Looking at Fear Right in the Eye

The Outlast Series in the Revival of the Horror Videoludi


  • Jean-Charles Ray Université de Montréal


Video game, horror, Quebec, Outlast, Red Barrels


The aim of this paper is to study the production of the Montreal studio Red Barrels so as to grasp its value and how it is exemplary of the recent renewal in horror video games through an articulation of sight and space producing an enticing trap. With Outlast in 2013 and a year later with its extension Outlast: Whistleblower, this independent studio revived some of the great themes of the horror genre: one can recognize in their derelict psychiatric hospital Noël Carroll’s « drama of corridors », Mikhaïl Bakhtine’s castle chronotope and fear as an emotional drive for the player’s progression, as theorized by Bernard Perron. Yet, these games also took part in the First-person avoider trend that bloomed in the 2010s by removing all combat mechanics and leaving the main character with nothing more than a camera allowing him to temporarily see in the dark; the main goal being to remain unseen while seeing. In these games that reconnect with the idea of a transgressive gaze of which Medusa is the antique archetype, the point is less to overcome monsters than one’s own fears. In 2017, with Outlast 2, Red Barrels then aimed at exploring the architectural possibilities of this model by forsaking medical facilities for an isolated village and what Mario Gerosa called an “open air claustrophobia” and using physics defying spatial structures that symbolically convey the stakes of a gaze that allows knowledge and of deceitful senses. Through the analysis of these three games, the aim is thus to offer an overview of the aesthetics stakes they tackle and of the current momentum in independent video game production they represent.


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