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How Do Danish Playdead Producers Create And Sustain Suspense And Psychological Threat?

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This essay explores the way that practitioners have tried to change the way their audience relates to their environment, focusing on the techniques used by the company PLAYDEAD through its two games ‘Inside’ and ‘Limbo’. The company PLAYDEAD, founded bout Danish Producers Arnt Jensen and Dino Patti, have successfully drawn in players through their illustrated ery design and soundtrack of the game. The visuals reference common periods throughout history of film and the storyline has many links to childhood fear to which many of the audience can empathise with. The visuals in the game play a huge part in keeping the suspense with an almost constant darkness. Along with the

The main game director and creator (Arnt Jensen) took his previous of the scenes of forest from his childhood as inspiration for the game environment, showing that the environment is realistic to the memories of someone. The audience can relate to the basic scenes without it becoming foreign due to the lack of minor details and therefore giving a wide range of personal experiences of a forest. If the game had lots of details in the background then the viewer could struggle to relate the environment to their own experiences thus making the game less personal and the suspense of the game would be lost. The game would feel similar to a ‘shooting game’ where most of the audience haven’t used a gun before and wouldn’t be as emotionally or physiologically invested to the result of their actions. By using fewer details and block shapes it allows the players brain to fill in the blanks with their own personal memories of the environment making it more relatable in which to emotionally invest the player.

This image fig. [1] is directly taken from the game itself and show the ery feel that the game gives off. The dark black and white scene with a film grain overlay and white lighting effects bring a sense of isolation of the character in the middle of the image. There is a fog based effect which has many symbolic connotations like the approaching death, isolation and transformation to the unreal. From knowledge of the game there is almost certainly upcoming death for the protagonist through previous plays and the sense given from the visuals. The character is also isolated in the game which is symbolic of the fog, which is present throughout most of the forest scenes. The isolation becomes more apparent with the idea that he will most likely continue to be alone with the fogs persistence. This small, unlikely symbol of upcoming death for the character adds greater suspense of the unknown, as it is either showing isolation which is throughout or the likelihood of the character death.

The spider situated within the frame of this image is a recognisable importance towards the idea of phobias. Many children suffer from arachnophobia and a large percent continue to have a milder version of fear once in adulthood. This spider being in the game would relate to many people as 14 percent of the population in the United Kingdom have arachnophobia. The cultural beliefs about spider are suggested to be a reason why people are afraid of spiders due to their nature. The environment of the game relates as it common to see spiders outside in a forest. Many films have taken advantage of the populations fear of spider by including spiders (especially in larger forms) where the characters have been afraid, this in films could equally add to the effects of thinking the worst about something due to make-believe situations. This links to the later point based upon the character being a child and the fears associated with children and their emotions of these fears.

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Another small detail that creates suspense in this image would be the use of ‘sharp’ shapes. The spiders legs, the tree branches and the foreground shapes are all a pointed form. The idea of these solid sharp edged shapes link quite closely to threatening objects such as knives. Using these shapes gives a heightened sense of danger for the view as any object could be at threat to the character and the image isn't softened by the curved shapes. The game could’ve used softer shapes to lure the player into a false sense of security in order to trick them into thinking they are safe, however as the rest of the game has been created to be dark and ery throughout the producers want the players to know that at any point they could be danger. This creates the suspense throughout as the player is constantly on edge hoping that their next decision doesn’t lead to the death of the protagonist.

As a starting point the solo player aspect of the game along with its importance to create and sustain suspense for the audience is a key part of the game. From exploring the previous image, the character is a young boy illustrated with few distinctive features. This makes him more relatable to a wider audience as he is not distinctive to any individual nor is he his own person, so could be anyone. By being distinguishable to the player, it may become a struggle for them to make the connection needed to keep the character alive, needed in a game of choice where the outcome could lead in the characters death. “It is usually claimed that our fear derives from our engagement with characters and our participation through thought, simulation, or make-believe in fearful situations of the filmic world.”[2] The players choice of actions is relayed upon the character which makes the players engagement with him seem personal, this means that suspense is created through the morals of keeping the character alive. Solo player based game makes the engagement seem more understandable from the vulnerability of being alone. Fearful situations become more traumatic as there is no one to console or help the individual.

Although this quote is from a film it is appropriate as the style of video game is similar to that of an illustrated film which has previously been depicted. The black and white tone running throughout is based upon the film Noir cinematic term where the films were usually cynical and obtaintain suspense for the viewer throughout, much like the style in ‘Limbo’. From the 1920s to the 1950s the crime fiction emerged in the black and white style showing inspiration from the German Expressionist cinematography. The German expressionism came along with links from horror films and the effects of World War 1 due to the isolation which German felt in this period. This all links to why the style of the game and its key features such as; solo character, black and white and horror in the deaths of the character suit to the styles of these film movements. To which asks many questions, if the game is art work itself? The game would be classified into a sympathy game as many of the players would increasingly invest in the young boy pitying him and the trauma he has been facing. The protagonist in ‘Limbo’ is facing an almost constant stressful situation by the puzzles and traps he has to take usually ending in his death, with the game environment being very influential to the player it causes the character to become empathised.

Due to the game majority dark and with the solo character aspect of a young boy it links to the common knowledge of children having a fear of the dark. Nyctophobia, like many fears is likely to have been formed from previous fearful experiences usually from childhood. Images are often formed of the terrifying things that await them in the dark and as such movies would play a part in creating the imagination of the terrifying situations. The lack of colour in the game and the the unknown outcomes of gameplay would only keep suspense and bring back childhood fear if only to a small degree as the game isnt real life, but the child in the game brings forth the understanding of what he could be feeling. The player empathises with what the character could be feeling by the player projecting their understanding of the emotions they have felt in a similar situation.

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How Do Danish Playdead Producers Create And Sustain Suspense And Psychological Threat? (2022, February 18). Edubirdie. Retrieved December 6, 2023, from
“How Do Danish Playdead Producers Create And Sustain Suspense And Psychological Threat?” Edubirdie, 18 Feb. 2022,
How Do Danish Playdead Producers Create And Sustain Suspense And Psychological Threat? [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 6 Dec. 2023].
How Do Danish Playdead Producers Create And Sustain Suspense And Psychological Threat? [Internet] Edubirdie. 2022 Feb 18 [cited 2023 Dec 6]. Available from:
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