Originally published 29/04/2015
Among the Sleep is an indie game designed by Krillbite Studio’s, where you play a two-year-old boy looking for your mom. Among the Sleep is not complicated, it does not use high end graphics or violence, so why is it such an immersive horror game? When we begin we are greeted with cake from our mother on our second birthday. There is an ominous knock on the door and some muffled shouting, but it results in the delivery of a birthday gift containing Teddy, your trusty companion and guide throughout the game. Later you are woken up, in the middle of the night, by an unseen force taking Teddy from your crib. Your crib itself is turned over and thus you begin your journey through several terrifying and surreal levels, where a simple act of crawling through a closet with coats becomes frightening. I found myself grasping onto Teddy more times than I care to admit while playing.
The fist and probably most obvious feature when we begin playing is the scale of everything else. You are very small and everything around you feels intimidating, I never thought that playing as a two-year-old could be so interesting, unable to communicate and barely able to walk, feeling hopelessly vulnerable stumbling around in the dark. As described by GameFront’s Jim Sterling, “This goes beyond just putting the first-person camera at knee height and telling us we’re kids, too. Everything, from the sound of infantile breathing to the wobbliness of the camera and the unsteadiness of little hands, has been designed to accurately put ourselves behind the eyes of a toddler.” The sound of our little heartbeat, our clumsy steps and the scale of our environment returns us to the age of two and how it felt to be alone in the dark.
To look at this more accurately we need to try and understand why we get scared. Among the Sleep does not rely on high-end graphics, there is no violence, no gore, and no shock images; it is all atmospheric and psychological. GameSpot’s Cam Robinson explains three mechanics horror games use to scare us, two of which are applicable to Among the Sleep. Firstly, effective forewarning, essentially – jump scares; we know that something bad is about to happen and we are lead up to that point. Much of the fear we experience occurs before the actual fright, thus giving the scare all the more impact. Secondly; sound, exposing the player to a variety of non-linear sounds or sounds with rapidly changing frequencies causes a huge amount of unease. Using sound that is inherently unpredictable captures our attention and puts us on edge.
Among the Sleep relies heavily on forewarning and sound, the game kept me on edge for its entirety, with the atmosphere constantly feeling like a jump-scare waiting to happen. The game also makes good use of its artistic stylization. Colour and light are used to convey a sense of comfort, dread, anxiety, confusion, foreboding, fear or calm. The game feels like a terrible nightmare and very easily relatable, if players, like myself, have suffered from sleep apnea. When Euro Gamer’s Jon Deanton interviewed one of Krillbite’s developers Adrian Tingstad Husby, he gave a stirring account of the games inspiration; “It was the vision of a child fleeing from a monster in his room, running down the stairs and then hiding underneath, watching the monster’s feet through the steps as it came walking slowly down the stairs in search for him – all seen from a first person perspective.”
As the game progresses we come across our drawings, featuring us and our mother, becoming more macabre and ominous; our mother changing from a warm, loving figure, to a black monster towering over us. There are also drawings depicting a third person, presumably the child’s father, arguing with the mother. Bottles are used as another narrative device; every time you break a bottle the monster gets mad and begins chasing you. The game concludes with the monster finding you and taking Teddy from you, soon it is revealed that the monster is your mother. After we have found all our happy memories of her we return to reality only find her with an empty wine bottle crying on the kitchen floor. We are soon rescued by the voice from the beginning and are taken away. The game is open to some interpretation, but I believe that it is the result of an infant trying to interpret and cope with an alcoholic mother. By showing the players both sides of her, the loving mother and the monster, it gives us a fair amount of sympathy for her. However, Among the Sleep illustrates the horrifying experience of what it is like to live with an alcoholic parent, especially at such a young age.
The developers at Krillbite have innovatively made the horror genre more diverse. Krillbite have stepped away from the violent, shocking and gory horror games and given us something equally, if not more, terrifying. Once the player understands the games message it only makes the second play-through all the more frightening and traumatic. The designers have used their medium to tell a compelling story that invokes the fear and confusion of a child. The reasons that I find Among the Sleep so immersive is because it effectively makes the player feel like a scared two-year-old again, who is afraid of the dark, vulnerable and alone. There is a palatable sense of dread as we make our way through the game. By taking the players into the mind of a child, they are able to remind us of how easily scared we can be.
- Krillbite Studio. 2014. Among the Sleep. Valve Corporation. PC, PS4. http://www.krillbite.com/ats/
- Alzu Gamming. 2014. Among The Sleep. Walkthrough Full Game. No Commentary
- Sterling. J. 2012. Relatively Obscure Video Games I Want You To Pay Attention to. http://www.gamefront.com/relatively-obscure-videogames-i-want-you-to-pay-attention-to/
- Robinson. C. 2013. Why do horror games scare us?
- Deanton. J. 2012. Among The Sleep Preview: They Mostly Come At Night. http://www.eurogamer.net/articles/2012-07-03-among-the-sleep-preview-they-mostly-come-at-night
- Realtalk. 2014. Among the Sleep Explained. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iBlTvyYp9Eo