There’s no place quite like the Pacific Northwest. Our grim winters (and falls, and springs) have inspired tons of creepy cult stories-from Twin Peaks to Twilight. The Killing, which was adapted from a Danish TV series, was transposed to Seattle thanks to all the “lack of daylight” we have in common with northern Europe. Oh, and let’s not forget the American adaptation of The Ring, also set in Seattle and nearby Whidbey Island for some added pastoral eeriness.
Remember the scene with the horse on the ferry? What a fun reputation we have up here!
Setting a story in the Pacific Northwest is still a relative rarity, but the video games that take place here seriously commit to the setting and the mood. This is a list of games that highlight what’s special about Washington and Oregon: from our beautiful Victorian architecture, to our craggy mountains, to the horrible death that must await all who visit.
1) inFAMOUS: Second Son
This seems like cheating, since Sucker Punch Productions is Seattle-based and Infamous: Second Son is an open-world game that uses real Seattle landmarks rendered in HD!!
But hey, this is the closest the people of our green-on-grey northern paradise have come to experiencing an Assassin’s Creed-style realization of our city. It’s not totally accurate, but landmarks like the Space Needle set the scene. The brick-and-mortar facades of the buildings downtown and sneaky references to less well-known Seattle landmarks put the player immediately in the right mood. Even if you’ve never been to Seattle before, visual shout-outs like our pink elephant car wash are unique enough that you’re not going to feel like you’re in just any city.
This game probably contains the least amount of nightmare fuel of any game on this list. As Delsin Rowe, a member of the fictional Akomish Native American tribe, you parkour the heck out of those sick Seattle facades, and fling neon superpowers in the faces of the D.U.P. forces who uh, don’t want you to use those superpowers.
Oxenfree is a dialogue-driven teen thriller that gets players out of our rainy cities and into our freaky haunted woods. In this game, a group of teenagers head to largely abandoned Edwards Island for the traditional senior sleepover. As senior sleepovers often do, this one goes horribly wrong.
One of the cool things about this game is the island setting. Washington’s Puget Sound really is dotted with tons of islands. Like the fictional Edwards Island, some used to be military bases. I actually grew up in a town whose woods are full of concrete bunkers from the late 1800s. Nothing says “childhood” to me like riding a bicycle through a pitch-black tunnel in an abandoned military base!
In short, Oxenfree’s creepy island complete with military ruins rings really true to me as a Pacific Northwest setting. It’s the sort of place where you would expect to see ghosts pouring out of the woodwork. Much like the real Pacific Northwest.
3) What Remains of Edith Finch
This game is coming out in 2016, and I’m quite hyped for it. Essentially, Edith Finch is a series of short stories about a Washington family. Each story explores how death touches the family, which has been living in the same sprawling impossible house for a hundred years.
“The house is both a monument to the people who have died and a record of how the family reacted to those deaths. Where the short stories focus on individuals, the house is the story of the family as a whole, told through architecture,” Ian Dallas wrote on the PlayStation blog.
The footage we’ve seen so far includes fusty, dark interiors, towering coniferous trees, and murky kelp forests. All are crucial components of building an authentic Washington setting. There are few things I love more than a vivid sense of place in a video game, and it looks like What Remains of Edith Finch of going to deliver something special.
4) Life Is Strange
2015’s most controversial game is set in an art school for hipsters on the Oregon coast. There is literally nothing more Pacific Northwest than that. It even has a lighthouse, yo.
It’s up in the air whether Life Is Strange tackles teen romance and bullying with any particular nuance, but one thing it does get right is the weirdness of living in a small town. There’s the diner where everyone knows each other, the petty rivalries that have lasted too many years, and of course the lack of appropriate places for teens to hang out.
In Life is Strange you control time-traveling teen Max Caulfield, who returns to Arcadia Bay after living in Seattle for a stint. As a photography student, Max’s photos play an important role in the game, which has something to say about objectification and selfies and whatever. Max can rewind time, which means that as the player you can go back and repeat events until you get them right.
Meanwhile, she’s haunted by weird dreams that an enormous cyclone is going to rip Arcadia Bay right off the map. Anyone who’s read about the earthquake destined to hit the West coast will find that hella relatable!
And yes, we do say hella. Just not the way the teens in this game say it.
5) Gone Home
I live in the hopes that every year I’ll get to play a new game about queer teen girls. In 2013, that game was Gone Home. Gone Home takes place in 1995, in a fantastically detailed Portland house during a rainstorm.
The storm makes things extra creepy, with lights flickering and the ever-present patter of rain. You play Kate, who has come home from a study abroad trip to find her parents and her sister are absolutely not there to greet her. The house is one the family moved into while Kate was away, so she doesn’t know her way around. The game consists of you exploring the house and finding clues about where everyone went, with narration by your missing sister Sam.
Even though the house technically could be anywhere, all of the clues Sam leaves behind-zines, Riot Grrl music tapes, fliers for concerts-give the house a potent 90s grunge flavor.
It’s a game that revels in the cultural associations of its setting, and it does it with exquisite detail.
6) Alan Wake
Alan Wake has all the necessary components of a story set in the Pacific Northwest: Beautiful forests! Pristine lakes! Terrifying things in the woods, and in the lakes!
In Alan Wake, the titular protagonist and his wife go on a vacation to the small Washington town of Bright Falls. There, Alice Wake goes missing and Alan wakes up a week later with a manuscript that he can’t remember writing and no idea what happened. Clearly there’s something going on in Bright Falls.
If you’ve ever been in an isolated Washington tourist town, you know that feeling of close-knit creepiness. It kinda of goes hand-in-hand with being surrounded by rugged natural beauty and mountain vistas.
This particular diner was modeled off of the Double R Diner from Twin Peaks, which is itself based on Twede’s Cafe in North Bend, Washington. Pacific Northwestcest!
Seriously though, little details like this do make you feel like you’re in the real place. As much as I love small towns, they do possess a washed-out creepiness that makes you feel like someone might be about to get dragged off into the foggy darkness never to be seen again. Alan Wake gets that.
7) Gravity Falls: Legend of the Gnome Gemulets
By most accounts this game isn’t terribly good, but I never said this was going to be a list of good games, did I? GOTCHA.
I love the Gravity Falls TV show. It has a slow start, but by the time it reached the second season I was a bellowing mess of feelings and laughter for twin protagonists Mabel and Dipper Pines. The 12-year-old twins are on summer vacation visiting their wacky great uncle in Gravity Falls, Oregon.
By now we should all be pretty familiar with what happens in small PNW towns, right guys?
MAGIC. MYSTERIES. MAYHEM.
Okay, now that I’ve convinced you to watch Gravity Falls, I’ll tell you that GF: LotGG (as I’m calling it now for brevity) is a puzzle platformer that has the player solving mysteries and trying to save those dang gnomes. Dipper and Mabel each have unique abilities, and you can swap between them to take advantage of that. Like a lot of these stories it’s set in a small town full of weirdos, and the towering forest is full of things best left alone.
Like unicorns. This show taught me that unicorns are jerks.
BONUS LEVEL: Mass Effect 3
For once, the danger doesn’t come from this cursed land that we inhabit. It comes from space itself.
In the beginning of Mass Effect 3, the Reapers descend to Earth and destroy the frick out of Vancouver, British Columbia, which is basically an honorary member of the PNW.
Unless you live in New York or Tokyo, you probably don’t get to see your hometown leveled by aliens with any regularity. Vancouver’s cameo in ME3 drove home the message that destruction is everywhere! Even Canada!
Well, did I miss anything? Tweet us and let me know!