There Are Ghosts In These Stalls

There Are Ghosts In These Stalls Sows Fears Fast While on the Toilet

There Are Ghosts In These Stalls is an extremely brief horror game. You’ll likely finish it in a few minutes. Even so, the game makes incredible use of sound, setting, and play, creating a terrifying experience while wasting no time. It’s an impressive look at how to scare the player with only a handful of tools and only a short window to establish a mood.

One of the first great decisions it makes is its choice of setting. A public bathroom seems like an odd place for a haunting, but it’s a place where most of us have felt some discomfort. I’m not big on using the toilet in public. Having all that open space while you’re vulnerable starts to play with the mind. What’s stopping someone from crawling under or over the door? What if someone kicked the door in while you’re stuck with your pants down? Or, what if some weirdo kid just wants to stare at you through the gap between the door and the stall?

There Are Ghosts In These Stalls puts all of these elements to work. You’re all alone in a public bathroom stall. It’s dark (curse whoever decided to put public bathroom lights on timers). There’s just the sound of dripping water coming from somewhere as you sit there trapped while doing your business. It feels very vulnerable in here by drawing on those previously-mentioned fears that just come naturally from the setting. The near-silence and the lack of movement give your mind time to imagine all of those scary possibilities.

But there’s something else it draws from. There’s some scrawled writing on the door in front of you. Looks like weird symbols. You’ve likely seen some odd scribbles inside bathroom stalls at some point in your life. I’ve read some downright chilling stuff alongside the usual gross things in some of the public bathrooms I’ve been in. Being stuck on the toilet seems to unleash some nasty sides to people. Makes them feel a need to confess or unleash their sickening thoughts on others. So, when I saw that writing on the door, I felt a deep unease settle in.

The quiet adds to the mood There Are Ghosts In These Stalls is trying to establish. Besides the dripping, there are really only a few other sounds in the game. You only hear some shuffling sounds, a metallic bang, and a few other things. This minimalism of sound works so well because the player is guaranteed to hear and focus on all of them. Hearing something like a few shuffling footsteps naturally hits a bit harder when there’s no other sound in the room. The same goes for a loud clang beside you. You are guaranteed to hear them. You’re also going to be assigning all kinds of awful meanings to those sounds in this unsettling place.

The sounds imply that you aren’t alone in this room. It’s important that it’s only an implication, though. The shuffling noise sounds like it COULD be footsteps or something moving around. The clang of a grate falling down could just be that the room is falling apart. Still, with those feelings of vulnerability from the bathroom stall setting, your imagination starts telling you that maybe something IS around. Something that’s creeping closer with every new noise. You’re not sure, though, as it’s only an implication. You downplay it and keep looking around. If you knew for sure, you would hide. Since you’re not sure, you keep looking around. You keep willingly walking to your doom.

Finally, There Are Ghosts In These Stalls uses its limited play to increase your fear. You can really only look around the stall and under it. You’re not going to be getting up and trying to escape. This strengthens the sense that you’re trapped while finishing your business. You can really only lean around a bit. Maybe take a closer look at the stall around you. You can peer under the stall door at the room. Take a look at the ceiling if you feel like. But you aren’t going anywhere.

While peering around, you’ll likely catch sight of something odd. Those symbols from the door are scattered around the room, and staring at them for too long makes them disappear. Turning your gaze to the faded writing on the door will transfer these symbols onto it. It gives you some interactivity within the game world while also forcing you to look around. Also, as you need to look close and stare at the symbols to collect them. And you have to close off your peripheral vision while you focus.

You can’t see as much of the screen while focusing in There Are Ghosts In These Stalls. It zooms your gaze in. This leaves you open to having something happen where you can’t see it. Or, worse, something might happen right in front of you while your vision is focused. This leaves you feeling more vulnerable from things in front of your gaze as well as outside it. Even so, what else can you do while you’re stuck on the toilet? The symbols feel like something you need to use to get out of here. At the same time, they also feel like the thing that will seal your fate. Isn’t that better than perpetuity on the potty, though? And besides, there’s only an IMPLIED danger. You might still get out of this safely.

There is also that glimmer of hope in collecting the symbols. While collecting them, it sounds like something is getting closer. However, you don’t know what those symbols do as you gather them. It’s possible that they could let you out. The only thing you can do is lean and look around, so what other choice do you have? A part of me clung to this strange mixture of hope and fear of inevitable disaster. They felt intertwined in my limited ability to act, so all I could do was keep moving forward. What could I do, otherwise? Sit here and wait to die? Had to get off the pot, so to speak.

There Are Ghosts In These Stalls has something unpleasant waiting for you when you collect all the symbols. I pretty much expected this. Despite my feelings that the danger was only a possibility, something IS here. Something IS looking at you. You’ll see it through a trickle of blood spilling down the door. Then you’ll see something else that will give you pause. You can stop here and stay safe, but like with the symbols, maybe you hope looking at the creature will end this. Maybe for good, maybe for bad, but it will be over. You’ll control that final moment when you look at it, too. And even then, it still scared the hell out of me.

And all of this played out over a game that took maybe three minutes to complete. There Are Ghosts In These Stalls wastes absolutely no time, making use of sound and limited gameplay to immerse you in hopelessness and make you feel like something terrifying is creeping close. It uses an uncomfortable setting to give you a sense of immediate unease, and then quickly uses just a handful of tools, masterfully placed, to set you up for a moment where you’ll frighten yourself. To do it all in such a short time is extremely impressive, and has me looking forward to any other horror games its creator, Elisha Ramos, works on.