1991 was a great year.
Anthony Hopkins was ‘f-f-f-f-f’-ing over fava beans, Nirvana’s Nevermind was stirring the youth of America and most importantly, I’d just slipped out of the womb.
In the toy and games space though, one title came out in 1991 that remains, for me, one of the greatest games to ever come packaged with a VHS: Atmosfear (known as Nightmare in some territories).
For anyone that didn’t have the pleasure, the game saw players have to collect six different coloured keys to beat The Gatekeeper, a hooded ghoul housed on your TV screen who slowly decayed as he watched the game unfold, barking instructions to players via a VHS, or in the 2004 revamped version, a DVD.
As a kid, it was more like an event than a game. You’d turn the lights down low, push the volume way up and wait for The Gamekeeper to appear on the TV screen to freak you out. You even had to write down your greatest fear with the risk of it being outed to the rest of the group if the game didn’t go your way.
You’d get secret missions (mostly involving making other the players jump), have to bellow ‘Yes, my Gatekeeper’ every five seconds and sometimes The Gatekeeper would tell everyone but one player to leave the room so he could issue some sly words of advice to his ‘favourite’ (it’s all just as creepy as it sounds).
Now while I’d want Atmosfear to return to shelves for nostalgic reasons, it seems this sort of gameplay is as popular now as ever before, with interactive theatre and immersive experiences all the rage.
I’ve donned a dressing gown and walked the halls of an abandoned children’s hospital in Chelsea for Secret Cinema’s screening of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. I’ve been trapped in an Eqyptian tomb with only four mates and a series of strange clues in one of London’s increasingly popular Escape Rooms. Hell, a crowdfunding campaign has even resurrected The Crystal Maze for a limited run this year where you’ll be able to actually put a team together and try your hand at conquering the game.
It’s even infiltrated other forms of nights out.
Dans Le Noir invites guests to eat a mystery meal completely in the dark, London’s ‘Faulty Towers The Dining Experience’ sees guests treated to shambolic service by Basil, Manuel and Sybil along with a 70s-style three-course meal and Rebel Bingo has injected the pastime with naughty words, burlesque performers and enough booze to sozzle more than two fat ladies. Elsewhere, Thorpe Park has just teamed with Derren Brown on a "multi-sensory, mind blowing" Ghost Train experience.
It’s this sort of engagement that Atmosfear encouraged and while a lot of DVD games struggled as a result of using the platform for the sake of it, it made complete sense as a means of inviting The Gatekeeper into your front room.
With the likes of app technology and virtual reality still in their relative infancy when it comes to toys and games, I think a revamped version of Atmosfear could be bloody brilliant, and with the public’s thirst for more left-field ‘interactive’ nights out, it makes sense.