6 Meta Horror Video Games to Play After You Finish ‘Alan Wake 2’

From The Cabin in the Woods to House of Leaves, meta-horror can be one of the most entertaining sub-genres for die-hard fans when made by passionate creators. However, I think videogames are the medium with the most potential when it comes to immersing us in meta-narratives. I mean, the very concept of someone controlling a character’s actions through an interactive experience already adds an additional layer to the story, so it makes sense that developers might try and use this fragile fourth wall to scare players.

In 2023, we saw an excellent example of this in Remedy Entertainment’s Alan Wake 2, a long-awaited love-letter to survival-horror that relishes in simulating both gaming and storytelling tropes. And if you loved the game as much as I did, you might find yourself craving for even more meta scares – which is why we’ve come up with this list recommending 6 of the creepiest meta-horror games in recent memory.

As usual, this list is purely based on personal opinion, but don’t forget to comment below with your own meta favorites if you think we missed a particularly mind-bending one. After all, there’s nothing quite like questioning your own reality after playing a good horror title.

Now, onto the list…

6. Doki Doki Literature Club! (2017)

A visual novel might not seem like a serious contender for a chilling horror experience, and you’d be forgiven for thinking that Team Salvato’s Doki Doki Literature Club! is a simple dating simulator, but it doesn’t take long for players to realize that there’s something truly wrong going on behind the scenes here.

While gameplay is initially divided between open-ended conversations with the cutesy members of the titular literature club and a randomized poem creator, players are soon confronted with eerie ruminations on mortality and mental illness, as well as a series of intentional glitches. I won’t spoil what happens next, but suffice to say that this one plays out like an interactive creepypasta.

And the best part is that the game is completely free!

5. Calendula (2016)

A short but sweet reflection on the very concept of gaming, Blooming Bud Studio’s Calendula is likely the most meta title on this list. Challenging players with attempting to play a seemingly sentient game that refuses to be played, there’s much more to this horror-puzzle hybrid than meets the eye – especially once you get to the first-person snippets of storytelling.

For starters, the interface itself function as an antagonist, with the player being forced to work around buggy menus and obtuse clues in order to find out what lies at the heart of Calendula. The experience may not be for everyone, and I think the short length means that this title is best purchased during a sale, but I guarantee that you won’t forget these puzzles anytime soon.

4. IMSCARED (2012/2016)

Developed by Ivan Zanotti, this so-called “Pixelated Nightmare” was a viral hit back when it was first released, impressing legions of screaming YouTubers as well as gaming journalists who praised the title’s minimalist scares. The praise was well deserved, as IMSCARED manages to turn your own computer against you in order to tell an ambiguous yarn about a haunted game.

From fake blue-screens-of-death to installing mysterious files onto your hard-drive, there’s a reason why this title is often considered a gamified form of malware. And while other games have also tried their hand at some of these tricks over the years, you just can’t beat the original.

3. Pony Island (2016)

Like all the best meta-fiction, Daniel Mullins’ Pony Island contains several layers of co-existing narrative. Here, players take control of an unnamed gamer who encounters the titular arcade cabinet and discovers that it has been corrupted by the devil himself. Fortunately, the soul of a previously trapped player attempts to help you hack the game and save yourself from Satan’s digitized grasp.

Clearly inspired by urban legends like the infamous Polybius, Pony Island switches between arcade gameplay and the cabinet’s corrupted programming as you embark on a reality-shifting experience. Personally, I think the creepiest part is the inclusion of fake error screens and steam messages meant to convince you that the game is corrupting your real-world computer.

2. Inscryption (2021)

Another Daniel Mullins game, Inscryption ticked quite a few boxes for me personally. A rogue-like deck-building game with a spooky aesthetic and live-action found footage elements? Sign me the hell up! And while the title is extremely engaging as a randomized card game (so much so that the developers went on to include an endless mode that ignored the story), it’s the meta-fictional angle that really makes it stand out.

From your cards literally begging you not to be sacrificed to being forced to delete personal files in your computer or videogame console in order to gain a bonus (the older and more sentimental the better), Inscryption will get under your skin even if you’re not a fan of digital card games.

Just remember not to trust the Stoat…

1. Prey (2017)

Full of trippy imagery and plenty of ruminations on the fickle nature of simulacra and simulation (especially when you consider that the entire game is about shapeshifting entities disguising themselves as inanimate objects), it makes sense that Arkane’s incredibly underrated Prey makes it onto this list. However, if you’ve never played the game before, I’d advise against reading the next spoiler-filled paragraph…

The real reason I think Prey is a great example of meta-horror storytelling is its shocking twist ending, as the finale reveals that you’ve been diagetically playing a horrific simulation the entire time, with the player character actually being one of the shapeshifting aliens who only thinks that it’s really the protagonist. If that doesn’t just scream meta-horror, I don’t know what does!

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