Video Games That Are Surprisingly Inspired By Real Life

Everyone knows that games like Assassin’s Creed and Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater are based on real people and events. Since the dawn of video games, developers have taken inspiration from real events. Even if you’re playing a fantastical game like Fatal Frame or Bioshock, there’s a chance that they stemmed from real-life experiences.

Like all artists, game developers gain ideas from real life: historical people, memorable events, and even personal experiences. Here are video games that you may have played, but didn’t realize they were based on real life, even if the plots are fictional.

Silent Hill Was Based Off Of A Real Town

Screenshot of Silent Hill: Downpour opening
Konami
Konami

The Silent Hill franchise revolutionized the horror genre. In this famous Konami series, players could hardly see anything beyond the virtual fog, which was uncommon in games at the time. This fictional city was inspired by a real ghost town in Centralia, Pennsylvania.

Centralia was a coal mining town that began producing in 1856. In May of 1962, the town burned their trash landfill, which lit the underground mine on fire. Centralia’s 2,000 residents left after experiencing blackouts from the gases. Today, the fire still burns. Smoke leaks from the ground in this eerie ghost town.

Valiant Hearts: The Great War Features Real Letters From World War I

gameplay from Valient Hearts: The Great War by Ubisoft
Ubisoft
Ubisoft

While most war-based games are shooters, Ubisoft took a different direction in 2014. In Valiant Hearts: The Great War, players focus on five average citizens in World War I. The plot was inspired by real letters from the Great War.

In an interview with TheSixthAccess, Associate Producer Guillaume Cerda said that the game’s Art Director, Paul Tumelaire, showed his team the letters. “His great grandfather was in the Great War, so he brought to the studio all of the letters that his grandmother gave him,” he said. “You can imagine how emotional it was when we read the letters, and how a soldier in his trench was writing this.”

The Sims Arose From The Oakland-Berkeley Firestorm

Character gameplay from Sims 3
Maxis/Electronic Arts
Maxis/Electronic Arts

The Sims became popular for reflecting real life (before the Grim Reaper and other mythical creatures entered the scene), so it’s no surprise that creator Will Wright pulled from the real world. While brainstorming for the game, Wright redesigned his entire mock-up after the 1991 Oakland-Berkeley Firestorm.

Wright lost his house in the blaze and had to re-purchase all of his family’s possessions. He told Berkeleyside that he began to ponder the true meaning of happiness and its relationship to earthly possessions. “Why do we think something will make me happier?” he asked hypothetically. Hence, he allowed the characters to “map and identify what items would satisfy any pending needs.”

Fatal Frame: Maiden of Black Water Was Inspired By The Game Director’s Spiritual Encounters

Screenshot of protagonist and ghost from Fatal Frame: Maiden of Black Water
Nintendo/Koei Tecmo
Nintendo/Koei Tecmo

Fatal Frame is one of the most popular horror games franchises of all time. Each game is located in a different haunted area of Japan. But the fifth game in the series, Fatal Frame: Maiden of Black Water, drew from the creator’s personal experiences on top of urban legends.

The game’s director, Makoto Shibata, tells the story of his visit to Mount Osore in Aomori. While walking, Shibata heard the voices of playing children, as well as a crying woman. He then “fell to the ground, unable to move” as if he were “possessed by something.” He tried to bring the players “close to death” with the same feeling of dread.

Spec Ops: The Line Reflects The Maddening Reality Of War

game play of the 2012 game Spec Ops: The Line
Yager Development/2K Games
Yager Development/2K Games

The tenth game in the Spec Ops series shocked fans, to say the least. Although players went in expecting a casual shooter game, the main character in Spec Ops: The Line slowly begins to hallucinate as he is driven mad by the horrors of war. The plot was inspired by literature covering the experiences of PTSD-suffering veterans.

The plotline of Spec Ops: The Line came from Generation Kill, an HBO documentary series about Evan Wright’s experiences during the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Yager Development also cited Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness as inspiration for the protagonist’s surreal hallucinations and guilt.

That Dragon, Cancer Was Spawned From A Child’s Struggle With Cancer

That Dragon, Cancer promo screenshot scene
Numinous Games
Numinous Games

That Dragon, Cancer is an indie game made by the small team at Numinous Games. This point-and-click exploration game chronicles parents who must make choices for their sick child. Sadly, this game is an autobiographical experience of Ryan and Amy Green’s journey with their son, Joel.

At age one, Joel was diagnosed with an atypical teratoid rhabdoid tumor. Although doctors gave him four months to live, Joel survived for four more years. In 2014, the Greens decided to remove Joel from his feeding tube, and he passed away.

The Developer Got Fired For Portraying His Job In I Get This Call Every Day

gameplay of the indie game, I Get This Call Every Day
David S Gallant
David S Gallant

Unlike other games, I Get This Call Every Day was not designed to be fun. This point-and-click game requires the player to navigate through a call with a customer. They have to balance not irritating the caller while also not breaking confidentially laws. If this sounds too real, it is; developer David Gallant based it on his day job at a call center.

In 2011, Gallant worked part-time for Canada Revenue Agency in Toronto. He attended several gaming conventions on his off-time and eventually decided to create a game about his job. After the game released in 2012, Gallant got fired from his position.

L.A. Noire Explores Real L.A. Murder Cases

screenshot of a cut scene in the game L.A. Noire
Team Bondi/Rockstar Games
Team Bondi/Rockstar Games

Developed by Team Bondi, L.A. Noire is an action-adventure mystery game where you solve crimes as an LAPD detective. Most people know this game as being the first to use MotionScan to capture actors’ facial expressions for characters. However, few fans know that many of the game’s cases were based on real homicides in the L.A. area.

The most notable inspiration for L.A. Noire was the Black Dahlia murder. In 1947, actress Elizabeth Short was found dead at the side of the road. She was nicknamed “Black Dahlia” for her black wardrobe. Her killer has never been found.

The 2010 Medal Of Honor Was Based On The War In Afghanistan

Game cover of the 2010 reboot of Medal of Honor
Danger Close Games/EA Dice/Electronic Arts
Danger Close Games/EA Dice/Electronic Arts

The original 1999 Medal of Honor was set in World War II. When the series resurfaced in 2010, the new game changed its setting to the more recent War of Afghanistan. In particular, Danger Close Games loosely based the game on Operation Anaconda and the Battle of Roberts Ridge.

In March of 2002, CIA military officers landed helicopters on the Takur Ghar mountain, intending to destroy al-Qaeda and the Taliban. As soon as U.S. troops touched the ground, they were attacked. Although the U.S. eventually claimed Takur, many soldiers were wounded and killed.

Bioshock Addressed A Philosopher’s Written Work

Big Daddy, an antagonist from bioshock, attacks the main character
2K Boston/2K Australia/2K Games
2K Boston/2K Australia/2K Games

When Bioshock came out in 2008, it received wide critical acclaim. This science-fiction first-person shooter couldn’t possibly be based on life, right? While it may not mirror real-life events, it does address the works of 20th-century philosophers Ayn Rand, Aldous Huxley, and George Orwell.

Most notably, Rand advocated for a social order known as “objectivism,” in which a person only pursues their interests and owes nothing to others. Bioshock takes Rand’s idea and applies it to George Orwell and Aldous Huxley’s utopian visions.

Velvet Assassin Came From A Real World War II Spy

Youtuber plays the stealth video game Velvt Assassin
Replay Studios/SouthPeak Games
Replay Studios/SouthPeak Games

Velvet Assassin is a stealth-based video game by Replay Studios. The player controls Violette Summer, a British spy who operates behind enemy lines in World War II. Like many war-based games, Velvet Assassin grew from historical events. In particular, Violette Summer is based on the real spy, Violette Szabo.

Violette Szabo was a Special Operations Executive who worked undercover in France due to her fluent French. While undercover, she reported German arrests to the British and distributed weapons. In 1945, she was captured, interrogated, and eventually executed for her work. Szabo received the George Cross award posthumously.

Neverending Nightmares Illustrates The Struggle Of Mental Illness

In the game Neverending Nightmares, the protagonist, Thomas, walks with a candle
Infinitap Games
Infinitap Games

Neverending Nightmares received positive reception when it was released in 2014. Developed by Infinitap Games, this hand-drawn horror game follows a character who cannot escape from his series of nightmares. While the story is fictional, it reflected lead designer Matt Gilgenbach’s struggles with obsessive-compulsive disorder and depression.

In an interview with GameSpot, Gilgenbach described how he felt “bleak and hopeless” from 2001 to 2003. “I am channeling very specific imagery from intrusive thoughts that I’ve suffered from because of my OCD,” he said. “I’ve actually re-created some of my visions in the game.”

1979 Revolution: Black Friday Teaches Players About The Iranian Revolution

Player is presented with a choice in the game 1979 Revolution: Black Friday
iNK Stories
iNK Stories

Produced by Ink Stories, 1979 Revolution: Black Friday is no ordinary adventure game. Players don the role of Reza Shirazi, a photojournalist who returns to his home of Iran during the revolution. As players snap photographs of the war, they receive facts about the historical events taking place.

The real-life 1979 Revolution involved the overthrow of Mohammad Pahlavi, Iran’s last monarch. Contrary to other revolutions, 1979 experienced no financial crisis or peasant rebellion. It shocked the world due to the country’s prosperity, and the nonviolent transition from a monarchy to a theocracy.

Dynasty Warriors Stemmed From A Historic Chinese Novel

Dynasty Warriors 2, first crowd-combat game on the PS2
Koei
Koei

As of 2019, the Dynasty Warriors franchise is so vast that it could have its own area code. Although the fighter series has branched off into different concepts, the first couple of games were inspired by a 14th-century Chinese novel, Romance of the Three Kingdoms by Luo Guanzhong.

Romance of the Three Kingdoms details the events of second and third-century China, communities battled for dominance after the Han dynasty’s fall. Like Dynasty Warriors, the novel is part historical and part mythical. As one of the most influential pieces of Asian literature, it is often compared to Shakespeare.

Kholat Follows The Dyatlov Pass Incident

Kholat horror game promotional trailer
IMGN.PRO
IMGN.PRO

Anyone who is familiar with the Dyatlov Pass Incident will immediately recognize the story of Kholat, a beautiful but eerie survival game by IMGN.PRO. The game’s protagonist investigates the disappearance of nine Russian students on Kholat Syakhl, or “Dead Mountain.”

In 1959, nine hikers disappeared in the Ural Mountains. Searchers found the group’s tent cut open by the inside. Members ran from the campground in their underwear through the snow. Three of the hikers suffered fatal injuries. To this day, no explanation has surfaced, and the story remains one of the creepiest mysteries in history.

YIIK Reflects Internet Fascination With The Elisa Lam Case

YIIK - A Postmodern RPG gameplay main characters
Ackk Studios/Ysbryd Games
Ackk Studios/Ysbryd Games

In 2019, Ackk Studios released YIIK: A Postmodern RPG. The game centers on eight message board friends who investigate the mystery of Sammy Pack. Sammy disappeared from an elevator due to a supernatural event, which was caught on video. The story behind YIIK references the real-life death of Elisa Lam.

In 2013, Elisa was found dead in the water tank of the Cecil Hotel in Los Angeles. Police released a video of Elisa acting strangely in the hotel elevator shortly before her death, which caused many internet users to speculate about her death. Like the in-game characters, hoards of internet forums worked to decipher the mystery.

Secret Files: Tunguska Analysed A Mysterious Explosion

beginning gameplay of Secret Files: Tunguska played on the Wii
Fusionsphere Systems/Kaiko/Deep Silver
Fusionsphere Systems/Kaiko/Deep Silver

Secret Files: Tunguska is a point-and-click action-adventure game set in Russia. In the game, amateur detective Nina searches for her lost father. On the way, she gets wrapped up in solving a mysterious explosion, the largest in Earth’s history. It may sound like science-fiction, but this explosion actually happened.

In 1908, an enormous explosion decimated 2,200 sq. km of forest and resulted in three casualties. This impact, called the Tunguska event, occurred through mysterious circumstances. Although many have hypothesized over the cause, most believe that it occurred from a meteor or an airburst.

The Town Of Light Features A Real Psychiatric Hospital

gameplay from The Town of Light in which protagonist picks up a broken doll
LKA/Wired Productions
LKA/Wired Productions

The Town of Light is a psychological horror game that takes place in 1940s Tuscany. Developed by LKA, the game explores the main character, Renee, and her experiences as a patient of the hospital. The game’s setting, Ospedale Psichiatrico di Volterra, was a real mental hospital that was shut down after allegations of abuse.

The Town of Light‘s developers based Renee’s story off of letters, diary entries, and books published by Volterra’s former patients and staff. Patients were forced into labor, shock therapy, and entrapment. “Renee’s story has been created to be as credible as possible,” said LKA. “We decided to act this way to pay respect to the huge amount of people who have really suffered those kinds of experiences.”

Cibele Is An Autobiography

Cibele gameplay, which mirrors a computer desktop
Star Maid Games/Nina Freeman
Star Maid Games/Nina Freeman

Cibele is a 2015 adventure game that’s a far cry from Call of Duty. In the game, the player advances a romantic relationship with someone online. While the main character plays a fictional multiplayer game, Valtameri, she also engages in teen flirting. Things become awkward and dangerous quickly.

The developer, Nina Freeman, based the game off of her first love. She met her first boyfriend while playing Final Fantasy XI, which she parodied in Cibele. Speaking of the game’s name, Cibele was Freeman’s player avatar during her experience.

Eternal Sonata Focuses On A Famous Composer

gameplay screenshot of the game Eternal Sonata
tri-Crescendo/Namco Bandai
tri-Crescendo/Namco Bandai

Eternal Sonata is a 2007 role-playing game that explores a soul’s experience right before death. While Frédéric Chopin lies his death bed, he envisions a surreal world that reflects his life and music. As you may have guessed, Frédéric Chopin was a real 19th-century Polish composer.

At age 39, Chopin died of tuberculosis. Before then, he was a child prodigy who sold famous piano compositions. The game plays Chopin’s music and even feature paintings that the artist owned. The plot mixes a fantastical, dream-like landscape with Choplin’s life experience.