Psychological horror reaches deeper into our primal fear reactions. Rather than overt jumpscares and spooks our terror is born from attempting to understand the inexplicable. Desperately trying to make sense of the many forms of abuse and suffering that plague us. Those seeking thrills may find this type of horror to be too subtle for entertainment purposes. For the rest of us, Italian development studio LKA has created The Town of Light.
The developers built the game around the abandoned remains of an actual psychiatric hospital in Volterra. This setting offers a complex and unnerving view of mental health in the first half of the 20th Century. Players explore the dilapidated asylum as protagonist, and former patient, Renee. While Renee did not actually exist, the team has worked diligently to develop a historically accurate composite of the character from real stories and documentaries. Renee’s story and her struggles with mental illness personify the very real and controversial history of Italy’s mental health treatments.
Renee suffers from schizophrenia. We explore the remains of the asylum, gaining insight from her memories and hallucinations, often with no discernible line separating the two. This uncertainty between which abuses are real and which imagined sets a frightening atmosphere. The choices players make can send the story into different directions as Renee’s confused viewpoint comes into focus.
The Real Monsters Live Here
While it never relies on supernatural interactions or gore, The Town of Light has moments and imagery that make you genuinely uncomfortable. It isn’t fear of the unknown that drive the horror of The Town of Lights. Instead the game’s horror stems from our disgust as our worst imaginings turn out to be true. You suspect where the story is going, but still cringe when it gets there.
On their defunct Indiegogo page, the developers openly discuss the dangerous conditions patients found themselves subjected to upon being admitted to an asylum.
“The mental hospitals, especially in the years when our story is set, were overcrowded and understaffed and this situation led to hygiene and sanitary conditions which were almost unimaginable… the departments were real incarnations of Dante’s inferno and this often forced the staff to adopt extreme measures of restraint and therapy that today would be defined without a doubt as “torture”.”
They go on to cite instances of patients confined to their beds, subjected to cold showers, choked, and even lobotomized. All purely on the whims of the staff entrusted with their care. Situations which players will both witness and experience through Renee’s eyes.
Despite not meeting their Indiegogo funding goal, LKA was able to complete the game and release it on Steam. They have recently finished porting the game to consoles and updated the PC version with these enhancements. The Town of Light is an unsettling, slow burn that will wear on your mind long after your next jumpscare.