Shadow of Phoenix

Respect for Games

An Experiment in Anticipation: SCP-087

An Experiment in Anticipation: SCP-087

Posted: Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Not Silent Hill This Time?

As much as I love talking about Silent Hill, it’s good to take a break from it. This time I’d like to talk about a short, simple video game. It was released as a free download earlier in the decade when the AAA video game industry had no interest in developing horror games, and the indie scene was the only way for horror fans to enjoy playing games in their favorite genre. This horror game is based on a website of collaborative-fiction of short stories including horror. The video game I’m talking about is SCP-087.

For this essay, I’m adding an audio file of my narration in each section. It’s a way to improve my speaking skills, and help anyone who prefers to listen over reading.

What is SCP-087?

SCP-087 is a free video game released on PC in 2012. It was created by Haversine when he experimented with the Unity engine. His idea was based on the story of SCP-087 on the SCP Foundation website (links below). There was at least one other SCP-087 game that I’m aware of released close to the same time as this one called SCP-087-B. Haversine did not make that version. I want to make it clear that I am not talking about SCP-087-B.   

As for Haversine’s game, the objective is simple: walk down the stairs until you reach the end or give up. As a result, this game could be known as a walking simulator since all the player does is walk until the game ends. Walking sims are looked down upon by many gamers. Therefore, some people may see this game as a waste of time. I can understand where they’re coming from. I do get sucked into the atmosphere of this game, although I don’t have enough patience to make it to the end of the stairs. Despite this, I think there’s a lesson in every video game including this one.

Haversine’s YouTube page for SCP-087 video (he gives some info on his creation in the video description)

SCP Foundation Wikipedia page

SCP-087 page on SCP Foundation website

Lesson of SCP-087

The lesson of SCP-087 is that it demonstrates some techniques in creating anticipation for the player. It may seem odd that a simple game has a lesson of these techniques. The simplicity of the game makes these techniques easier to observe. There are five techniques of anticipation showcased in SCP-087: act of descending, random event, first person camera, darkness, and unknown sounds. We will start with the act of descending.

Act of Descending

The entire game is going downstairs. The act of descending can have negative connotations. It’s often associated with some form of damnation. Damnation can be self-damnation from a mental state such as guilt or depression, or an afterlife of eternal damnation. The act of descending gives the player an uneasy feeling. It’s also an uneasy feeling when the player never knows when the end of the staircase will be.

Random Event

The player never knows when the staircase will end because the number of stair flights is a random event. Each time SCP-087 is played, a random number of flights of stairs is generated. One playthrough may end at 60 flights of stairs. Another may end close to 200 flights of stairs. I’ve seen one YouTube video of someone reaching to floor 300 (linked below). What makes the number of stairs something to anticipate is the fact that the endpoint has something waiting for the player. With the random number of stairs in each playthrough, the player never knows when he/she will find what’s waiting at the end. The anticipation of seeing something is more effective in first person.

YouTube user scissormon’s video of SCP-087 of reaching to floor 300

First Person Camera

The first person camera is the best way of sucking the player into the game world. Everything that happens in the game feels like it’s really happening to the player. Even if the player is controlling a protagonist, the first person camera allows the player to see directly through the protagonist’s point of view. SCP-087 does not give any indication of the player controlling a protagonist like most video games. By disregarding the need of a protagonist, the player is allowed to be immersed in the game world even more. No protagonist makes the player feel like the experiences within the game are truly happening to him/her. In this game, the player experiences the anticipation of coming face to face with something malevolent. The fear of coming face to face with something is intensified by darkness. 

Darkness

This game has a little light for the player to see a short distance in front of him/her. The story of SCP-087 on the SCP Foundation website describes this light source. Without this light source, the staircase is in complete darkness. 

Darkness intensifying the player’s fear of coming face to face with something is due to humans’ innate dislike for the dark. Most likely, humans’ fear of darkness has existed since our species has been around. The eyesight of humans is limited in darkness compared to many animals including predatory ones. Our lack of night vision creates the fear that something can sneak up on us when we can’t see them. It is the fear of the unknown. Something we can’t see is unknown to us. This also includes the unseen sources of sounds.

Unknown Sounds

There are sounds played at various points in the staircase. Footsteps are heard constantly, though it is obvious that they’re coming from player movement. Other than hearing footsteps, there are different sounds that play the further down the player goes. The player never gets to see the origin of these sounds. Once again, we fear what we cannot see. A sound without the ability to see it’s source stimulates our fear of the unknown. 

Conclusion

SCP-087 displays five techniques of creating anticipation for the player. They are the act of descending, random event, first person camera, darkness, and unknown sounds. These techniques are easy to notice in a simple game of walking to the end. Even a video game created by someone in a day or two can teach something valuable for every video game has a lesson for us.