The dark is great for hiding stuff and keeping it secret. Of course, there’s a big overlap between “games that use the dark to make things secret” and “games that use the dark to make things scary”. Touch Scary Things only works because the dark signals scariness and also conceals the fact that the “scary things” are toys, kiwifruit and socks. All the Oh No, Someone Might Totally Be Standing Right In Front Of You About To Do Something Alarming-style games, again, use the dark as a way to hide information, and the fact that the dark is scary is partly a result of the fact that that it keeps things secret.
But the dark is also handy for hiding information independent of any desire to be scary. Waldschattenspiel, pictured above, is a board game where children hide tiny wooden “dwarves” behind boardgame trees, and an adult has to move a candle around to try to reveal them. You need a really dark room for this to work: generally, players report that the adult can see the dwarves a bit, and pretends not to, in order to make the game work. But even when that’s the case, the darkness is still being used to hide information: the fact that the adult knows perfectly well where the dwarves are.
This use of the dark – allowing players to hide, and allowing game-runners to either not see them or pretend not to see them – comes up in Fire Hazard‘s game Night Watch, in which players try to sneak across Hampstead Heath while steering clear of torch-bearing guards. Tom Melamed’s Monster’s Ball is broadly similar as well.
There don’t seem to be so many games where all the players are on the same level – where the dark is concealing something from everyone, rather than being used by some players to hide from others (usually chasers or the people running the game). But anyone who followed the link to Tom Melamed’s game above may also have read a description of Simon Johnson’s game Monochrome, in which two teams of players can see half of what’s going on, but nothing more: everyone is wearing a green visor over their eyes and carrying a green light (and can therefore only see things lit by their green light), or a red visor and a red light. This basic idea – of using the dark to hide your opponents, while letting you see your team-mates from a distance – is just amazing; hiding things asymmetrically, through the confusing strangeness of how light works.
Picture by Dave Smith.