A First Look At Among the Sleep
June 5, 2012
Can you remember what it was like to be a child when it got dark out? Can you recall the memory of your room, so warm and fun in the daytime, and how it turned into a den of monsters and shadows when night fell? Could you feel the thing creeping around under your bed, or skittering around in your closet? Did you see the eyes of your posters turning to look at you, menace in their gaze? Did you see shadowy hands slipping across your walls, creeping closer and closer to your exposed neck? Krillbite Studio can remember those days, and it plans to bring you back to the most vulnerable and terrifying time of your life in Among the Sleep.
There isn’t a whole lot of information available for the game right now, beyond a recent teaser trailer and some screenshots. Even so, this has been enough for them to earn some prestigious awards, winning them the Hype Award at the Norwegian Game Awards mere months after the game was announced. Winning the Hamar Game Challenge in 2011 would follow, again on little more than its concept alone. The Norwegian government has pledged almost one hundred thousand dollars to the project as well.
The game’s premise is that you’re a toddler, one who’s awakened in the middle of the night by bizarre and unknown circumstances. After escaping your crib, it seems like your only task is to get yourself away from the unseen and possibly dangerous creatures and things around you. Weak, small, terrified, and with only your teddy bear as your ally, you’ll have to face the boundless horrors of a child’s imagination.
As a child, there were no limits to your imagination. Your ability to create with your mind was something that got you through every day, turning the most basic sticks and rocks into tanks and jets, the backyard shifting into the surface of the moon or some lost civilization. Nothing was as plain and boring as it seemed to be.
That boundless creativity didn’t come with an off switch, though. Every night, when my room was dark, my overactive imagination turned toward the unseen corners of my room. Things began to stir in those hiding places, filled with a menace that I loaded them with. I was powerless against my own imagination as I created unseen horrors behind every noise and patch of shadows. They were all there for me, as well, waiting for me to turn my back on them.
I don’t think anyone has forgotten that time. To varying degrees, you might have dismissed all of the bugbears of your childhood, but I bet you still remember them. I even bet that, every once in a while, when alone in your house at night, you feel a little hint of that terror you knew all those years ago.
This game is primal in its execution of horror. It’s looking to tap into everything that gave us nightmares as children, pulling back the covers on all of those places that we were too afraid to look when the lights went out. It’s an attempt to take us back to that time, back when there was nothing we could do to banish the awful things we imagined. Among The Sleep will ask us to face the fears that paralysed us in our beds.
Seeing the world through the eyes of the child in the trailer has already made me uneasy. As a toddler, there isn’t much you can do in the game besides hide. Even running, our most basic instinct when faced with danger, will be taken away by playing as a child who can barely walk yet. You’ll be forced to plan out every step, as putting yourself out in the open leaves you with no way of getting to safety in a hurry. When a player must evaluate every single move in advance or face death as a consequence, you’re in for some really great tension.
Worse than that by far is seeing that the monsters are real. Watching your childhood fears come to life may be one of the most unsettling experiences ever put in a video game. This game is setting out to undo all the years of work we’ve put into shutting down our primal fears, and put us right back into the time when we were most vulnerable to them. You’ll be back in your childhood, except all of those things in your imagination will be in the real world.
Capturing the menace of the night world of a child’s imagination will be the hardest part, but I really feel like these people can pull it off. Just from watching the trailer, I can see that they’re taking care to infuse the world with a quiet dread, hinting at the bad things lurking around the corner but rarely being overt about them. That’s going to be part of the secret of making this game work: part of being scared is about not being sure what to be scared of. Wondering whether you’ve turned your back on the real danger is probably the most powerful fear of them all.
I wish these guys all the best. From the look of the trailer, it seems like they have a really strong grasp on the concept, and are going to make a fantastic game. It’ll be cool to relive all of my childhood fears again.
Until I have to go to bed, that is.