The Sights and Sounds of Routine in One Late Night
There is comfort in routine. Much as we may complain about the doldrums of daily life, be it in caring for our homes, our families, or our jobs, we also derive a sense of security in knowing that no matter what may happen, we will repeat the same steps day after day. So when the routine is disrupted, when we are taken out of our comfort zones, we inevitably experience a negative reaction. The extent of that reaction naturally varies from person to person by scale of the level of disruption and the level to which we hold to that routine. It might make us angry. It might make us sad. But it is always traceable to fear.
The reason we fine comfort in the routine is because it brings certainty. At our most basic level, human survival is paramount, and certainty indicates that we are assured of that continued survival. Our homes will remain our homes, where we can sleep and eat. Our families will remain our families, a source of comfort and love. And our jobs will remain our jobs, where we earn our living to ensure our living.
It is that very basic idea that is at the core of the indie horror game One Late NIght.
One Late Night is a "short immersive horror-game experience" made by Black Curtain Studio as Freeware in 2013. It's a very simple story: you are working one late night, alone in your office. And it turns out your office is haunted.
That's it. Your goal in this game is merely to leave the office without being killed by a spectre referred to by a deceased co-worker, Robert, as "The Black Widow." It's simplicity itself. The gameplay, graphics, and sound are all simplistic too, as one should expect from a free indie game, but that's not really what I enjoy about One Late Night.
What I really like about it is that this is a situation I have been in before. No, not the ghost part, I mean the office part. I've worked in a number of offices in my time, and I have often been in a situation where I was working late, alone. It's evident that the makers of the game have been there, too. They know the sounds of the office late at night: the whirs and clicks of the fax machines and printers, the hum of your computer, the gurgling from the coffeemaker as you struggle to stay awake long enough to get that badly-needed project emailed to your boss. During the day, these sounds are masked by the people around you. Even if they're not talking, their mere presence is sufficient to distract from the omnipresent buzz that comes from office life.
Alone, at night, the sounds turn oppressive.
If ever you are in a situation where you are working alone at night, I want you to try something for me. Turn everything off (or as much as can be allowed without causing you to be fired when you accidentally wipe the company server). Lights, computers, printers, everything. You will be amazed at the silence. Now consider how you live with that noise every day.
What makes sound so important is that we absorb a lot of it on a subconscious level. It's why it's tied so strongly to the sense of routine. Sometimes, when I've gone on vacation to a quiet place, like a beach, or a camping trip, I've been struck by how the silence is simultaneously a source of relaxation and a source for stress.
With One Late Night, it's taking those familiar noises and sights and turning them into another context. You know you're playing a horror game. You know something bad is going to happen. You're just waiting for the other shoe to drop. And in the meantime, the office hums around you, as if to say "but it's just another ordinary night, isn't it?"
No. No, it really isn't.