An explanation of the “Designing Horror” series.
Game: All of Our Friends Are Dead by Amon26
1. Why Is It Horror?
This game is horror because it slaps an aesthetic onto a shooter frame. There is a focus on scrambled text, strange writings, cyclopean structures, and deformed enemies in order to make the aesthetic resonate. Other than that, it isn’t horror in any way–it just wears horror as a way of making a shooting game more exciting.
When I say that, I’m not meaning to trash the game. The horror element addition feels sincere–they made a genuinely creepy world that isn’t explainable in any way. Then you roll through it and shoot enemies, a number of which just come back in the biggest “fuck you” possible when you try to jump across a chasm.
I’m open enough, and horror is a vague enough word (unless you do the etymology, which I will do for you one day) that anything can fit inside of it. All Of Our Friends Are Dead seems to be horror because of the imagery it deploys and the effect it seeks to generate in the player. It tries to make me uneasy. It tries to make me second guess myself, to be confused, and it tries to push me away.
It actively resists interpretation while hiding nothing. There isn’t anything obscured or mystical about it. There is just a horrible world and my act of navigation. That interplay generates the horror–“How could all of this be so terrible and never try to hide itself?” is the general feel. A great aesthetic experi(ence)ment.
2. How Does It Work?
All Of Our Friends Are Dead makes the player uneasy through its use of music, its visual aesthetics, and the movement of its enemies.
The music drones in the background, and I can’t find a YouTube video that does it justice. It seeps into you. The staccato rhythm of the firing gun is punctuated only by enemies dying with a inhuman cry. There isn’t any reason to it, and it is powerful because of that. Just like the visual, the audible presents itself as it is; there is nothing below it, it symbolizes nothing. It just is, and what it is is disconcerting.
The movement of enemies is unsettling because it isn’t predictable. Some of them also fire little balls of death that kill you on impact. The combination of the two is super-frustrating, but it also forced my to be hyper-aware of my environment. The game plays on this focus. For instance, there is a lot of red in the levels, and the enemies’ missiles are red–there is confusion about what is hostile (what will kill you) and what isn’t.
The result of that is a feeling that everything is hostile. Everything wants to hurt you. And this is a brilliant move for horror. Successful horror games have generally used possibility as a multitool–in Silent Hill, there is the possibility of something coming out of the mist; in Amnesia there is the possibility of something terrible as fuck being behind that door. All Of Our Friends Are Dead, by putting everything up front and attempting to make every single action, not just actions that “face the unknown,” a horror experience. That’s genius.
3. What Did It Do To Me?
It frustrated me. At some point, I fell down into a little cubby that needed a key, and I couldn’t backtrack. So I stopped playing.
Other than that, nothing much. The design was smart, but it didn’t pull me in. I felt about the same as I do when I play a game like Contra. I wasn’t horrified, that’s for sure.
I got a sweet desktop background out of the whole thing, though.