Before Tiktok, before Fortnite, before anything else that our our Generation Z siblings got super into that is hard for me to understand, came the rise of scary games.
It’s not that I don’t understand horror video games or creepypastas for anything like that. It’s just that the culture surrounding them, the fandom and shipping and overall obsession, baffles me completely.
Scary games for kids, which absolutely exploded throughout the 2010s, are really the first true evidence of a generational gap between Millennial and Generation Z, and I don’t think it has been explored nearly enough so far.
First, right at the start of the decade, came the game Slender and the creepypasta Ben Drowned. Both of them were based on internet concepts that had proliferated throughout the 00s—Slenderman from the Marble Hornets series and Ben Drowned from various 4chan “lost episode” creepypastas—but they finally came into mainstream in the early 2010s, for reasons I honestly don’t quite follow. I think I’m too old for it all.
Slender is a bit easier to follow. People watched Let’s Players, back when that was a new concept, get really scared by the game, and so they played it themselves. And since the game was free, that meant anyone could play it really easily. Good on Mark J. Hadley for making such a successful game. Ben Drowned, on the other hand, was a pretty creepy fake video game experience related to a popular game, but it didn’t exist as any sort of interactive experience (at the time); it was just a story. How that one broke out so far is beyond me.
After these two, everything just kept going and going, with scary games becoming so popular that entire Youtuber careers have been based around playing whatever obscure horror thing pops up next.
But something happened that marked a massive shift, and kind of sudden from what I recall: it became… cute?
Scary Games and Kids
Scary games became popular with kids. Like, really, REALLY popular. Everywhere you looked on internet spaces for teens (and younger kids pretending to be teens), you saw it. Wattpad, Youtube, Amino Apps, Tumblr… There was so much horror fandomry. And it turned into something very different than anyone could have expected.
Of course, Japan had been churning out this type of creepy, dark, spooky stuff for a long while. In the 00s specifically, we had tons of SUPER SCARY creepy animes like Future Diary, Higurashi, Another, and more. A lot of those types of shows became even more popular once the 10s rolled around, and I suspect they had a very large influence on the development of scary games throughout the 10s.
They were made for teens to be creepy renditions of what was normally considered cute at the time. And that philosophy carried right over to the scary games tradition to come in the West!
Five Nights at Freddy’s is the big one; it absolutely exploded out of nowhere and became a franchise so big they planned a movie adaptation at one point. It helped that the creator cranked out entry after entry to milk it to oblivion and hook the “game theory” types, but this series hit hard and attracted young’uns in droves.
Not too long after, the onslaught truly began, and it hasn’t slowed down since.
Scary Games: The Decade
I could list scary games and creepy games that became popular with kids all day. You had Sonic.EXE (and all other .EXE things to follow); you had Baldi’s Basics and Bendy and the Ink Machine; you had Doki Doki Literature Club and Hello Neighbor… Even Undertale itself had a heavy impact thanks to its cute-yet-scary factor.
I’d even lump stuff like Homestuck and Gravity Falls in here as well, even if they aren’t games. Because at least from my searches, these pop up in the same circles where stuff like “DON’T CALL JEFF THE KILLER AT 3AM” proliferates. But it’s definitely video games that dominate in the horror category.
Kids just eat scary games up! And I don’t get it!
It’s something so far away from my personal experiences… And yet, I feel obligated to mention it, because how important a slice of fandom history it has become in the 2010s.
Generation Z has fully embraced a love for creepy media that is still safe enough to get cute fanart. And it’s something that most Millennials simply won’t understand, I think.
Why do young teens develop crushes on fictional murderers? Why do they want a Yandere in their life? I don’t know! And I accept that.
One More Scary Game
As an addendum, there is something I kinda like in the realm of horror game stuff, and that’s the Petscop video series about a fake Playstation game:
I’ve never watched enough of it and paid enough attention to know the scary parts, but I really love the art style, so at least there’s that.
I also adore the surrealist satirical creepypasta stylings that Arcane Kids give their games, especially their version of Bubsy 3D. Unsettling for humor’s sake.
Sadly, these attempts, despite millions of views/players, do not appear to have ever taken root for younger audiences. Fitting, probably.
Also, I have a bunch of extra images I saved for this article that didn’t appear in the article proper, so I am dumping them below…