My home growing up had a basement. It was partially furnished, with a couch, coffee table, bookshelves, and TV in one carpeted and comfy room, but the further you went into the basement, the cruder and less comfortable it got. The room furthest back had bare concrete floors and walls, dim lighting, exposed piping and ductwork, and the water heater and furnace.
That was where the monsters lived, as far as young me was concerned. And while the TV room was where I happily spent most of my time, there came the dreaded moment every evening: when I had to turn off all the basement lights and climb the stairs back up into the house to go to bed. That’s what the monsters were waiting for, naturally. They were extremely patient all night long as I watched TV or played games, but they’d strike during the five seconds where I had to turn off the lights and run—my heart pounding—up the stairs in the dark.
They never got me, of course—I was just fast enough to escape them on the (estimated) 2,900 consecutive nights I made my mad dash for safety. And now I can relive that chilling daily horror in a video game.
Lights Off! is a free first-person horror game that’s been on Itch.io for a while but recently popped up on Steam. It simulates that fear of turning off the lights and climbing the stairs to go to bed in the dark, and despite the low-fi graphics it’s immediately and immensely effective. You begin on the ground floor of a brightly lit house at midnight and you have to walk through the rooms and click off each light one by one. In the near silence (except a faint and ominous hum) your footsteps are a little too loud and the sharp click of each lightswitch, along with the encroaching darkness, make the tension quickly grow from slightly uncomfortable to “Oh God something is gonna get me.” If ever I wish a game had a sprint button, this is the one.
Once all the lights are off, you can go to bed and try to fall asleep by holding the mouse button to close your eyes. You can, however, release the mouse button to briefly open them again if you want to take one more look through the gloom at your darkened bedroom. I’m not sure you want to do that. Best to keep them closed. Sweet dreams.
The game takes place over a series of six nights, and as you might expect each night gets progressively spookier. Reaching the top of the dreaded staircase is scary enough, but… wait a second, I know I turned off all the downstairs lights. Why is one of them back on again? Now I have to go back down, cross the room, turn it off, and walk all the way back in the dark. Again. And things only get creepier from there.
Lights Off! is a short game and you can finish it in about 10 minutes, but it’s honestly just as effective a horror game as many longer and more detailed ones I’ve ever played. Turns out no matter how old you get, you’re still pretty sure there’s monsters in that dark back room of the basement, just waiting for you to turn off the lights and go to bed.