Jump scares, creepy stalkers, animals attacking, and anything life-threatening is scary. Yea, a movie about a serial killer might make you paranoid for a bit, but it doesn’t last very long. You know how it goes; the thought gets to you, but you can easily explain why it won’t happen to you.
So, how are the movies that keep the lights on all night in your house different? You can’t easily justify or explain why it won’t happen to you.
Characters that are scary are cool and all, but let’s get into how to make people remember the creepiness of your character.
Uncanny is all about that person or story that seems slightly off. You can’t explain it with science, so the possibility of it happening to you is quite real or at least appears real for the moment to you.
For example, if a whole family died in your house and you decided to live there. The house starts making noises, you start to see shadowy figures. These are not things that can easily be explained, often times, they’re explained away with “you’re just imagining things”. But, are you? You can’t be sure.
I think you know my friend, the thing that scares both you and me the most is a fear of the unknown. When someone is just slightly off, we can’t be 100% sure what they might do, we can’t predict them, and at that point, all the warning signs start to go off right? You can’t shake the feeling because you’re not sure what to expect next.
That leads to my next point, and the movie I watched recently US. It demonstrates such a crucial point, which is, the uncanny characters, they only need to be slightly different from us in some way or possess unclear intentions.
So, let’s get into using this in our games.
Building The Unsettling
To build a character up from being normal to unsettling, we should start with those key points above.
- Similar to us
- Slightly off
- Somewhat unpredictable
- Not easily explained
These points are the building blocks for our character. Now, we build on our similarities. Personally, when designing characters I break them down from a Bio about their personality and backstory elements then expand from there. Here’s an example to get you started.
Biography: Born and raised in a small fishing village. At one point in his childhood, he went missing from the village. The villagers looked for him, but they never found him after searching for three days. He returned to the village after five years as a more mature young man. However, his parents noticed he did not talk much about what happened over the course of those five years, nor did he like the same things he liked prior to going missing. After he came back, he also spent a lot of time in his room muttering to himself and carving symbols into the corner of his bedroom.’
Do you see the power in the words?! Now, with this biography, we have done a couple of important things. We have established some unknowns, made Fredrick seem somewhat unpredictable, and also slightly off. As an individual, you’ll start to wonder why is he muttering to himself? Why doesn’t he like the same things anymore? We can even take this a step further, and place a point in the game we build where Fredrick acts out of character once in an extreme way, such as trying to murder the player.
Taking advantage of these moments to break the status quo in a negative way is what starts to create that creepy character you want in your game. You can apply these same concepts to non-human characters as well; the key is to never let them be something easily explained away. One easy way to accomplish that is with anchoring.
Anchoring To Reality
I mentioned before, it’s better to use things that are not easily explainable right? That’s a good rule and should be used often, but there are moments when an explanation can be useful to create an unsettling character. My definition of this is called anchoring.
To anchor you take the “off” part of the character and connect it to something in the real world; you see this used in the Resident Evil series. Umbrella Corporation makes zombies, and those zombies are a byproduct of Science. This works by building on the possibility that we could all potentially be infected by a virus that turns us into zombies; it creates a REAL threat in your mind that is explainable. But, I think we can do better than Resident Evil in this department.
If we take our character Fredrick above, let’s give him a real disease or health issue such as schizophrenia. People with this mental health issue can have erratic behavior, forget things, act and emote differently. Pushing this concept further, we can make the player afraid of people with the mental health issue, because now they don’t know if they can 100% trust someone with the issue. Like magic, the unpredictability creates the uncanny character we need.
With that said, I hope this post helps you make your creepy characters for your next game! Until next time, stay tuned!