Let me preface this, originally wrote and presented as a highly edited video essay. My recommendation is to enjoy the visual journey, however some requests for a transcript meant an audience would like to read through the essay examination.
Ghosts in oral tales, books, audio, film and tv series are pretty commonplace. As ghosts are an intrinsic part of human lore, the idea of surviving bodily death in a form that can still interact with the living or exert influence. Their role in many stories serves as a function - morality element, Prophets with imperative information to relay. Family & friends sticking around. Ghost stories are found all around the world. and they go back many millennia. The duality of life and death is thus more than just a philosophical discussion.
The medium of video gaming and interactive experiences, in relative terms, is still very new. Yet today, we have reached a technological point where games can be visually as good as real life. Importantly, not every video game has to be.
What we have is the richest environment where storytellers share their ideas. This is what happens when those ideas get inventively spooky.
Let’s define some boundaries and align our scope. Titles where ghosts are not just generic enemy types, a foe to easily overcome, or spectral guides. But where there their existence and presence is a mechanic fundamental to the experience or a really interesting concept.
This is not an exhaustive list, more a tailored set of compelling examples of unusual ghostly experiences to be found in gaming. and one I am sure you can suggest titles that could be also included, be sure to leave your suggestions below in the comments.
Electronic Arts in 1993 released “The Haunting starring Polterguy” to the SEGA mega drive- You are a 90s rad teenage skateboarder, sporting a mohawk and leather jacket, who has died due to poor manufacturing of a board. Who takes revenge against the slimy evil American Italian, “Sardini” family. the heads of the greedy manufacturing company. The gameplay sees you possessing spook ems around their house, triggering events to scare the family witless into leaving! You are completely invisible to the family, though the dog can sense you. More than 400 objects in game have the ability to be interacted with. Scaring each person, results in them running out the room and ectoplasm being produced, which you can collect. Each member has a sanity meter. With the mansion-like houses free to explore, the games lying somewhere between an action game and a simulation, The Haunting received high accolades and praise on its initial release, a re-release came to the Playstation Portable in 2006.
Fatal Frame/Project Zero.
It’s dark, you’re alone, the presence of other worldly phenomena intent on causing you harm surrounding you with no ability to fight back… your only tool to bring these entities to be visible, a camera. We are of course talking about Fatal Frame otherwise known as Project Zero. An atmospheric survival horror published by Koei Tecmo first appeared in 2001 on the PlayStation 2 and has seen 5 main line entries into the series. Set during, 80s Japan. In each iteration, the characters use what is known as the Camera Obscura, ghosts are not able to be seen by the player except via the camera obscura, which enables you to capture ghosts on film. Taking photographs allows the player to capture and pacify spirits. Different ghostly behaviours can be observed, capturing the right moment, centring correctly, more challenging angles and putting yourself potentially in more danger enabling better photos, causes more damage to the spectral adversaries until they are released or subdued.
Beyond Two Souls / Aiden.
Quantic Dream lead by David Cage, have an array of unusual titles in their lineage - pushing cinematic storytelling that seeks to ask deeper questions whether about the nature of reality. Morals and decision making. Tones of social commentary.Whilst taking relatable characters who often are ordinary individuals placing them in the twilight zone scenario where they in a fantastical situation out of their depth, exploring what it means to be human and making choices. We will focus on one title, Beyond Two Souls then also tickle another quantum dream title too.
Beyond Two Souls premiered at the 2013 at the prestigious Tribeca Film Festival, marking only the second time the film festival has recognised a video game. For those wondering the first was. Beyond two souls released in 2013 to the Playstation 3, as one the major twilight titles. and has since found footing on Playstation 4 and PC. Ellen Page and William Dafoe take centre roles as Jodie Holmes and Dr Nathan Dawkins. An interactive drama and action-adventure.
Jodie, one of two playable characters. The other is an incorporeal entity named Aiden: a soul spiritually linked to Jodie since her birth. Jodie expresses supernatural abilities due to her psychic link, held in a research facility all her life. Whilst learning to control Aiden and understand the powers they share together. Being trained as a potential field agent, in a very MK Ultra CIA inspired way. Jodie escapes to explore the world, finding love, action, terror all the while on the run from forces seeking to control her. Whilst in play, you can switch between Jodie and Aiden, Aiden is incorporeal with the ability to move through walls, interact with objects and highlight things for Jodie to do/use. Albeit with a tether that limits distance. This optionally instead can be played simultaneously with another player as Aiden, using another controller or a smartphone. Breaking the barrier to accessibility and remarkable story telling.
In addition Quantic dreams first major title The Nomad soul.
With the unique talents of David Bowie and the setting a futuristic Blade Runner-esque industrial city of Omikron. With Inspirations of Robocop and others 80s future movies. At the time of release in 2000, it was an ambitious, multi genre game, that breaks the fourth wall very early, addressing “you” the player to help catch a serial killer and that he is lending you His body. As you come to learn the apparent protagonist, Kay’l. Can die. A form of virtual reincarnation then takes place, death is not permanent, as “you” the multi dimensional spirit, are brought into take control of any one who touches the body. Which opens up intriguing ideas for solving many of the game’s elements.
The legend of Zelda Spirit Tracks. Released in 2009, for the Nintendo DS.
Players find themselves 100 years after the events of Phantom Hourglass. Link and Princess Zelda in Hyrule, with a weirdly convoluted world backstory, where a spirit powered rail system had once existed which is now dilapidated. way back when opposing forces of good and evil collided and the demon king was defeated buried under a tower and the good spirits returned to the skies. leaving to the people, their technology. Clearly someone at Nintendo had been watching Ancient Aliens. Early into the game, Zelda is killed, then becomes a spirit herself. Who only Link can see, a very sassy Zelda together with Link wants to reconnect the cities of Hyrule through the elaborate train network - in a series first Zelda becomes controllable, she has the ability to possess enemies, that in turn allow puzzles to be completed and obstacles to be overcome.
Shadow of mordor
From monolith studios, published by Warner Bros interactive in the latter months of 2014, was a daring take into the Ring laden lands envisaged by JRR Tolkien, Middle Earth. Shadow of mordor. Taking an original story, with the player assuming the role of Talion, a ranger of gondor, during the 60 year period between the events of The Hobbit and The Fellowship of the Ring. Guarding the black gates. Talion as the opening chapters play out, your family is sacrificed by Uruk. in a summoning of the wraith of the Elf Lord Celebrimbor, whose spirit then fuses with you. Talion and Celebrimbor as two set out to avenge the deaths of their respective loved ones. Players are given the open world of Mordor, to explore and find adventure. Riding great beasts and conquering towers. Fighting foes and making enemies that will remember you. Your ranger skills and spectral elvish abilities, can be increased through gameplay, completing tasks and finding collectibles.
Five nights at freddys,
Scott Cawthon’s five nights at Freddys, originally saw players take the role of a security guard, tasked with overseeing a pizzeria during the night. A wacky, horror featuring animatronic creatures possessed by murdered children whose spirits have returned to haunt the owner of the company. Jump scares a plenty. As an employee, you must defend yourself in a static room, preventing the animatronics from entering using security doors and information being fed to you via camera feeds and phone calls. To Survive five nights at freddys. Each night successively harder. A take on the horror tower defence and part memory test. As sequels and updates rolled out, the story became more and more elaborate with developing mechanics. Quirky 8bit style mini games included from the second title, as a task when you are attacked and die. Though each sequel received less critical acclaim the prior release, the title has a cult following in the streaming community.
Developed and published by Zoink Games in 2018 for playstation VR and PC, sees you as the ghost giant, a protector of a very lonely little boy Louis who lives on a sunflower farm. Who is invisible to all but him, you can explore his world reaching in to help solve puzzles with your size and abilities, experiencing a heartfelt story that touches many.
Virtual Reality is where I would like to stick for another title,
In a fun tongue in cheek simulation. Two point hospital, sees players Taking on the role of a hospital manager charged also with constructing and expansion of the facilities. With a variety of tasks to manage and maintain, building rooms and amenities, satisfying hunger and thirst of the patients and staff. Hiring and management of doctors, nurses, and those who maintain the hospital. However, spookiness sets it to affect the player. When patients die, they sometimes return from the dead and become ghosts! Who proceed to float around disrupting your hospital’s operation by terrorising employees and patients. Causing general mischief! With a trusty handivac, having had lessons from Luigi and Sam! Janitors can thankfully suck them up and dispose of them!
Mooneye studios, announced a kickstarter project in 2016, Lost Ember. Successful community fundraising lead to its full development, and in the november of 2019 saw the public release. Lost Ember sees the player in the role of a spirit from the Yanrana people, a soul who failed to reach their cultures afterlife. now reincarnated as a wolf. uncovering the secrets of the fallen civilization and in a world reclaimed by nature. Gameplay focuses on experiencing this world and the story from a variety of interesting perspectives. The ability to possess different creatures inhabiting the lush and beautiful environments at will. At launch the ability to swim in waters as a fish, roll on the grass as a wombat, fly in the clouds as a parrot, dig underground as a quirky mole and transverse cliffs as a goat as you please.
Honourable mention and those just missing out
Nintendo Gamecubes launch title, was not a Mario title but a Luigi title! Inspired by a tech demo, for the capability of Nintendo cuboid console. Luigis mansion was born! Getting a letter telling you, you’ve won a mansion, in a competition you never entered is like as believable as a successful pyramid scheme. Finding the mansion to be haunted and Mario missing, a scientist entrusts his inventions to you a hoover the Poltergust and a Game Boy Horror. Tackling room to room, Stunning ghosts with your torch beam, before sucking them up into the vacuum bag. On the hunt for ghosts, treasure and hidden items. Boos place down tricky traps and decoys. Progressing through freeing up all the mansions paintings. Rooms brighten and happier plucky music plays, nervous whistle continue.
Was still hmm and arring to include this as more of an honorable mention. As ghosts are just the generic enemy, but ghosts are fundamental to the game play and existence of the title. Luigis premiere title, and has spawned a few sequels with the sprinkle of Nintendo magic remaining fresh and inventive.
Honorable mention goes to Okami.
Okami - more a great god spirit than a ghost, Combining elements of Japanese mythology and folklore to tell the story of how the land was saved from darkness by the Shinto sun goddess, Amaterasu, who took the form of the Shirunai white wolf, Bringing light and colour into the world by means of painting with a celestial brush.
Honorable mention to Moss.
Moss, in control of Quill a sword wielding mouse, whilst small, is full of charm and character. Environmental puzzles and actions are solved by you, the “reader”, as the game is presented as chapters of a grand book. Moss is looking through the opening footnotes of the adventure, within a grander adventure. Wind in the willows meets lord of the rings. It misses out on inclusion, as its not acknowledged what you are as the invisible force in quills adventure, a ghost, elemental spirit or god, other than the reader., despite every so often, catching a glimpse of yourself as a spectral form.
Please be sure to watch the video as moire intended as a visual exploration of the topic.
Until the next adventure.
Website - http://www.kristianlander.com