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Theorising and the rise of analogue horror

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Staff Writer Sarah Stancombe analyses and overviews the up and coming genre of ‘analogue horror’ and its journey to success through Youtube.

So maybe you’ve heard of “the backrooms” – a 2019 creepypasta about a liminal office space, which had new life breathed into it in 2022 by young creator Kane Parsons, known as Kane Pixels on Youtube. This young creator forged a series of videos in the horror genre with a found footage style of astonishing quality all involving a captivating storyline and mysteries to solve.

This genre became known as analogue horror, and the internet community, ready to adore content like this from horror films and video games, facilitated its incredible growth. His first backrooms themed video has over 53 million views on Youtube and was released less than two years ago. At just 18 years old he paved the way for more and more analogue horror creators to shine. Parsons showed so much potential, and gained so much popularity, that he is set to be directing a film adaption of his series in collaboration with A24 films over the summer.

The youtube audience is already primed for this kind of content, from horror game fans, to game theorists who love unpacking the details of Five Nights at Freddy’s (FNAF), to creepypasta fans and short-film fanatics.

Theorising is a vital part of the community for indie games and, in turn, analogue horror. So what is it exactly? Many games (and films alike) have hidden secrets or do not fully reveal their narratives to the audience, and theorising is the finding of clues and analysing of concepts that help put unknown pieces of the game together. Online communities most often work together to do this, sharing their findings with one another to come to evidence-based conclusions.

The success of influential Youtube channel The Game Theorists (founded by Matthew (MatPat) and Stephanie Patrick), now with over 18 million subscribers, has paved the way for other similar creators such as Dawko, Ryetoast and Fuhnaff. These creators who found their fame from exploring games are able to cleverly pivot their content to other pop culture areas to stay on trend. For example, these channels may also cover Alternative Reality Games (ARGs). These are typically stories that a creator seeds out using clues across several mediums: websites, hidden QR codes, Youtube videos and even real-life clues (geocaching style). Online communities then work together to share the clues they’ve found and figure out the full narrative. The Wilbur Soot ARG is an example of a popular ARG that, having been unsolvable for years, was covered by MatPat. Channels like his cover popular analogue horror series (or on the other hand, are popularising new analogue horror creators), ultimately boosting the audience for the originals. Their already established audiences, used to digging deep into games for lore clues – are ready to solve the mysteries of new analogue horror creators as well.

Analogue horror is dealing out all the right drawcards for Youtube audiences to be captivated – recognisable characters, creepy atmospheres, and that all important element of mystery to keep people talking.

To turn attention onto characters in particular, Battington’s series Harmony and Horror has parallels to FNAF, with its giant freaky toy-like mascots, while the Mandela Catalogue feels like a call back to the days of the Slenderman game and Creepypasta, where we see human-esque figures – taking on the concept of the uncanny valley. It’s a plus for the creators that the internet thrives on circulating these kinds of unmistakable mascots and eerie rumours. Easily recognisable faces get more clicks. For games, you’ve got key characters – Freddy the animatronic bear for FNAF, a long-limbed blue monster for Poppy Playtime – and analogue horror functions much the same. Seen a stretched out, uncanny valley-like face on your Youtube recommended? You’ve probably witnessed a Mandela Catalogue video. Videos featuring The Backrooms have a distinct yellow colour (and maybe some astronaut-esque people walking through it), while The Walten Files have a giant blue bunny called Bon.

Speaking of a long legged blue monster, characters like these are gaining incredible fame for their franchises. His name is Huggy Wuggy, and strange as it sounds, if you’ve never heard of him before, his wide, toothy grin might actually be familiar. This character is so popular that if you’ve been walking around a tourist destination you might have seen plushies of him being sold alongside well loved characters from Disney, Minecraft, or Sesame Street. Designed for fun (and maybe some strategic marketing), Huggy Wuggy must bring in some serious money for his game Poppy Playtime. If the growth of analogue horror is emulating that of indie horror games, the future starts to look interesting.

In less than two years, The Backrooms is getting a movie. Around one year after FNAF 1’s release, movie talks began, but weren’t realised until seven years later. There were a lot of logistic changes that occurred to solidify the FNAF movie’s production, hence its late arrival, but we can predict that The Backrooms’ movie might move faster. For one, the series is already loosely in a film medium, whereas FNAF, being a series of games was not, and its creator Parsons is already a VFX artist and budding film maker. In 2022, Kane was rewarded by MatPat (Matthew) and Stephanie Patrick with a Creator Honour – a recognition of another creator by past Streamy winners. Matt congratulated Kane, expressing how “In just a handful of videos, [Kane has] been able to capture our imaginations, create this incredibly deep world rich with lore, and most importantly of all, scare us senseless.”

This all goes to show how analogue horror, and more broadly, Youtube, is paving the way for career opportunities for young people, and making new pathways for them into more traditional forms of media. While indie games thrive in their own spaces and communities online, it is fantastic to see them spill out into the real world – from the fans of FNAF heading out to the cinema for its 2023 film adaption, to conventions like PAX and Vidcon. There’s no doubt that the demand is there for these real world manifestations to keep appearing – the more the fans can garner, no matter the medium, the better.

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