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The Helplessness of Humanity: How the Amnesia Series Continues to Trailblaze for Psychological Horror Video Games

You flick off the lights in your room and return to your computer. Mouse hovering over the gothic white font reading Start New Game, you click, chillingly aware of your solitariness. You wake up as Daniel in an 1839’s Prussian Brennenburg Castle with no memory of how you arrived. You have no superhuman powers, no companions… only a note from your past-self with a warning of a monster you cannot defend yourself against. The darkness of the castle fills the space around your room, and suddenly it feels like the computer screen that used to separate fiction from reality is no longer there.

Amnesia: The Dark Descent, the first in its series, was a landmark first-person video game in the Lovecraftian — inspired by HP Lovecraft — genre. Relying on atmospheric horrors and the powerlessness of Daniel to create sustaining tension and suspense throughout the game, players have to balance physical health as well as sanity. The darkness becomes another enemy to Daniel, playing heavily on own human fear of the unseen. Players have to rely on stealth and intelligence to evade danger, slipping into dark rooms or sprinting out of the monsters’ line of sight. Without the gore and violence from fighting off the creatures on your tail, The Dark Descent helped create a whole new way to grip its audience with fear.

Ten years later, the release of Amnesia: Rebirth has players on their toes for the same reasons. Now as Tasi Trianon, players are tested again with the boundaries of human strength, both physical and mental. Light and speed are your main means of survival, instilling a constant sense of vulnerability. Players are forced back into darkness as matches blow out, screen blurring and pulse quickening as Tasi loses sanity. The game developers didn’t shy away from jump scares, but layering on the defenselessness of your character adds new depth to the horror genre.

Like other live horror experiences such as haunted houses or theme parks, the Amnesia series exploits the limits and fears of humanity. The game puts you in the point of view of the main character and adds in atmospheric lighting and sounds that drive down both your own and your character’s sanity. While other video games sometimes rely heavily on blood and gore to terrorize their players, this series manipulates the meaning of horror. However, immersion is the key to these games. Turning down the lights, playing with headphones, and embracing the journey will further bring yourself into the mindset of the character.

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