- Liminal spaces provide a unique and unsettling environment for horror games, such as abandoned amusement parks and empty homes.
- Games like The Closing Shift and Mothered create tension by mixing mundane tasks with an unsettling atmosphere, keeping players on edge.
- The Backrooms, Bendy and the Ink Machine, and Five Nights at Freddy’s excel at capturing the eerie feeling of being alone in once-populated spaces, heightening the horror.
When it comes to the horror genre, there are many avenues a game could go down. A more action-adventure horror game results in something like Resident Evil, while Outlast is a great example of survival horror. However, there has been a trend in horror games — one that focuses on liminal spaces.
A liminal space, in a broad sense, is a space that doesn’t feel quite real. Like it’s caught somewhere between two real places. For instance, some place meant to house a ton of people, like an amusement park, that has been abandoned. It makes for a very good environment for some creepy games.
Updated October 9, 2023 by Jouanna Bondakji: We’ve added a few more games to this list that take advantage of the naturally creepy sensations that liminal spaces provide. Whether you’re wandering through a closed restaurant, an empty home, or an abandoned toy factory, these environments know how to unsettle you just by existing. Read on to see more liminal space horror games.
13 The Closing Shift
Chilla’s Art makes a lot of fairly unsettling games, and The Closing Shift is one of them. You take on the role of a barista who has to manage her closing shift by herself, making drinks for customers and cleaning up after them. What makes this game so neat is that it doesn’t go ham with the horror right from the beginning.
Instead, you spend most of your time actually having to figure out the correct drink combinations for customers, as if you were playing a restaurant manager game. All the while, there’s an unsettling vibe, and you’re just waiting for things to go wrong at any moment. Or, you’re lulled into a false sense of comfort, and the scares will really catch you by surprise.
Your family home is usually what you’d consider a safe place, but this game throws that out the window. In Mothered, you play as Liana, a girl who’s just had surgery and goes to stay with her mother while she recovers. But instead of the mom she knows, she’s greeted by a mannequin who claims to be her mother.
Liana has no choice but to stay in this disturbing house for a week. This means you have a week to figure out what’s going on, but in order to do that, you have to interact with your “mom” at different times of day. That way, you can slowly put the pieces together.
11 Fears To Fathom
Fears To Fathom contains three episodes within it, all of which take place in familiar yet uncomfortable settings. The first episode is Home Alone, a home invasion story taking place in the protagonist’s own house. The second is Norwood Hitchhike, where the main character has to stay at a creepy motel after her car mysteriously breaks down.
The third follows a young man who’s tasked with house-sitting for a bigshot, unaware of what’s waiting for him. You’re able to make all kinds of different choices in these episodes, but only the right ones will let them live through the night. Though they may be different, they all have a tense atmosphere that’ll keep you on your toes as you play.
10 Inside The Backrooms
The backrooms are a popular concept when it comes to liminal spaces. An endless maze of undecorated, often unfurnished rooms and hallways that all look the same, usually without an exit. The concept alone creates a creepy atmosphere.
Add to the mix unknown ‘entities’ that hunt you throughout your journey, and Inside the Backrooms makes for a great liminal horror experience. You can also play with up to three other players, and even in VR if you’re so inclined. Each stage provides you with different puzzles and mechanics, so you’ll have to work your brain if you want to survive.
9 Five Nights At Freddy’s: Security Breach
Five Nights At Freddy’s is a series known for its jumpscares and convoluted story. Security Breach has you play as a young boy, Gregory, and tasks you with surviving a giant ‘Pizzaplex’ alone until dawn. Though, you aren’t really alone. The living, horrifying animatronics are there to keep you company.
While wandering through the pizzaplex, it’s hard not to get the eerie sense of something wrong. A huge amusement park-like area built to house hundreds of laughing children and their parents lies empty before you as you attempt to survive. A theme shared by several other entries on this list.
8 Bendy And The Ink Machine
Similar to the last entry, only now drenched with a sepia filter, Bendy and the Ink Machine is a great liminal space game meant to make you look at the cartoons of your past through a more horrifying lens.
You explore an abandoned animation workshop that was working on classic childhood cartoons reminiscent of Disney’s Mickey Mouse and friends. These cartoons, however, have come to life to hunt you through the abandoned halls. It’s up to you to uncover the mystery of the workshop and escape with your life.
Lidar.exe breaks some of the rules set by the definition of liminal space. It’s hard to see whether where you are is a place of transition, or is supposed to be filled with people but isn’t. Still, despite not fitting directly into the liminal space definition, this game carries a lot of the same vibes.
A short experience, Lidar.exe has you exploring a world you can’t see or hear. Instead, using your lidar scanner, you must paint to world with small dots in order to find your way around, solve puzzles, and escape a mysterious entity that seems to be following you around.
6 Escape The Backrooms
Another game set in the liminal backrooms. One that also lets you play with up to three friends, just like Inside the Backrooms, and with some incredible potential for environment art shots.
There are few horror settings that have captured the imagination of indie game designers as the backrooms. Escape the Backrooms gives you the opportunity to explore a more varied version of the rooms, rather than just hotel-esque wallpaper and carpet. If you’re craving more of the liminal backrooms, this is an excellent option.
The name is a bit hard to pronounce, but Anemoiapolis is all about exploring and solving puzzles inside of liminal spaces, such as a foreclosed pool or an empty mall. Make no mistake, though, there are some scary things afoot other than just the environment.
However, Anemoiapolis isn’t as scary, or trying to be as scary, as some of the other entries on this list. Essentially, if you’re looking for a horror game, it may not be the best experience, but if you’re looking for a game that explores liminal spaces, and the uncomfortable feelings they instill, then Anemoiapolis is an excellent title.
4 Poppy Playtime
Poppy Playtime is like other games on this list, mainly Five Nights at Freddy’s and Bendy and the Ink Machine. There are light puzzle mechanics that are made much more intense when being chased by terrifying monsters. Just a warning.
The liminal space aspect of Poppy Playtime is the setting. You’ll be exploring an abandoned, sometimes labyrinthian toy manufacturing warehouse. One where people used to work, and children used to be taken on tours. One that now has something much more sinister crawling through its corridors.
Like Anemoiapolis, NaissanceE isn’t a game that is outright trying to scare you. It’s more focused on allowing you to explore an almost alien environment that looks like it was constructed by humans, but has never seen a human.
Long corridors, sprawling dark passages, puzzles requiring you to manipulate light, and an ominous and empty soundtrack make exploring this liminal, almost never-ending building an experience unlike any other. If liminal horror is what you seek, then look no further.
2 The Backrooms
This is a much simpler version of the backrooms compared to the other entries on this list. However, there’s an important distinction that this version offers. It’s only a single-player experience.
When it comes to liminal spaces, one of the key draws to the unnerving environment is that you’re alone, or seemingly alone, in a place that’s meant to be inhabited. However, this comes at the expense of a fairly basic rendition of the environment. Still, if you’re looking for a solo experience through this environment, The Backrooms offers it.
1 Five Nights At Freddy’s
The first Five Nights at Freddy’s game is an indie gem made popular by its setting, jump scares, and simple story. You’re a security guard tasked with keeping an eye on the Freddy Fazbear’s Pizzeria at night. The only problem is, the animatronics are on a bit of the fritz.
As a horror game, Five Nights at Freddy’s will keep you glued to the security cameras until either the night ends, or the animatronics get you. As a liminal space horror game, the pizzeria serves as a wonderful example of a place that, without people, becomes an intense and creepy environment.
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