The standard play-in-the-dark game is a children’s game, probably played outdoors, probably involving a bit of giggling and creeping, probably called something like Ghost or Skeleton Murder or Mother, Mother, I’m Going To Die. The rules are pretty straightforward: try to do something easy, but, you know, in the dark. And it’s scary – scary to play, and with a scary theme.
- Graveyard sends players groping across a lawn, trying to avoid the other players, who are all lying around pretending to be corpses and trying to get in the way. The game only works functionally because nobody can see what’s going on, because the dark allows secrets – but it only works aesthetically because dark = scary. Hence the title (and its alternative title “Zombie”); it’s a “graveyard” at night, and that’s fundamental to the experience. You can’t reskin it to “pretend you’re in a messy room during a blackout, and everyone lying on the ground is an obstructive book”.
- Murder in the Dark is a perfectly functional game in the light – called, perhaps unsurprisingly, Murder. The no-dark version was played in the 30s, and it’s described by Harpo Marx in Harpo Speaks; but the version in the dark is the one that caught on.
- Plus there’s Touch Scary Things, Ghost in the Graveyard/The Witch Ain’t Out Tonight, and a pile of other games that are broadly like hide and seek or tag, but (1) in the dark, and (2) with an accordingly scary name.
It’s all about the dark signalling “scary” in and of itself. It’s not just that you can’t see what’s going on, and that that’s a bit alarming: “Blind Man’s Buff”-type games don’t present as scary for the blindfolded player, despite the fact that whoever can’t see is at more of a disadvantage than they would be if it was completely dark.
Picture by Teriyaki Matz