It is impossible to play Funcom’s The Park without thinking of recent psychological horror films like The Babadook and Session 9. Though it may be inelegant to bifurcate the horror genre into two categories—the grotesque and grand guignol films of, say, Wes Craven, against smaller, more intimate films—it’s worth doing so to note the way in which these divergent categories reflect two opposite approaches towards fear. In one approach, terrible things happen to the happy-go-lucky teenagers of A Nightmare on Elm Street or Until Dawn, and all the horror is external—at times literally so, in the shocking displays of violence and the presence of gangrenous monsters that haunt the forest and the neighborhood.
But in the latter category, we are the monsters: The horror is internal and it is impossible to delineate where our flaws end and the nightmare begins. The former is predicated on shock and surprise; the latter on the eerie familiarity we find in depression, grief, or loss. Where does the monster in Session 9 ultimately live? “I live in the weak and the wounded, Doc.”
The Park takes the player through a leisurely two-hour (or hurried one-hour) tour of the fictional Atlantic Island Park, a dilapidated place that shut down due to the accidental deaths of employees (of course) and the murder of patrons (de rigueur). From the very first ride onwards, the general theme of the park—and by extension, the video game itself—is one of curdled joy: good times made grotesque, fun made freakish. The protagonist, a single mother by the name of Lorraine Maillard, has taken her son Callum to the local amusement park for the day, only to return in the evening when they realize they’ve forgotten his teddy bear. Out of frustration, Callum runs into the park ahead of the player and then disappears. What follows is an unsettling search through the park: the photo negative of a more conventional day out, where you ride the rides and sample the atmosphere, without lines or crowds or the other mundane inconveniences, all while Lorraine monologues about Callum, her past, and her increasing resentment towards the burden that is her son.