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Haunted House for the Magnavox Odyssey – The World's First Horror Video Game

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Haunted House for the Magnavox Odyssey – The World's First Horror Video Game

Haunted House Screen Overlay

Image © Magnavox
Horror and video games have long been entwined brining all sorts of freaky frights into our homes and arcades. From the Zombies in Resident Evil, to the Ghost Monsters in Pac-Man, it's hard to imagine video games without Ghouls 'n Ghosts. For years there has been a debate over just what was the very first horror game, and I'm about to put the argument to rest. The very first horror video game was, without a doubt, Haunted House. Not the side-scrolling, multi-screened classic for the Atari 2600, but the screen overlay that came packaged with the Magnavox Odyssey, the world's first video game console.

The Basics:

  • Original Release Date: 1972
  • Publisher: Magnavox
  • System: Magnavox Odyssey
  • Format: Cartridge + Screen Overlay + Playing Cards
  • Genre: Horror-Survival (the very first one)

The First Horror Game Ever:

How do I know this was the first horror video game? Because it was actually one of the first video games ever made. Haunted House came packaged with the Magnavox Odyssey, the first video game console in history. The only publicly available games that pre-date it are the world's first arcade games, Computer Space and Galaxy Game, and technology demonstrations like Spacewar! and Tennis for Two.
Most folks have forgotten about the Odyssey version of Haunted House, mainly because it was a difficult game to play, requiring a screen overlay, special playing cards and a minimum of two-players. Although the Odyssey was historic and groundbreaking, having to use all of this paraphernalia to play a video game didn't catch on to mass appeal, and most folks stuck with the tennis game that didn't require and screen overlays or extras. Three years later Magnavox redesigned the Odyssey to make it more Pong-like as a self-contained system with no cartridges, no screen overlays, and no Haunted House game.
Over the years those folks had an original model Odyssey often lost their cards, or ditched the overlays, so few complete sets of the game still exist today. Haunted House has become a ghost in the annals of gamedom.

The Game

The game requires Odyssey cartridge #4, Haunted House screen overlay, Clue Cards and Secret Message cards. Player 1 plays a Detective investigating a haunted house; player 2 is the Ghost haunting the house. When the Haunted House overlay is in place, we are ready to enter the muddled gameplay. To make it a bit less confusing the gameplay is listed below in bullet points.
  • Player 1, the Detective, must close their eyes or leave the room.
  • Once the Detective player is not looking, the Ghost, player 2, moves to a hiding place.
  • After the Ghost has found his hiding place he takes the Detective's controller and moves its square icon over the Ghost's square icon. When they overlap the Ghost square disappears.
  • The Ghost then returns the Detective's square outside of the house and the Detective can open his eyes, or come back into the room. Now they can begin their terrifying game of cat and mouse.
  • The Ghost calls out clue items off of the Clue Cards, and the Detective is tasked to work his way through the maze of a house and fund that specific clue without accidentally touching any other clue on the way.
  • If the detective successfully reaches the clue they can keep that Clue Card, but if they touch another clue on the way they lose all of their Clue Cards and have to start collecting them from scratch.
  • The Detective also needs to be careful not to light up the window in the house by passing behind it. If he does he loses his last Clue Card.
  • When the Detective reaches the clue closest to the Ghost, player 2 makes himself appear by pressing the reset button on the Odyssey console.
  • If the Detective accidentally touches the Ghost, it will disappear again and the Detective has to fork over half of his Clue Cards.
  • To try and recapture lost clues, the Detective can select a Secret Message card which calls out a clue item he can return to and reclaim.
  • Once the Detective has reached the treasure in the haunted house, the Ghost and Detective count their Clue Cards. The player with the most Clue Cards wins.
  • With its board game-like gameplay, confusing controls and gameplay involving one of the players to not look at the screen, it's no wonder that Haunted House for the Magnavox Odyssey was forgotten. Although it is a crowning technological achievement and a forefather to some of the greatest horror games ever made, the game design just wasn't strong enough. Regardless, you have to tip your hat to that early game designer who foresaw the importants of horror and video games.
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