There are a handful of location archetypes that show up in horror games time and time again: hospitals, prisons, asylums, etc. You can probably call up a handful of titles that use at least one of those settings, if not multiple, right off the top of your head. They tend to be the kinds of places where a large volume of human suffering has been packed into a building, and the game uses that atmosphere of misery and dread to spook you a good one.
Why, then, are schools also such a recurring motif in the horror genre? Is it because of the way some people compare them to prisons themselves, with tightly controlled schedules and rigid rules systems that often seem outdated? Is it because that, for many people, school was a time where they experienced a lot of human suffering? Is it just because kids are scary? Whatever the reason, here are some games that made us afraid to go back to school.
The school you explore in Bloodborne is actually a university, not really somewhere you expect the souls of bullied youths to be lingering. And you don't actually get to explore much of it—but Byrgenwerth's presence in the lore looms much larger than any physical building. You spend pretty much the first third of the game fighting your way there and, in the lake just below the building, you'll get your first real revelation about the nature of the hunt you're participating in. Everything starts with Byrgenwerth. So you can kind of attribute all the horror you experience in the game to their meddling.
9 White Day: A Labyrinth Named School
White Day was originally published by Korean developer Sonnori in 2001, but has since received a 2015 remake that was released on PC, PS4 and mobile. The horror of the game focuses on the many, many spirits trapped within Yeondu High School and how they affect the living. The ghosts were imprisoned using amulets, but that only made them angrier and more desperate. The game draws on Korean culture and and the ancient Chinese philosophy of Taoism; it's probably different than a lot of other horror titles you've played and is worth a look.
Bioshock may not technically be a horror game, but it certainly makes free use of a lot of horror elements. Rapture is an oppressive setting, full of dread and the unknown, you just happened to have superpowers capable of siccing a swarm of bees on the monsters inside.
In a section of the Point Prometheus level, Jack has to enter the Little Wonders Educational Facility, otherwise known as the play Little Sisters are made. You're well acquainted with the girls at this point, whether you've decided to harvest or rescue them. The Little Wonders Facility is disturbing no matter your stance, showing just how these innocent girls were turned into living bio-recycling machines.
7 The Last of Us
You get two schools for the price of on in Naughty Dog's The Last of Us. First is an overrun high school you encounter as part of the "Bill's Town" chapter. This is the first time you'll meet a Bloater, a very late-stage infected with a ton of health and a propensity to explode. Then later Joel and Ellie arrive at the fiction University of Eastern Colorado looking for the Fireflies. Here they have to deal with both infected and a pack of looters that have taken up residence, and it's here that Joel takes a grievous wound that pivots the story into the next season.
6 Dead Space 2
The Dead Space series is known for its grotesque creature design, with the main enemies, Necromorphs, being monsters made out of recombined human remains. The second game sends you to Titan Station with its civilian population and it's only a matter of time for you to see exactly what happened to all the kids. Isaac has to make his way through the Titan Elementary School and makes the acquaintance of two new nightmares: the Pack, which is a group of necromorphs formed from elementary school children, and Crawlers, which are...infants whose only purpose is to explode.
5 Condemned/Condemned 2
The plot of Condemned: Criminal Origins sees your protagonist, Ethan Thomas, investigating a number of serial killers and attempting to bring them to justice. However, over the course of the game, Ethan discovers his targets murdered through their own methods and realizes he's on the trail of another killer hunting other murderers: Serial Killer X. The trail leads him to St. Joseph's Secondary School where he tries to hunt down the Torturer before he can be killed. The game's sequel, Condemned 2: Bloodshot has Ethan return to the school to find it much changed as the site of horrible experiments on the homeless.
4 Silent Hill
In the original Silent Hill, Harry Mason is searching for his missing daughter Cheryl in the strange and dangerous town of the same name. After finding a note that just says "to school" Harry arrives at Midwich Elementary, the first major dungeon in the game. It's where you start to uncover the game's lore and the history of the town's corruption.
It's centered on Alessa Gillespie, who was tormented by her peers for being a "witch" and was intended to birth the god of the town's cult. The school is haunted by strange creatures like children wielding knives, to represent the bullying Alessa underwent.
3 F.E.A.R 2: Project Origin
In the game F.E.A.R. 2, the protagonist Michael Becket, a Delta Force operator, gets wrapped up in the otherworldly events surrounding Alma Wade and Armacham. He arrives at Wade Elementary School, ostensibly a facility for gifted children, but actually served as a genetic experimentation facility for Project Paragon. It's probably one of the scariest levels in the game, with the building being in shambled from the Origin Facility explosion and anyone who remained inside being turned into Specters.
2 Outlast 2
Outlast 2's action mostly takes place a secluded village in the canyons of Arizona, with protagonist Blake Langerman searching for his wife Lynn, kidnapped by the area's cult. However, throughout the game Blake experiences a number of flashbacks to his experiences at Catholic high school St. Sybil's.
These sections of the game focus more on atmosphere and story than the frantic evasion of the rest of the game, and force players to confront uncomfortable (if not wholly original) situations involving a young Blake and his friend Jessica.
Detention is a 2D survival horror game from Taiwanese developer Red Candle Games. It's set during the White Terror period of Taiwan's history, a period of martial law that lasted from 1949 to 1987. What at first seems like a typical ghost story told against the backdrop of this dangerous historical period quickly reveals itself to be deeply involved with Taiwanese culture and mythology. The game follows students Wei and Ray as they're trapped in the remote Greenwood High School, which has lately become haunted by creatures called "the lingered". The game is a really unique treat to play through, so check out this lesser known title if you get the chance.