Why Space Horror Predominated the Summer Game Fest
Summer Game Fest 2022 had a glorious deluge of new game announcements, it’s a fascinating look at the state of the industry and a peek at what’s on the horizon. At the top of the yearly game expo slash advertising extravaganza, it seemed like every game announced was set in space. And that it also included disgusting, boil covered zombies. Aliens: Dark Descent, Fort Solis, Callisto Protocol, Routine, even the follow up to Genshin Impact, Honkai: Star Rail were just some of the games set amongst the stars. And the reasons why are holding a big, solar wave catching mirror up to our society.
First off, we're getting better at “outer spacing” every passing year. (Still working out what to do with our space trash though…) For most of gaming history, space games have really been fantasy games. But now we’ve been in space long enough that it doesn’t seem like science fiction any more. The advent of commercial space flight and the ability to live stream directly from the International Space Station has given us here on Earth some collective imagination about what it’s like in space. So many of the games we’re seeing are presented not in some far utopian future, but in the decidedly f***ed up near future.
Secondly, outer space is perfect for game design. In space games, everyone’s operating in closed systems. A base on the moon, an orbiting station, etc. are essentially levels designed with economy of movement and utility in mind. And surrounding the closed system is a deadly vacuum which kills almost instantaneously. A dream for game developers.
The third piece of the puzzle is horror. The naturally claustrophobic environment of a space station is scary enough, where your character is only one wall puncture away from death by vacuum. Add on top of that whatever alien slash government accident turned space zombie and you’ve got yourself a freaky game. Horror games are growing in popularity. Even if you don’t play them yourself, it’s pretty fun to watch a streamer on Twitch get some jump scares. They’re a reflection of the pretty horrifying times. With developers from countries around the world presenting the art they’ve toiled for years to craft, we get a true snapshot of what has captured the global imagination. And this year, the imaginations of developers are clearly caught in a terrifying airlock surrounded by zombies with no escape but the cold, dead expanse of outer space.