While mental health has been a topic of increasing concern and interest in the gaming community (PAX East had two separate panels on the subject this weekend), there aren’t many games that address this. Most games that take place in asylums or mental institutions utilize the setting to mine scares and little else. So it was surprising when The Town of Light, a game entirely about a creepy rundown asylum in Italy, came out last year and did not strive to scare its audience. While a psychological thriller, it is decidedly not horror.
Developed in Italy, it actually started as a project about engaging discussions about mental health. While the main character is fictional, her memories and those of the other patients at the asylum are based on real accounts. Renee returns years later to the asylum she was held in during the 1930s to revisit the past and unlock more of her memories of the place.
Last March studio LKA took press to the actual sanatorium last March, which was recreated in game. LKA is recreating it again in a new build as the game will soon see another release on the Nintendo Switch. Getting the story out to as many platforms as possible is the goal of Luca Delco, LKA’s director, who has family who have battled with mental health issues. He chose the medium of a game to tell the story, as he didn’t want to dramatize it and wanted people to have an emotional journey that they’d drive themselves. Rather than exploiting the shock value of it, he decided to have the game subvert expectations by being a thriller instead of a horror experience. Nevertheless, he decided not to censor any of the stories that inspired the game’s story, in order to show players what actually happened.
In getting information to tell the game’s story, Delco searched for transcripts of treatment and conducted two years of research. In the game, the asylum was shut down in the 1930s, but the actual one was around through the 60s. This allowed him to interview people who had worked at the sanatorium later on, as they were still around to talk about it.
The Town of Light will see its switch release later in 2018 in the second half of the year.