Is reality more terrifying than fiction? One Italian developer thinks so. And they’ve got big plans for the horror genre. 

Italian game developer LKA is taking serious risks. In their upcoming horror game The Town Of Light, they’re recreating Volterra, an abandoned mental asylum in the Tuscany region of Italy.

Volterra is one of Italy’s darkest places. A psychiatric home that was abandoned in 1978, Volterra is called “The place of no return” because it was once home to 6000 patients who were never allowed to leave.

Known for its inhumane practices, Volterra echoes memories of its sinister past. The walls of a hospital courtyard are decorated with carvings of a patient who was locked up for more than ten years. Rooms are painted with lines of mysterious codes. Wheelchairs lie unoccupied, dust gathering on their wheels. Empty beds are turning to rust. It’s a place of an all too real horror.

Some critics will say that Volterra is too serious a subject for a game to tackle. But movies have been tackling similar themes for decades. Game developer are as talented as movie studios. They can likewise succeed in taking on such serious subjects.

For The Town Of Light to become a success it must marry the entertainment demaned by gamers with the sincerity demanded by the game’s subject.


Whether The Town Of Light ultimately pays the right respects to Volterra or not ultimately comes down to the direction LKA take. According to the game’s Steam Greenlight page, “The Town of Light is a first-person psychological experience with locations and characters inspired by real events. Our goal is to recreate the experiences, the anguish and the human drama of patients living in mental institutions up to the end of the last century: both the pain of mental disease and the horrors patients underwent within the walls of the institutions where they were being ‘treated’.”

The Town Of Light’s trailer helps to clarify things…

The Town of Light - Trailer (with Oculus Rift)

For The Town Of Light to succeed it’ll need to match entertainment with sensitivity, creating an enjoyable game while paying respect to its subject.

While games are capable of taking on such sensitive subjects as Volterra, it’s vital that the game developer pay the proper respects. To make a successful game while being respectful of the subject, developer LKA need to be artistic, intelligent, and more than anything, human.

Far from the melodrama of many of the genre’s titles, The Town Of Light is marked by realism. In placing The Town of Light in the genre, Alec Meer (@bonzrat) of RockPaperShotgun says, “Gone Home is a far more accurate touchstone than something like Silent Hill or Amnesia, despite some degree of aesthetic commonality with horror games. Architecturally at least, there is no dramatic license. The degradation, darkness and emptiness of  the asylum is a replication of how Volterra appears now.”

Tom Sykes (@tomdavidsykes) of PC Gamer questions the direction The Town of Light is heading, but remains optimistic. “I’m not quite sure what The Town of Light is. Is it a horror game? Is it an adventure game…? We’ll know for sure in Autumn, which is when The Town of Light is due out, but for now I’m quietly hopeful about this game set in a real-world Italian asylum.

In an effort to show respects for the victims of Volterra, LKA games have been conducting extensive research.

Much of LKA’s efforts are being put into striking the perfect balance between realism and entertainment. The developer tells us that The Town Of Light is definitely a game, but at the same time it will faithfully recreate the asylum itself, even to the point of including many real life artefacts from Volterra. The game comments on how the institution was run, how the staff dehumanised patients, and what Meer calls, “the icy bureaucracy pasted over the top of Volterra’s atrocities”.

Perhaps the biggest issue that The Town of Light will face is the fact that horror games have desensitised people. While the event that took place at Volterra are doubtlessly disturbing in real life, translated into a game and catalogued adjacent to Silent Hill and City 17, we’re left wondering whether real life horrors are still capable of being disturbing when brought into the realm of entertainment. But that’s just another reason why The Town of Light is such a fascinating prospect. It poses so many questions.   

Categories: gaming

Paul Harrison

Paul M Harrison is an entertainment journalist, novelist, and blogger, and a specialist in the theory of storytelling. Paul Harrison can be contacted via his personal website or on Twitter or Facebook.


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