The Backrooms Was Only The Beginning – Analog Horror Could Be The Next Big Indie Wave
Let us take it back to August 10th, 2021 with the first installment of the Mandela Catalogue created by Alex Kister. This was a highly unique short video with a concept outdoing the horror typically seen with films. With the recent decline in horror film quality, with few Directors giving horror fans something to actually fear. Such as Ari Aster with his incredibly emotional and disturbing takes on horror or the fantastic symbolism and aesthetic of David Robert Mitchell’s It Follows. Horror films have become overtly predictable and somewhat boring with its stereotypical cast and jumpscares. A lot of interesting new takes on the horror genre are being explored via YouTube and TikTok and with it comes the introduction of Analog Horror.
What is Analog Horror?
Analog Horror appears as low quality, cryptic messaging set to emotionally manipulate the viewers with disturbing imagery. With early examples making waves on YouTube such as Local 58, Mandela Catalogue and more recently with the Smile Tapes. These enter the realm of uncanny valley, with creepy distorted imagery overtaking the media, as seen on news broadcasts or old home movies. The horror typically displays something reminiscent and familiar with humanity however there is just something “off” with it. Something that makes the hairs at the back of your neck stand and goosebumps swarm your body. It is the use of hijacked media or a well executed but fabricated clip of a broadcast to hone in on the audience’s fears of both the unknown and of invasion.
Invasion being that of something either extra-terrestrial, an imposter to humanity or of the darker side of humanity itself. When comparing this invasion style YouTube series with ARGs on Tiktok, you can see the use of Analog Horror in these videos. ARGs have been around for years, primarily on YouTube however with the Blair Witch style Found Footage subgenre being at the forefront of TikTok ARGs, there is something very unique about this style. It is likely due to the interaction between the user and the audience which makes this experience so realistic and intriguing. Similar to our voyeuristic views on serial killers, with Netflix creating mass quantities of mini series dedicated to idolising these killers.
The Bridge Between Creator and Audience
Looking solely at TikTok ARGs such as Where_Is_Everybody, The_Exits_Are_Missing and Where_Is_The_Sky take on similar themes as seen inside Analog YouTube series. With ideas such as being the last human alive but not being alone on Earth. Perhaps being abducted and placed into an alternate world that appears like Earth but does not behave the same. This too has the uncanny valley and liminal space horror being manufactured through the use of the phone. Thus placing it inside the found footage category of horror.
The creator asks you to make sense of what you are seeing. For you to try and tell what is real and what is not.
The interaction between the audience and the user is what makes these ARGs a social phenomenon. Because of this, the horror cannot be replicated easily in films. For the reaction from the audience in trying to piece together clues on the mystery whilst helping the user cannot be replicated in film. This too is the case for YouTube Analog series as these ask the audience to join in on the mystery and strange disturbing images.
How Does it Translate to Analog Horror Games?
Analog Horror Games bring back the PS1 aesthetic to perfectly encapsulate the horrors on screen. The use of this style brings the audience back to a time where horror was truly frightening. With Resident Evil and Silent Hill being powerhouses at this time. It traps the player into a world of naturally distorted images. With monsters that are difficult to understand and faces that are pixelated to exude the uncanny valley phenomenon. There is little separating the appearance of the human model against that of a monster. It is with that, that Analog Horror truly shines. You cannot tell what is can or cannot be trusted in the realm of Analog Horror.
The pixelated characters combined with the use of grainy textures which resembles a video tape are the signature looks for the subgenre. What Analog Horror does well is the handling of unique, complex and often bizarre ideas accompanied by an aesthetic which compliments its idea. Nothing truly ever makes sense in an Analog Horror Game.
The Ideas of Analog Horror
We are seeing an increase in Analog Horror Games tackling home invasions, slashers and stalker horror with developers Puppet Combo, Chilla’s Art and Rayll. Their success comes from the use of the PS1 aesthetic combined with the terrifying situations. These would not work if not delivered in the Analog Horror aesthetic. These are often inspired by the 80s aesthetic will include multiple visual settings such as VHS, CRT or PSX which allow the player to set their preference. You could say that Puppet Combo inspired this new generation of Developers creating Analog Horror and reviving the PS1 aesthetic.
Their cryptic messaging and the distorted images. The strangeness in the dialogue and the endless wondering of “what did I just play?”
The strange ideas of horror as seen in the likes of Local 58 have inspired many Indie Horror Games. Such as The Moon Has Faded Away, Wheat Harvest Paradox, Slide in the Woods, Paratopic, Nightslink and The Building 71 Incident. It is safe to say that these are bizarre Horror Games. But it is the strange which make these iconic Indie Horror Games.
The Rise of The Backrooms
Found footage is not a unique idea at this point. Its real moment of excellence started with its origin of Blair Witch. To fool the audience into believing that what they were witnessing was real. It was truly the horror before reading the words “based on a true story” at the start of every horror film. But nowadays, found footage can be seen everywhere. But what about liminal space found footage? Well, welcome aboard to The Backrooms. This creepypasta became highly popular because of the short horror film created by Kane Pixels. Since 2022, we have so many Backrooms games to play on Steam that it can be a tad overwhelming. However, the idea of the Backrooms is just like the TikTok ARGs.
You are placed in a world that looks like home but cannot be. Nothing about it makes sense. There is no one else here but you keep hearing sounds. The florescent lights hum way too loudly and the walls seem to repeat forever. There are whispers now but you do not seem to have made any progress from your starting point. Something else is here and it is not human. The Backrooms right now appears to be leading the charge on Analog Horror, this is likely due to its entries within the Multiplayer category. In regard to Multiplayer Horror Games, there are few as the biggest and best available. With Dead by Daylight, Phasmophobia, SCP Containment Breach and Left 4 Dead. But in my personal opinion, none of these are particularly scary.
What the Backrooms has created is an uncanny valley setting of the eerie atmosphere with at times, cryptic messages combined with horrifying monsters reminiscent of SCP entities. This will remain at the top of the Analog Horror wave, riding it out until the new trend comes along. The Backrooms will eventually and inevitably meet their demise as something new and intriguing overtake the popularity. It is the cycle of every product and the Backrooms will not be safe to this. But what will take over? I believe Analog Horror will become the most popular subgenre of Horror Games, with many Indie Developers getting their chance in the spotlight. We will likely see many more games inspired by Mandela Catalogue and the Smile Tapes to come within the next two years.
The Importance of Analog Horror Games
Analog Horror Games allow Developers, even those who have never developed before, to create something new and exciting in the realm of horror. What is great about this subgenre is the use of the specific Engine to create the PS1 aesthetic. It allows for Developers to create something that does not require incredibly realistic graphics to portray a horrifying tale. Many may feel inspired by the rise of Indie Horror Games, specifically under the Analog subgenre. We may see more people attempt to make their own version of the Mandela Catalogue. With recent entries of Maple Country and Mandela Invasion that are already attempting to turn this YouTube series into an interactive game.
Analog Horror is in its starting phase and it has a lot to master. However, what we are witnessing right now is some of the best Horror Games in the recent years. As of 2023, I place my trust in the hands of the Indie Horror Developers delving deeper into their creativity and bringing forth another strange, one-of-a-kind experience, different to anything we have previously seen. It is with the repeated consumption of AAA Horror Games that are too scared themselves to try something new that you should cast your eyes away from them. To take a look at the guys in their bedrooms, producing Analog Horror Games. Those are the ones to watch. I believe we are only at the beginning of this brand new subgenre. We have Local58TV, Alex Kister, Puppet Combo and Chilla’s Art to thank for this.