Why We Happy Few Is The First Horror Game To Actually Horrify Me

Just a quickie to make up for technical issues yesterday. :D

Sad to say that I’ve been financially strapped lately. So, with fewer resources to dedicate to my sanity-maintaining hobbies and this year being more stressful than most (thanks for THAT, Brexit and 2016 election year), I’ve been focusing more on the trailers for the movies and games I can’t see/play just yet in anticipation.

That’s when I stumbled upon this little gem that flew under my radar.

We Happy Few is a survival horror game set in a dystopian 1960’s Britain where the Big Brother-Esque figure known as Uncle Jack uses aggressive marketing and even more aggressive law enforcement to force the citizens into staying high a flying squirrel on a euphoria-inducing psychoactive drug called ‘Joy’ in order to force others to forget their painful pasts and remain willfully ignorant of the real terrors around them.

Of course, anyone caught skipping their Joy is labeled as a ‘Downer’ and will be hunted down by police and citizens alike. Basically, think the classic Doctor Who episode The Happiness Patrol (complete with criticism of Thatcher-Era politics) with significantly fewer candy-coated cyborgs.

Now, I have a history with survival horror as a genre as they seem to do neither very well these days. You aren’t exactly struggling for survival when you’re armed like a space marine and the jump scares lose their edge after the 50th time. In We Happy Few, however, you’re essentially forced to walk among the very monsters that want you dead; creating a truly unnerving experience.

What’s more, it’s an experience that many of us can relate to. I have many close friends who suffer from social anxiety. I can only imagine that a game like this captures the feeling of being trapped among ‘normal’ people; feeling like the outsider that nobody wants and that everyone hates.

This game also touches a nerve for those who suffer from depression. Some days, you almost wish you could pop a pill that made you forget all of your pain. But then you have to realize that the comfortable lie may be even more dangerous than the harsh truth and that disillusioning yourself may just leave you more vulnerable.

I love good horror in all of its many forms because it forces me to face the ugliest sides of the world and arms people with the cold, hard truth. But, in terms of games, this may be the first and only horror game to truly fill me with dread.

Of course, I’m saying all of this before I’ve had the chance to play it. But given what I’ve heard so far, I’m clearly not alone in thinking this.

And let us never forget the moral of this game’s story; the tired meme of, “keep calm and carry on” is a crock. DON’T keep calm; your world is being run by liars, megalomaniacs, and sociopaths.

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Horribly Good: The Importance of Horror and How To Do It Right

“Before I kill you, I’d like have a serious conversation about the importance of fear in human society…”
Source: Comic Vine

Summer has only just started and my mind is already on Halloween – mostly due to the happy news that my cousin is getting married on All Hallows Eve and everyone is going to be in full costume.

Of course, when my mind goes to Halloween, it also extends into thinking on horror stories. As such, I’ve been enjoying some campy horror films and playthroughs of horror-themed games and pondering the nature of the scariest form of entertainment.

You see, back in my day (or at least among my circle of childhood authorities), horror had a bad reputation owed to the quickly improving field of special effects in films making for more realistic violence and the stories becoming more brutal in their subject matter to compensate. This always struck me as an odd reaction that some people had. It left me asking, “Why are so offended by a horror story that manages to ACTUALLY be horrifying?”

Because, my beloved Field Operatives, that is the point of horror stories; to put a less than savory aspect of life on display and make you understand why you need to be afraid of and/or despise it.

Every good horror story, or at least the best remembered, works by making a monster out of a major aspect of daily life that the creator feels needs to change or a social issue that they feel needs addressing. For example, there are plenty of propaganda films from the Cold War era that attempted to be direct about “The Red Scare” taking over the world, but most were quickly forgotten at best and laughed off at worse. But do you know what story inspired by the fear of the loss of self in that era has survived the test of time? That’s right, Invasion of the Body Snatchers.

All good horror stories employ this philosophical symbolism; Eraserhead‘s mutant baby and the fears of parenthood, The Cenobites from Hellraiser being the manifestations of human vices, Jason Voorhees and the debate on premarital sex, and so on.

Sadly, it’s this formula that also causes a lot of tension with detractors of the genre. These films have to hit very close to a cultural nerve to be effective – so close that they are often accused of being guilty of the very evils that they preach against. This was the case with the 1978 film Day of the Woman (better known as I Spit On Your Grave) which was meant to be an accusatory finger pointing at male chauvinism and rape culture but was criticized for being chauvinistic itself.

Of course, even the films and games that lack this sort of philosophical storytelling, though terrible for the most part, can still have some merit for the creator if not for the audience. Movies like Street Trash may just be a parade of melting bodies, but it was a chance for the creator to explore new special effects. Games like Five Nights at Freddy’s may just be a string of jump scares, but it was a successful experiment in using the Uncanny Valley effect to create unsettling character designs and audio.

So, if you’re an aspiring horror film/game maker, here’s my advice to you; find something you care about, something that you think is a serious problem in the world today, and build a Frankenstein Monster out of all of the worst parts of it to show your audience how terrible it is and make sure it stays in their minds for the rest of their lives. Not only will you create a memorable story, but it will be a story that helps guide your audience against the evil it represents.