Have you ever noticed how much we love survival games? In TV, movies, and books, survival games show up everywhere. Squid Game, a money-for-survival show about a group of desperate people put to the test in murderous versions of children’s games, became one of Netflix’s most-watched TV shows after its release in 2021, earning numerous awards and prompting reactions all over social media. A decade earlier, The Hunger Games garnered similar popularity and remains one of the more recognizable novels in the dystopian survival game genre. I’d argue the pandemic-popular Among Us counts, too, as players try to stay alive on a ship with a masked killer on board.
Maybe it’s the high stakes of these kinds of stories that have us hooked. It’s not just money on the line, but a life! You don’t get more permanent or terrifying than that. Maybe it’s the complexities of life that bring someone to agree to join a game like that, a reminder that we, too, may make that same choice if our circumstances were different. Maybe some of us just like to killing and carnage to decompress. Whatever the reason, survival games are entertaining.
If you’re looking for some survival game horror novels, check out these eight to get you started!
In the year 2025, the economy has collapsed, the government uncaring, and Ben Richards needs money to take his daughter to the doctor. Lately, he has been obsessed with the reality TV show The Running Man where people are hunted and those who survive 30 days win more than enough money to get his little girl the care she needs. Richards signs up and sets out to find a place where he can be safe. But standing still means certain death, and when the whole world is against you, where can you possibly hide?
Nine down-on-their-luck men and women wake up in a desert, disoriented and unsure how they got there. Yoshihuko Fujiki is among them, following the instructions of a machine to a checkpoint where he meets the others. They’re told there’s a prize at the end of this, but only for the last one alive. This choose-your-own-path game of horrors explores the depths of violence and mercy people will go to in order to win.
A class of teenage junior high kids are selected to be in The Program, a yearly bloodbath in the name of military research that’s publicized to the masses. They’re all taken to an island and left with limited supplies and orders to kill each other. With collars around their necks stopping them from entering forbidden areas and a rule that 24 hours can’t pass without a kill, the carnage starts quick. As the battlefield narrows day by day, trapping them in, the list of the dead grows.
A four-person team have made it to the final stage of the full-contact scary escape room called the Quigley House. If they make it to the end without shouting “reprieve,” they’ll win a cash prize. But they’ve hardly begun one of the contestants is killed. Through court transcripts, flashbacks, and cross-examination, the story of what happened inside that cell unfolds.
Seventeen-year-old Charley wakes up naked and in an empty field, unsure how she got there. Soon, she meets other teenagers, including an intriguing leader Thad, on this island she’s found herself on. They’ve worked out some of the rules of the island: escape within 365 days of arriving or you die. But the island proves difficult to escape from, full of death traps just waiting for one of them to stumble upon. As their time ticks down and Charley and Thad’s connection gets stronger, they must fight to the end to make it out together alive.
Mack knows all about hiding when she signs up for a televised hide-and-seek game with a cash prize that will change her life. Set in an abandoned amusement park, the group gathers together each night before scattering through their playground to spend the day hiding. But then people stop returning to camp at night, their stuff left behind. Mack wonders if they’ve been caught, but not by something kind. She and the remaining contestants must work together to survive whatever it is out there that’s trying to find them.
Twelve contestants sign up for a televised test of their limits in the woods with limited information and a cash prize of $1 million. Three weeks into filming, Zoo, one of the contestants, stumbles on a body. Thinking it’s all a part of the game, Zoo keeps going, comfortable with the idea that she can tap out at any time. But as the bodies and chaos grow and her safety net doesn’t seem to be in place anymore.
International horror movie star Clarissa Lee might have little bit of a spending issue. Okay, maybe a large one. She’s flat broke. To stave off her financial troubles, she agrees to participate in a “fully immersive” convention for horror fans. When she arrives at the grounds of a summer camp with the other B-listers who signed up it turns out the interactive element of the convention were really more murderous. She and the other celebrities must fight to the death to make it out alive.
In the mood for more horror? Check out these 13 thrilling queer gothic books or these horrific dark academia novels!