Have you ever wondered what it would be like to be on a classic ghost hunter show? Wandering around old abandoned places with only an EMF reader and some incense standing between you and whatever horror may/may not be lurking in the dark corners, out of sight? Phasmophobia aims to do just that, and with its recent popularity as a cooperative horror game among streamers and Youtubers, the screams and spooks are real enough to startle even the most jaded viewer. But it’s still fun to watch other people get scared!
While I haven’t played the game myself, it’s quickly climbed the charts on Twitch and Youtube since its initial early access release on September 18th, 2020. From horror Youtubers like Markiplier and 8-BitRyan to Twitch streamers like Shenpai and Yamimash, Phasmophobia has exploded across platforms and caught people’s eye for its ability to bring people together… and then subsequently scare the pants off of them.
This game does an excellent job of incorporating horror elements and real world fears and reactions to make a genuinely scary experience, even in beta form. Much of this horror comes from the game’s audio design. One of the ideal ways to play this game is using the in-game voice features, as they are louder or softer depending on how far away you are from their sources. For instance, if you are playing with a friend, and they shout something from downstairs, you may only hear the distant muffle of their voice from where you are in a different part of the building. Not to mention how if you’re outside, and a ghost hunt starts, your radios malfunction so that you can’t walkie-talkie each other, making you feel even more alone if you get separated. If you perish to the ghost, you can no longer talk to your crew whatsoever, leaving them to wonder and call out hopelessly for you over your now-defunct radio, unsure what even got you in the end.
This focus on audio horror is super effective at scaring people and pairs extremely well with both Twitch livestreams and Youtube videos, depending on a player’s editing/streaming style. As many streamers rely on sounds to indicate goals or achievements in viewer counts or bit donations, audience members can work together to create ‘artificial jumpscares’ by pooling points to cause a scary sound to play for the streamer, often during very intense gameplay moments when tensions are already high. Youtubers can also boost or add sounds in editing as well as subtitle more-subtle voice cues such as friends talking in the distance or the sounds of the monster’s footsteps outside of their hiding place that may not translate as well to all viewers.
Overall, while I have absolutely no interest in playing Phasmophobia myself, I have thoroughly enjoyed watching other people get scared vicariously by making poor life decisions in the name of blurry camera photos and glitching electronics. For a more personal take on the game, consider checking out our other article by Mariah Qauiser here, where she talks about playing Phasmophobia with her friends and what that was like. Until then, I’ll be hiding over there with my crucifix, salt, and a copious amount of flashlights.