I’ve recently discovered that I’m actually a fairly big fan of cosmic horror. Not because I’ve just got into it, more so that I’ve recently found out that’s what some of the books and films I like are referred to as.
If you’re not familiar with what cosmic horror is. It’s described as “the fear and awe we feel when confronted by phenomena beyond our comprehension, whose scope extends beyond the narrow field of human affairs and boasts of cosmic significance”. Many Lovecraftian stories sit comfortably within the genre. Additionally, such films as Event Horizon, The Mist, and Annihilation – some of which were originally books, are also part of the genre.
The whole concept of cosmic horror is difficult to imagine and that’s the point. Forms that don’t make sense. Shapes we think we can see, but then constantly change to something our mind can’t make sense of. It’s unnerving and we don’t know why. It scares us because we can’t understand it. The horror goes beyond being scared of something killing us like many horror films.
Annihilation just so happens to be one of my favourite books. It’s a wonderfully written story, totally unsettling and strangely scary. Furthermore, it’s packed full of weird mysterious fantastical entities and thoughts that hooked me from start to finish. If you want somewhere to start reading cosmic horror I’d recommend it. But there are hundreds of other literary examples you could choose from.
Cosmic Horror Video Games
It got me thinking about video games within the genre. And how I’d not actually played many, or even noticed many. When doing a little digging to see what kind of games there were that could be classed as cosmic horror, the overwhelming majority were Lovecraft related. Amnesia, The Sinking City, and Call of Cthulhu are probably the most prominent titles. But even those aren’t particularly well known.
It’s not too surprising either when you consider it. Creating a video game around something new and unique that is “beyond our comprehension” must be a difficult task. However, there are already many tales from HP Lovecraft to drawn upon for inspiration. Which is why many existing games touch on those tales for the material. Cosmic Horror video games also seem to mostly be within a story-driven adventure or mystery games rather than shooters or RPG’s. I’m no authority on cosmic horror in any shape or form. But I’m enjoying exploring the genre and would like to see more of it in video games.
What appears to be lacking is futuristic science fiction. Moons of Madness is the only game I can think of that’s in space and is cosmic horror. But I’d love to play more games set in a near or distant future with cosmic themes. A video game version of something akin to Annihilation would be fantastic to explore.
There is a great video that talks about how cosmic horror is hard to make for films. Much of what’s said is transferable to video games.
Personally, I think that for any games to start to excel at cosmic horror we’re going to need them to be more prevalent in film and television. Not just in terms of successfully adapting something from words to a visual representation. But also the popularity of it. Let’s be honest, whilst I would personally like to see more cosmic horror breakthrough, I’m not sure the demand is really there.
The reason I mention Annihilation so much is that it’s succeeded as a great example of cosmic horror writing. Additionally, it also adapted fairly successfully to film. Yes, it didn’t get a cinema release, but I think that’s because it didn’t have the mass appeal. That’s not to say it wasn’t a good film, quite the contrary. I very much enjoyed it and the general consensus is it was a good film that maybe some didn’t get at first. With that in mind, the next step could be a video game.
Maybe not exactly Annihilation, but something similar. It has the terror, it has action, it has a world of awe and beauty. Yet there is something about the shimmer that makes you uncomfortable and you don’t necessarily know why. That’s exactly what cosmic horror should do. And the ‘world’ of Annihilation feels like a place you could draw inspiration from.
Is there room for the genre to grow? Sure, like anything it just needs someone to take a leap. If we look back to 2002’s The Thing video game, that was considered a success selling over 1 million copies. That being said, not much seemed to happen after that. In fact, a sequel was in the works but eventually was canceled. Further cementing the lack of interest. I for one would love to see more full Sci-fi cosmic horror games emerge. That being said, looking at upcoming games, I’m not seeing much…