“It cannot be seen, cannot be felt,
Cannot be heard, cannot be smelt,
It lies behind stars and under hills,
And empty holes it fills,
It comes first and follows after,
Ends life, kills laughter.”
– J. R. R. Tolkien, The Hobbit
What do you imagine waiting for you, out there in the dark?
Perhaps an inexplicable shadow, or a ghostly face. Or maybe clammy, cold, dead hands—or a hulking mutant-monster. Whatever you imagine coming out of the darkness, it’s exactly that: your imagination. According to Carl Jung’s theory of the collective unconscious, the things we fear in the dark are our mind’s most secretive, instinctual thoughts bubbling to the conscious level.
Darkness is the unconscious. It forces us to face the unknown of what’s around us and inside us. “The sole purpose of human existence is to kindle a light in the darkness of mere being,” Jung said, and he wasn’t the first either. You can trace the metaphor of darkness as unconsciousness (ignorance) and light as consciousness (enlightenment) all the way back to Plato’s allegory of the cave, and long before even that if you want to get technical. (Because, technically, the light/dark metaphor was invented by God and the Universe itself, if origin stories are to be believed.)
The recently released survival horror game White Night dances along the edges of this archetypal light/darkness metaphor like a flickering flame. The high contrast art style doubles over as its main mechanic, casting light and shadow puzzles in a haunted mansion for you to solve and survive through.
Set in the jazz-noir era of the 1930s, the protagonist of White Night finds himself stranded after a freak accident. Injured and disoriented, he stumbles into a nearby mansion shrouded in darkness. Using matches, moonlight, and other light sources, you must fight back the night, and all that goes bump within its realm.
If the above summary sounds like a pretty basic noir setup, don’t judge a book by its cover. “White Night stands at the crossroads of fantastic literature, cinema and videogames,” says Osome Studio, the small but experienced development team. Inspired by German expressionism, the “light draws a discontinuous line between form and substance, a road mark leading from life to death. It’s a trying journey to the heart of darkness, a journey of no return [that] one sometimes has to accomplish in his existence.”
Though not explicitly stated as an influence, Jung’s archetypal imagery seems to be at work in the game’s emphasis on “lunar and feminine symbolism, as well as psychological horror and melancholy.” While the shadow represents our unconscious selves, Jung also hypothesized about the animus/anima: or the masculine side of the female psyche and, feminine side of the male (respectively.) According to Jung, these projections of the opposite sex manifest in all our inner personalities in some way or another. The animus/anima psychologically completes us, connecting human beings to a shared, collective archetypal experience throughout the centuries.
Unless, that is, you refuse to acknowledge your anima/animus, like through repression or denial—like, say, if you’re one of those macho film noir protagonists who needs everyone to know they’re super tough and do not have time for emotions. There’s even some suggestion of alcoholism in White Night, indicating that the protagonist has more than a few demons that need exorcising. Let’s just say, when it comes to male film noir protagonists, their anima manifestations (better known as the femme fatale) probably don’t have their best interest in mind.
In White Night’s launch trailer, the “freak accident” that leads you into the shadowy mansion in the first place appears to be caused by a long-skirted woman. Her shadow follows you around as you try to uncover the truth behind the darkness, unveiling the story of this mansion’s seedy past. Mostly likely, the mansion will act as a Silent Hill-esque setup, providing disturbing locales for your very own personal guilt torture chamber.
Coming from ex-devs of the Alone in the Dark series, Osome Studio says they hope the game will simultaneously establish its own identity, while also paying homage to classic horror games that hold “equal respect for tension and terror.” According to their Playstation Blog post, they even holed themselves up in a real-life mansion in Normandy to soak in the architecture and atmosphere during development.
Though many are drawing comparisons to Psycho, I see less Norman Bates and more of Polanski’s Carol, who literally fights off her psychosexual animus manifestations. Both White Night and Repulsion share that crawl-out-of-your-skin type of sensation, where the grotesque comes from a marriage between the mundane and the macabre.
You can download White Night today on Xbox One, PS4, or Steam for $14.99.