ByMarcus O'Shea, writer at
Resident RPG nerd and SoulsBorne fanatic. Can be spotted by their floofy hair.
Marcus O'Shea

If you're a fan of horror games, you're probably well aware of the influence of certain horror authors on the genre. Lovecraft is an obvious one, and Clive Barker's even got a few games named after him. But despite his fame and the dozen or so film adaptations of his work over the years, one famous horror author's influence has been sorely overlooked.

How Master Of Horror Stephen King Influenced Your Favorite Games

'The Shining' [Credit: Warner Bros.]
'The Shining' [Credit: Warner Bros.]

Whatever your opinion on Stephen King's writing is, it's hard to deny his immense influence on the genre. For a start, until his meteoric rise to success in the '70s, there wasn't really a horror genre in books at all. Sure, there were horror novels, but they were mixed in with the rest of the so-called "dime store trash."

It was King's success and influence, as well as that of writers who followed (and the excellent directors who adapted his works) that led to the genre being elevated in the public eye. His influence on the field of books, films and TV is well documented now, but almost no one has talked about how influenced .

One of the reasons, perhaps, is that unlike authors like Barker and Lovecraft, King doesn't have an easily recognizable visual style. Throw in a few tentacles and some unknowable horrors and people will immediately call it a Lovecraft homage, throw in a bit of psychosexual BDSM imagery and you've got at least an argument for calling it a Barker-influenced game.

But King never really stuck to one kind of horror, hell, he never even stuck to the horror genre. His books run the gamut, from the terror of a psychotic fan's obsession, to an ancient evil that manifests as a clown, to the apocalyptic spread of a plague. Just about the only recurring imagery that can be attributed to King's books is sleepy New England towns and evil cars (and I think all of us, King included, would like us to forget his penchant for evil cars).

Alan Wake, Stephen King Embodied

'Alan Wake' [Credit: Microsoft Game Studios]
'Alan Wake' [Credit: Microsoft Game Studios]

But despite the difficulty, there are a few games that wear their King influences on their sleeves. The most obvious of course, is Alan Wake, the Remedy survival horror/action title that was sadly overlooked in its time. Remedy had already shown a certain penchant for the works of Lynch and King in their previous Max Payne titles, but in Alan Wake, they decided to take their love of King to a whole new level.

It's easy to see how Stephen King's work permeates every part of Alan Wake, from the sleepy New England setting to the metatextual elements (and of course, an old King favorite, an author as the protagonist). Even the pages of Departure, the in-game novel that the protagonist finds, are written like a lost King text from the early '80s. The antagonist of the game, known as The Dark Presence, owes a lot to the titular It of Stephen King's novel.

The Mist Of Silent Hill

'Silent Hill' [Credit: Konami]
'Silent Hill' [Credit: Konami]

Other games take specific Stephen King novels as a basis for something entirely new. The original Silent Hill took inspiration from Stephen King's novella The Mist, in which a small New England town is beset by terrifying monstrous creatures that lurk inside an all pervading mist.

Silent Hill builds upon this foundation, replacing government science experiments (incidentally, the story was also an inspiration for the original Half-Life) with the machinations of corrupt, drug dealing cults as the catalyst for the otherworldly invasion. There's arguably a bit of Carrie in there too, what with the repressed psychic powers of an adolescent girl lashing out and dooming a town, not to mention the themes of religious violence that pervade the game.

Sometimes It's The Little Things

'The Secret World' [Credsit: Funcom, Electronic Arts]
'The Secret World' [Credsit: Funcom, Electronic Arts]

Some games have taken the concept of pastiche to artform heights, weaving together the works of multiple giants of horror to create something greater — games like The Secret World and cult hit Vampire The Masquerade: Bloodlines work references to King into a wider backdrop of horror.

The Mist serves as the inspiration for another horror story in The Secret World, a supernatural themed MMORPG. In one area of the game, a sleepy New England town called Kingsmouth is coated in a fog that hides all manner of nasty creatures, while a Stephen King-esque author hides in a lighthouse, writing the story of the world around him in a very Dark Tower manner.

Vampire The Masquerade: Bloodlines takes the legendary book and film The Shining as the inspiration for perhaps its most famous and terrifying quest, the Ocean House Hotel. The story of a father's growing psychotic obsession and madness in a grand, opulent hotel is straight out of The Shining, although in the case of the Ocean House, he's a tad more successful with his axe than Jack.

These are just a few of the otherworldly tendrils that Stephen King has wormed into the world of horror games. His influence, when compared to B-movies and Lovecraft, may be more lightly felt, but is fascinating and important nonetheless. With the upcoming release of The Dark Tower and It, we may be seeing an upsurge of King-influenced horror in the world of games.


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