Sanity is overrated.
There are some who understand this, who cannot stand the monotony of the everyday, perhaps scoffing at the common pettiness that surrounds them. They know, deep in their bones, that there is something beyond this mortal realm, and this something calls to them; it occupies their minds in those moments before sleep and between tasks. It renders their eyes distant, always searching for a sign, a frayed thread that can be pulled to unseal the seams of this surface world and reveal what’s beneath, that unknown thing that persistently tugs at their curiosity.
And yet this unknown is itself a source of fear, and, for these particular people, it is interwoven with fascination. You cannot separate the two.
H.P. Lovecraft had many faults (he was one racist jerk), but he fundamentally understood this appeal. He is quoted as saying, “The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown.” His stories appeal to this angst, and his readers are often gripped by a morbid obsession with the gods and the unknown in his work. They catch glimpses of that tantalizing something, just there, but nothing more.
The problem is that grasping this thing can drive you mad. That something is a cruel pattern that underlies our world, and to understand it is to break a person’s mind. The characters in Lovecraft’s fiction aren’t driven mad simply by what they see; they realize the dark reality of their world and are unable to readjust to normal society once they know the truth behind it. As asserted in The Call of Cthulhu, “The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents. We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of infinity, and it was not meant that we should voyage far.”
But perhaps that does not dissuade you. Perhaps you’ve read this and, instead of being appalled, you want to dive deeper. You are not scared by the specter of madness. You want to see it. Very well, then.
Video games are an immersive medium that bind horror and terror well and that teach us many lessons, both good and bad. As such, we’ve compiled a list of games that, played in order, could take you to the brink of madness and beyond.
But be warned: Go too far and you may not be able to return.
Animal Crossing: New Horizons
Let’s start with normal and gentle. Here, you will be lulled into a sense of security, but you might question a few things. Why are you obsessed with a simulator for the easy sort of life we all wish we had? Perhaps because you know it’s unattainable. Paying off your debts? Pah! Only in this realm of fantasy.
Resident Evil 2 (Remake)
You must dip your toe gently into the water, or you will recoil. Play Resident Evil 2; it’s a simple touch of gore and horror and will help you feel that fear of mortality, isolation, and the rule of death being broken.
Dead Space 2
This is gore incarnate. Dead Space 2 will give you enough agency to fight the monsters that surround you, but it will also drag you into the recesses of insanity and force you to fight your demons. You’ll find yourself peeking around every corner, afraid, hoarding your resources for fear that you’ll run out at the worst moment.
Silent Hill 1 and 2
Visceral horror is fine, but deep psychological anguish will bring you closer to madness. These Silent Hill games don’t aim for jump scares with an event concept that is genuinely terrifying. Your agency is taken away, and you soon realize that you’re fighting against the inevitable. You will finish these games and be scared long after they’re done, wondering why you’d fought at all.
Terrifying? No, but Heavy Rain dives fully into the emotional ramifications of a broken mind. It will have you anxious over every choice you make, questioning whether or not we can ever be good or be evil without knowing it.
Among the Sleep
Trauma defines us, not only by damaging minds but also by revealing the cruelty that some people are capable of. Among the Sleep is an emotional gut-punch that is subtly terrifying until it becomes downright tragic. Great for chipping away your faith in humanity.
Back into viscera with a dash of madness, Outlast will strip away your agency and leave you running in fear of your enemies as the game’s horror depicts more of the cruelty of which some are capable.
The last nail in the coffin of madness. Bloodborne is not a horror game in itself, but it is brilliant at pulling you into its twisted Lovecraftian world and making you understand, on a deep level, the insanity at large in the game. It will build on the damage done by the other games on this list and the ending will be the last thing you need to warp your mind into insanity.