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Games that will leave you feeling paranoid for days

Do you feel like you're being watched? Then maybe you're suffering paranoid delusions—or maybe, just maybe, you've been playing one of these games. The following titles aren't just scary. They're calculating. They watch and record your every move, and use that knowledge against you. They go out of their way to make sure that you can't trust anyone—or anything. Sure, maybe it's all in your head—or maybe these games really are out to get you. You'll never know for sure.

Doki Doki Literature Club

It's a typical set-up for a dating simulator: you, playing a male student, join your school's literature club, giving you an excuse to flirt with a bevy of cute anime girls. The set-up in Doki Doki Literature Club, however, is anything but typical: while you'll start the game writing virtual poems and getting to know your attractive classmates, halfway through the game, one of your potential suitors, Sayori, commits suicide. That's when the real game starts.

Shortly after Sayori's demise, the game glitches, forcing you to create a new save. But something is off. Sayori is missing, and when she's mentioned, the game starts freaking out. Two of the other girls meet gruesome ends. Ultimately, the last surviving member of the literature club admits that she's been manipulating the other girls' character files in order to make them less appealing to her one true love, you. Not the character that you control, by the way, but you, the person playing the game.

You can try to free your computer of Doki Doki Literature Club's malevolent spirit by physically deleting her character data from the game, but if you think that a digital exorcism is going to be that easy, think again. Like it or not, Doki Doki Literature Club's characters have real-life agency that extends beyond the game itself. After playing, you'll never treat a non-player character the same way ever again. Who knows? They might decide to fight back.

Game and Wario

If you've ever snuck into the living room at night to watch a movie that your parents don't approve of, or if you huddled under the sheets with a Game Boy well past your bedtime, you'll relate to Game and Wario's subversive thrills. In Game and Wario's "Gamer" stage, you're tasked with playing a series of small WarioWare-like video games on the Wii U's gamepad, while keeping an eye on the television screen. See, "Gamer's" hero, 9-Volt, is supposed to be asleep, and periodically his mother will check in on him. You need to hide before mother catches you gaming, or it's an instant game-over (you'll also lose if you run out of lives in the game-within-a-game, so make sure you pay attention).

Of course, in real life, getting away with something is part of the fun. In Game and Wario, that's just the tip of the paranoia iceberg. At lower difficulties, 9-Volt's mom simply opens the door, randomly checking on her delinquent son. At higher difficulties, she'll also burst through the window horror-movie style, shattering the glass. She'll emerge from the television itself, like something out of The Ring, and hey, you know what? Suddenly, those carefree childhood nights don't seem quite as much fun as we all remembered.

Alien: Isolation

The people who made Alien: Isolation worked very, very hard to make you feel as paranoid as possible. After all, while Ridley Scott's 1979 thriller is full of gruesome special effects, cool-looking monsters, and all kinds of pulpy sci-fi goodness, the movie's biggest strength is the almost unbearable sense of anxiety that arises as the Nostromo crew tries (and, for the most part, fails) to survive the alien-infested death trap they're stuck in. Alien: Isolation tries to recreate the original film's game of extra-terrestrial hide-and-seek, and boy, does it ever succeed.

Alien: Isolation has all of the trappings of a standard survival horror title—limited ammunition, intelligent foes, and cramped settings—but its titular alien transforms the game into something much, much more sinister. The alien can't be stopped or killed, and tracks the player using both sound and smell. It's also powered by a sophisticated artificial intelligence (two of them, actually) and not a predefined script, meaning that the alien will react dynamically to everything that you do, and that it'll strike in different places every time.

Every decision that the developers made is focused on ramping up the tension. Alien: Isolation uses a first-person perspective in order to make the horror more intimate. The team created a brand new game engine in order to capture Alien's stark sets and moody lighting. As you play, the game gives the alien new AI abilities, giving you the impression that it's learning. Most importantly, however, the developers decided to keep your nemesis off-screen as much as possible, leaving room for your imagination to run wild. Maybe the alien is right behind you, ready to strike—or maybe it's all in your head. In Alien: Isolation, you never really know for sure.

Spy Party

Just like real spycraft, Spy Party is all about deception. In the match, one person plays a spy, who must interact with computer-controlled characters while trying to achieve a set number of objectives. The other player is a sniper, who watches the party from afar, tries to suss out which character at the party is a human being, and gets one chance to put a bullet in his opponent's head.

In a well-played game of Spy Party, suspicion and uncertainty run rampant. If you're the spy, you need to do your best to act like you're a machine, and you never know if your actions are giving you away. If you're the sniper, you need to be both quick and careful. You only get one chance to put your foe down, and you have to do it before they finish their mission. When facing a skilled opponent, you'll start second-guessing your decision right up until you decide to pull the trigger. After that, it's over—for better or for worse.

Five Nights at Freddy's

It's no surprise that Five Nights at Freddy's quickly became one of YouTube's most popular video games. It's got everything you'd expect from a dystopian thriller, but wrapped up in a package that makes it easy for kids to enjoy (or, at the very least, scares the hell out of 'em).

Freddy's killer animatronics are little more than a typical case of technology run amok. The surveillance state rears its head in miniature in the form of the security cameras that you monitor as the security guard at Freddy Fazbear's Pizza, a Chuck. E. Cheese's riff, while the run-down environment and glitchy technology provide the requisite grim-and-gritty atmosphere. Conspiracy theories abound, too, thanks in large part to the series' intentionally obtuse backstory and creator Scott Cawthon's penchant for teasing fans with surprise release dates and elaborate pranks. If you can't trust the man who makes the games, you certainly can't trust the games themselves.

Of course, Five Nights at Freddy's wouldn't be anything without the jump scares. When one of Freddy's murderous mechanical animals catches you, it doesn't just attack. Instead, it loudly jumps out of the darkness, shoving its deformed and decrepit face right into the camera. As YouTubers like Markiplier can attest, it's absolutely terrifying. You'll be jumping at shadows for hours after a Five Nights at Freddy's playthrough, so don't try this one right before bed. Until your heart rate goes down, you won't get a wink of sleep.

Undertale

Here's a secret: most of the time, the choices that you make in games don't matter. Yes, deciding who lives and who dies in games like Mass Effect, Dragon Age, and The Witcher 3 might change the storyline, but if you don't like your decision, it's no problem. You can load up a previous save—or even begin a whole new game—and start over fresh. You might lose some time, but that's a small price to pay for a cosmic do-over.

Undertale is different. Undertale remembers. If you've killed certain characters on previous runs, others will taunt you about your past transgressions the next time you start a new game. One big choice even modifies your Steam account, making it impossible to undo the decision by deleting files or mucking around in your system registry.

As a result, every decision that you make has real, permanent consequences. That gives Undertale a lot of weight, but it also makes playing this funny, cute, and charming game inordinately stressful. Unless you're using a guide, you don't know which decisions are important and which aren't, and you've got no idea what you can and can't take back. Besides, the mere implication that a piece of software is watching and silently judging you (as Undertale fans will gladly tell you, there's only one ethically correct way to beat the game) is unsettling, not fun, and will make you second-guess every choice that you made for days after the game's credits roll.

Eternal Darkness: Sanity's Requiem

H.P. Lovecraft fans know that insanity is a big, big part of the author's oeuvre. According to Lovecraft, when humans try to wrap their minds around powers far beyond their understanding, madness is inevitable. When faced with cosmic indifference, they can't help but go a little crazy.

Eternal Darkness, which borrows many tropes from Lovecraft's work, reaches a similar conclusion, but instead of limiting the mental damage to the characters, it passes it on to you, the player. In the game, your characters have a "Sanity" meter, which depletes as you're spotted by monsters. When your sanity drops too low, the game unleashes so-called "sanity effects" that are designed to drive you crazy—literally. Walls start bleeding. Your character will be stuck in a dead-end room, only to discover a few minutes later that they never left the first one at all. You'll "die" randomly, or reach sudden and unexpected game over screens.

When things get really bad, Eternal Darkness shatters the fourth wall entirely. The game shows the title screen, making it look like the console suddenly reset, clearing away your progress. It pretends to delete your save data, or tells you your controller is disconnected, or empties your inventory. In one case, the screen goes black, leaving your character helpless. Occasionally, bugs start crawling around the screen, making it look like your television is ground zero for an infestation. Eternal Darkness' sanity effects are so creative and well-done that they're surprising even when you know that they're coming. It's a system that works so well that Nintendo patented it, ensuring that you never trust a video game again.

Dead Space

There are many things that make Dead Space, Electronic Arts' space-set survival horror game, scary. But there's only one that makes it true paranoia fuel: in Dead Space, things that are dead don't stay that way.

For example, let's say you're wandering down an abandoned hallway. Other than the hum from the flickering lights, it's quiet. There's a pile of corpses on the floor, but this is Dead Space. Corpses are everywhere. You pass them by. A few minutes later, something growls behind you. You turn and find that some of the bodies—not all of them, just a few—are up and shambling around, getting ready to tear your face off. What do you do? Besides wet your pants, that is.

In Dead Space, it's better to be safe than sorry. Better whip out your plasma cutter and slice off that body's arms and legs, which is the fastest way to dispatch Dead Space's necromorphs (in fact, executive producer Glen Schofield told GameSpy that dismemberment is Dead Space's "primary theme"). It might be unnecessary, and sometimes it's a waste of time, but it's better than constantly worrying that a dead body is going to come back to life and torment you–and it's certainly a superior option compared to getting eaten alive.

Potatoman Seeks the Troof

Potatoman Seeks the Troof has a simple premise. As PixelJam's Miles Tilmann told Joystiq, Potatoman simply wants to figure out what life is all about. Unfortunately, "almost everything he meets along his journey is trying to kill or mislead him."

Tilmann isn't kidding when he says "everything," either. Despite Potatoman's cute Atari 2600-style graphics, this isn't a kid-friendly platformer. It's one, long, pixelated death trap. A seemingly friendly cowboy will shoot Potatoman in the back for absolutely no reason. Cacti fly in seemingly random directions, cutting your jump short. The game isn't consistent with its obstacles, either: right after dodging a leaping cactus, for example, you'll run into one that both jumps and explodes into other killer cacti.

In most platformers, you rely on patterns to make your way through the world. In Potatoman, you can't do that. There are no rules, and that makes every obstacle a potential source of trouble. Without knowing what's going to happen next, you can't plan ahead, leading to a constant state of anxiety. Potatoman Seeks the Troof isn't as troll-like as I Wanna Be the Guy or Eyri's Action, and it's relatively short. Those are good things. After all, there's only so much worrying one person can take.

Pony Island

Like many of the games on this list, Pony Island isn't what it appears to be. When you first boot up Pony Island, you'll think that you're playing a port of an old, long-forgotten arcade game. But things are off-kilter from the very beginning: a glitch keeps you from getting started, forcing you to go into the options menu and choose "Fix Start Menu." Afterwards, you'll spend a few minutes controlling a jumping unicorn before the game asks for your soul, boots you into the game's "code," and the real adventure begins.

See, Pony Island is actually a game about a possessed arcade cabinet, which you need to exorcise with the help of one of the game's former victims. The further you investigate, the weirder things get. Before long, Pony Island isn't just faking an old arcade game. It also starts issues alerts and notifications that, to the naked eye, look exactly like the kinds of alerts and notifications that you get from Windows and Steam. As you play, Pony Island shatters the boundaries between the game and your PC's operating system. It's hilarious and, when you fall for its tricks, incredibly unsettling.

Pony Island has tricked more than one person into sending strange, confusing IMs to real-life friends, and even after the game is over, you'll never be quite sure that you've successfully quit out of it. If you want the full, paranoia-inducing experience, you know enough. Stop reading spoilers and fire the game up for yourself. Go in unprepared, and Pony Island should leave you wondering what's real and what's not for days. For better or worse, there's no other game quite like it.