"It's time for bed now."
Your mother sings you a song as you slowly drift off to sleep, but your rest is short lived. Your eyes struggle open as your teddy bear is dragged away by something you can't see. Your crib tilts, dumping you onto the floor. This is your room and these are your toys, but they look far more menacing in the late hours of the night. You're two years old, and the world is terrifying.
Among the Sleep is a horror game currently in development for Windows PC, Mac and Linux where players explore the world as a child. Unlike other titles in the genre, which often rely on violence or grotesque monsters, the game is more about atmosphere. Every new room is filled with shadowed tricks of light and new obstacles to overcome. Everything is a threat.
"In a way, we feel it's the logical endpoint of helplessness in horror."
It's a premise that everyone instantly understands, says Adrian Tingstad Husby of Norwegian studio Krillbite, because we've all been children. It's a "primal history" that everyone shares, even if they can't remember every detail.
"We've been scared of the dark and the unknown, and we've awoken from nightmares confused," Husby told Polygon. "We think this makes it easy for players to relate to the theme, as opposed to identifying themselves with a macho man fighting terrorists, aliens or zombies for example."
Fittingly enough, Among the Sleep was inspired by a dream lead designer Anders Uglands had. The team took to the idea immediately. They began sharing their own childhood memories and experiences for elements to explore.
"We were really fascinated by the thought of using the perspective of a toddler in a first person game," Husby said, "and the potential to draw on a child's imagination and dreams as an active part of the game."
A shift in perspective is part of what makes the game so appealing. Fear is heightened in the overactive imagination of a child, making every shadow or sound an imminent threat. Players no longer have the power that adults take for granted. A door is suddenly as impassable as a wall from a child's view. Suddenly it's a challenge, and players must climb shelves, boxes or chairs to even reach the doorknob.
"In that sense, the adult players are brought back to their childhood mindset, where they were always exploring and experimenting to find out how the world works," Husby said.
Among the Sleep has no combat, but danger is present. Instead of fighting back, however, players can only hide. Mobility is limited to either an unsteady walk or crawl, and each pace gained is a scramble.
"In a way, we feel it's the logical endpoint of helplessness in horror," Husby said. "You are small and vulnerable, with no way to defend yourself ... it becomes much more personal than many of the horror clichés."
Among the Sleep is currently gathering funds on Kickstarter, following its launch on April 18. At the time of this posting it has raised half of its goal with more than 3,600 backers. The campaign ends on May 18.