Developers often look to history for inspiration when creating new video games. One of the most famous examples of this is the Assassin’s Creed franchise which brilliantly weaves together fiction and reality, letting you live through history in their games.
When a horror game is based on real history, however, it can make the story even more unsettling.
We’ve picked 7 that are based on events that really happened.
*Warning: This article contains mild spoilers*
7. Outlast 2, 2017
Outlast 2 is a first-person psychological horror, set just after a plane crash. After recovering, you make your way to the nearest village in search of your missing wife. There, you find a strange and fanatical cult called Temple Gate, led by preacher Sullivan Knoth.
Knoth, an obsessive Christian cult leader, rapes the women of Temple Gate and executes them once they fall pregnant, claiming they are carrying the Anti-Christ.
Red Barrels, developer and publisher of Outlast 2, has confirmed their inspiration came from the real-world fanatical cults of the US – in particular the ‘Peoples Temple Agricultural Project’, better known as Jonestown.
The cult of Jonestown, led by a man named Jim Jones, consisted of US citizens living remotely in Guyana. Much like Temple Gate in Outlast 2, Jonestown was comprised solely of cult members.
Red Barrels co-founder Philippe Morin has spoken about the research into cults the studio did in order to create an authentic feel for the game:
“I think what we mostly took from this incident is the dynamic of a village following the orders of a leader.”
“We also read about other types of similar incidents like the Waco siege, the Order of the Solar Temple and the Heaven’s Gate. We were also inspired by Aleister Crowley and the Jesus of Siberia.”
What happened in Jonestown?
In 1978, 909 residents of Jonestown committed mass suicide by drinking poison mixed with Kool-aid, urged on by their leader Jim Jones. 304 of the victims were just children. It is the single greatest loss of American life by a deliberate act until 9/11.
By choosing the principal victims of the cult to be women and children in Outlast 2, the directors created a direct mirroring to the real-life historical events of Jonestown.
*note: Outlast 2 is not the only game inspired by Jonestown. 2015’s release ‘Stairs’ also has references to the cult throughout.
6. Dark Pictures Anthology: Little Hope, 2020
Little Hope is the new instalment in the already well-received interactive horror series Dark Pictures Anthology.
The franchise is Supermassive Games spiritual successor to Until Dawn. In both you play as multiple characters and your choices impact who survives the game.
Whilst an urban legend inspired the first game in the series – Man of Medan; the second took its inspiration from the witch trials that took place in America, 1692. The best known of these is the Salem Witch Trials, but Little Hope’s references are from the lesser known (but far worse) Andover Witch Trials.
What are the Witch Trials?
The Witch Trials resulted from religious mass hysteria in New England, Massachusetts, 1692. Over 6 months, hundreds of young men and women were accused of witchcraft, and over 100 executed by hanging. It was the deadliest witch hunt in Colonial American history.
Throughout Little Hope you visit the locations the trials took place, and experience flashbacks of the executions.
The game jumps back and fore between present day, 1972, and 1692. As you encounter the townspeople in 1972 and as they reach their tragic ends, there are striking similarities between actual history and fiction.
Pick up Little Hope on Amazon.
5. Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice, 2017
In this psychological horror, you play as Senua, a Celtic-inspired warrior who suffers from psychosis. She believes she is cursed and follows the directions of the voices in her head.
Developers Ninja Theory, put a lot of effort into making Senua’s psychosis legitimate and realistic, consulting with psychologists and those living with psychosis.
Ninja Theory’s commitment to authenticity is also clear in how they treat historical references throughout the game.
Nordic and Celtic history inspired the clothing, visuals and style of Hellblade. Senua’s enemies dress represents Nordic warriors of old, whilst she is dressed and wears her hair in typical Celtic fashion.
Queen Boudica: Real historical inspiration
Her character’s personality also has historical inspiration, based on real Iceni Celtic Queen Boudica, who lived in 60 AD.
Boudica is a British hero who challenged the Roman uprising and whose battle strategy killed approximately 70,000-80,000 of the enemy.
The earliest known mention of Boudica described her as a “treacherous lioness,” who “butchered the governors who had been left to give fuller voice and strength to the endeavours of Roman rule.” Pretty cool lady.
Senua’s name, however, is not a derivative of Boudica, but based on a Celtic Goddess named Senuna, unknown to historians until 2002.
Taking inspiration from Viking history
When researching for Hellblade, the creators found real-life history they knew could be the basis for Senua’s devastation in-game.
When Vikings invaded Britain in the 8th century, they conquered the last remaining group of Celts on the island – known as the Picts. A civilisation that had stood strong against the invading Roman Empire at last fell, and the Vikings took over as the main population of the land.
Inspired by this story and the historical theory that the Norse sacrificed the leaders of conquered tribes, the game’s director and lead writer Tameem Antoniades used this as the basis for Senua’s trauma.
She returns to her village only to find her village slaughtered and her lover sacrificed via ‘The Blood Eagle’.
Whether this gory method of execution truly occurred is debated by historians, nevertheless the historical influence shines heavily through this horror video game.
Hellblade is available on PS4, Xbox, Switch and Steam.
4. Lady Dimitrescu – Resident Evil Village, 2021
You didn’t really think you were going to get through an entire article on horror games without Resident Evil showing up, did you?
Resident Evil Village wasn’t without its faults, but it presented us with interesting villains that kept the gameplay engaging.
The series has always taken inspiration from horror films and zombie genre traditions, but Capcom also took inspiration from real history when creating Lady Dimitrescu.
Real-life inspiration, Countess Elizabeth Báthory, is far more terrifying than Lady Dimitrescu could ever hope to be – even at 9 foot tall. Báthory is the most prolific female murderer of all time, with hundreds of women identified as her victims between 1590-1610.
Elizabeth Báthory: Vampiric Murderess
Countess Báthory is one of the most fucked up individuals this world has ever seen.
With the help of 3 young accomplices (sound familiar?) and an older ‘witch’ woman, she would take young peasant girls to torture. Descriptions of her evil methods include burning, biting and mutilation and she allegedly drank her victim’s blood. This is all eerily reminiscent of the entries found in Lady Dimitrescu’s castle, detailing what she did to her three “daughters”.
Born in Transylvania, Báthory was a prominent member of the nobility, and thus protected from persecution for many years. Eventually, when her attentions turned to Noble women and action was finally taken against her. In 1610, she was arrested and sentenced to life imprisonment in her castle.
Countess Elizabeth Báthory has inspired much folklore, and although we don’t know whether vampires in general are based on her disturbing life, we know for sure that Báthory’s bloodlust was the inspiration for Lady Dimitrescu and her daughters.
Get Resident Evil Village on Amazon.
3. Forbidden Siren, 2003
Forbidden Siren was a popular PS2 game by Keiichiro Toyama, creator of Silent Hill.
Playing as 10 survivors in the abandoned fictional Japanese village of Hanuda, you encounter Shibito – living dead – as you try to survive and escape.
Whilst multiple Japanese legends inspired Forbidden Siren, Toyama also took inspiration from real historical events.
Hanuda is a village that rests between this world and the next, with many references of histories where the villagers were repeatedly wiped out- through natural disasters, human intervention or other more malevolent events.
Learning of the village’s history, we discover that on one of these occasions, in 1938, a soldier returned from war, came home only to slaughter 33 of his neighbours.
The historical inspiration for Hanuda
In real-world events, 1938 is the year of the deadliest lone mass shooting in Japanese history. Known as the Tsuyama Massacre, 23-year-old Mutsuo Toi massacred a third of his home town Kamocho Kurami. Starting at midnight, over the course of 6 hours, Toi murdered 30 individuals and injured 3 more. For those who aren’t great at maths… that’s 33 people.
The night of horror came to a close at dawn when Mutsuo Toi shot himself in the chest, committing suicide.
After the massacre, most moved away, and in 2003, the few that remained reported no one had moved to the village in the 65 years since. Eventually, Kamocho Kurami merged into the larger city of Tsuyama, ceasing to exist.
The direct parallels between the real-life massacre and the village of Hanuda in the world of Forbidden Siren are clear. Like reality, the story of the soldier tells of a massacre of 33 that destroyed the town (recall, the real Mutsuo Toi murdered 30 and injured 3 others).
Toyama has acknowledged this connection when discussing his inspiration for Forbidden Siren, claiming most of his inspiration has come from “a dark incident set around the muddled connections between a group of people in an insular society, came to mind…”
Forbidden Siren was only available on PS2, but if you dust off your console it’s still available to buy on Amazon.
2. Kholat, 2015
Kholat is an indie survival horror game, narrated by none other than Sean Bean who *spoiler alert* doesn’t die.
Created by IMGN.PRO, the game is atop Kholat Syakhl mountain, where you search for 9 missing Russian college students in the winter of 1959. As you explore, strange and inexplicable events happen around you.
This really happened and is known as the Dylatov Pass Incident. In February 1959, nine Russian students lost their lives on Kholat Syakhl in strange and until recently, unexplained circumstances.
What happened on Dylatov Pass?
The group, led by fellow student Igor Dyaltov, were all experienced trekkers. But after no word from the group for over 20 days (and a promised telegram on 12th February did not arrive), a search and rescue party set out.
What they found was terrifying and unexplainable.
The searchers found the groups badly damaged tent on Kholat Syakhl, half torn down and covered in snow. It was cut open from the inside, but lifesaving items like the group’s shoes remained in the campsite. It took two months to find all their bodies; and whilst six had died of hypothermia, three had horrific internal injuries that were likened to victims of high-speed car crashes.
For a long time, no one knew what had happened to the students. But their strange and unexplained deaths were the perfect foundation for a horror video game, and thus Kholat was born. IMGN.PRO used the mystery to add realism to the fear factor as you traverse the mountain, stalked by terrifying, otherworldly creatures.
60 years later, in 2019, a new theory on what had happened emerged. The students were victims of what’s called a ‘slab avalanche’. Those who didn’t die soon succumbed to hypothermia whilst trying to escape.
This new official explanation is still disputed. Maybe, Kholat is the real, truthful version of events….
1. Cursed Mountain, 2010
Cursed Mountain is a survival horror game, created for the Wii by Sproing Interactive and Deep Silver Vienna.
Playing as mountaineer, Frank, you are on a trek to rescue your brother who has unwittingly released demons and cursed spirits you must battle to reach him.
The teams behind Cursed Mountain used the true story of Reinhold Messner and his brother Gunther as direct inspiration for this horror video game.
Reinhold Messner, Mountaineer
Reinhold Messner was not only the first person to solo climb Everest, but he was also the first to do it without any additional oxygen. Before his climb to the history books, however, came tragedy.
In 1970, he and his brother, Gunther, set off for their first major Himalayan peak – the previously unclimbed Rupal face of Nanga Parbat. It was a tough climb, and Gunther was a far less experienced mountaineer than his brother. Although they both reached the summit, two days after beginning their descent, Gunther tragically died in an avalanche.
Messner faced public scrutiny for his brother’s death, with some claiming he should never have taken his less experienced brother with him.
The idea of one brother searching for another in Cursed Mountain is directly inspired by the Messner brother’s tragic tale.
If you still have a Wii knocking about, you can still buy Cursed Mountain on Amazon.
Disclaimer: All links Amazon links are affiliate. I do not recommend products I don’t have/wouldn’t purchase myself.
It is strange to me that video games haven’t drawn more on real life events. But I think with the current realism provided we might start seeing more of this.
Thanks for commenting! I’d say there was always inspiration from reality but nowadays as you said its a lot easier to put in more and more, the obvious choices are games like Assassin’s Creed but everything is inspired by something…
This is a really interesting post! Not sure I’ll ever play these games as they’re just a bit darker than I like my games, but I like learning about the creative process behind them. Thanks for sharing!
Thank you for your comment, I’m really glad you found it interesting even if its not the normal type of game you play. I’ll be doing more on other genres soon! 🙂