. 

3. 'Undertale' (No Mercy Run)

But nobody came. 

"CD, this isn't a horror game."

Anything is a horror game if you want it to be. And in Undertale, all of the lovable characters and upbeat music are forfeit if you're one of those completionist weirdos. You might be thinking, "Oh, genocide run, that'll be a breeze." Hahahahaha. Ha. No. Not at all.

You pay a horrible price when you trigger a No Mercy game because this is a mode where  you have to literally kill everything. Nope, not even Lo-ox and Vegetoids survive in this mode. The tone of the game instantly changes, the music even halts in his normally chipper and uplifting tones to become absolute nightmare fuel. Indeed, when you get your first "...but nobody came" message, you might just shit yourself a little. 

The term 'genocide run' is a cause for contention in the fandom, because evidently it was coined by someone who had named their character Hitler. So, we'll stick with No Mercy, because that's what it is... a No Mercy kill run. It's highly advised that you play the Pacifist Route first because it makes the No Mercy Route even more heart-breaking. The boss fights on No Mercy are exactly what it says on the box...absolutely No Mercy. The last one will definitely cause some finger sprains. 

There is literally no other reason for you to play the No Mercy Route other than completing all the endings. And there are a plethora of different endings, mind you. But be advised if you try to start a Pacifist Route after a No Mercy run... it's not even possible. You'll have to reset your files and everything in order to play the Pacifist Route again. 

2. 'American McGee's Alice'

This is definitely not the Lewis Caroll story you remember. (Cheshire, Alice Liddell, American McGee's Alice)

Survivor's guilt in Victorian times is a surefire trip to the asylum, especially when you're as unhinged as Alice Liddell. After her family dies in a house fire, she becomes catatonic, retreating into herself and delusions. She goes to "Wonderland," but it's not the idealistic world full of tea parties and polite conversation she remembers. 

American McGee's Alice is a mix of a horror game and platformer that tests your agility as well as your psyche. You travel through many significant locations, all characters and enemies representative of events in her past. In order to overcome her problems, she must battle her greatest foe: her guilt. 

The sequel, Madness Returns, uncovers further details of the fire and what sordid dealings are dealt in Victorian London. She finds out disturbing details about her sister. I will warn you though, the game deals with themes of 'sexual abuse and child trafficking, so be advised. 

1. 'Silent Hill 3'

Geez, is the janitor off sick today? (Heather, Valtiel, Silent Hill 3)

Ha! You expected Silent Hill 2, didn't you! Well, yes, that game is absolutely horrifying, but its sequel... oh, its sequel is a nightmare wrapped in an Eldritch wet dream fried in gold. It's not a sequel to Silent Hill 2 other than the technical sense, because rather than continuing the story from the second game, it continues from the first. If you've played every horror game, you've definitely played Silent Hill 1. Remember the baby you get if you achieve the Good or Good plus ending? She's right here, climbing a ladder in the Otherworld. 

If you thought The Cat Lady's themes were taboo, how about teenage self-identity issues, abortion, infanticide, pregnancy, and fear of stalkers and rapists? It's all here, in Silent Hill 3. One fateful day, Heather Mason is shopping and suddenly finds her world turned upside down into a hellish dimension of demonic monsters and grotesque sights. Practically every detail of these Otherworld sequences are the result of Heather's fears, and... something else? As told by Claudia, she's pregnant with "God," though it's heavily implied to be the exact opposite. 

Things you can expect to experience in Silent Hill 3: demented, rusty theme parks with bloody-mouthed rabbit mascots, dogs with split-open faces, dogs that have been barbecued, evil subway ghosts, pointless bleeding mirror rooms that kill you, a stalker leaving love notes to you in a creepy hospital, the digestion of aborted demon fetus, an uber nightmare mansion house attraction that will really try to kill you with red Satan mist, fleshlike walls that have a pulse, and much much more. 

Thank you very much for reading my list and I hope that you'll tune in for more!

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