So back at the beginning of the year I promised an article looking at how horror gaming exists today but the article never came about due to other articles taking priority.
Well due to a number of factors that time is now. This is that article:
I'm sure many of you would agree, for as long as games have tried to tell stories there have always been games that have tried to scare us.
How many of you remember the first time either as a child, teenager or young adult you played Doom, heard the robotic growl of the Pinky Demon and felt that tingle of sweat drip down your neck?
For some reason, we humans love to be scared, it's something that we can't get enough of and it's not in video games only.
Looking back over my own life I can pin point a few moments that stood out more than others; seeing Newt in Aliens in the water with the Alien rising up behind her, the scene in Mirrors with the girl who tears her own jaw open and pretty much any moment in RING featuring Sadako.
I hate being afraid, it is a horrible experience, where all aggression has left you, your heart is thumping away in your throat, your skin is cold and you have no idea what will happen next.
Despite this feeling I still watch these films, sometimes with eyes shut tight and other times through gaps in my fingers, but I'm there experiencing those moments, but there's always a comfort there.
You see with these films you have one comfort, you can hide under your sheets and if you wait long enough it will go away, after all the film will end and there is a comfort there, that if you can last long enough the ordeal will be over and unlike the characters of the film the most damage you'll have experienced is a sleepless night or two.
For many years this type of fear was never present in video games...
I've already mentioned the infamous Pinky Demon of Doom, but in this instance you had a gun, some way of fighting back. You knew that if you ever met that growling mass of pixels, even if it took unloading all your ammo into his face, you could walk out of there. There was a challenge, an excitement and an adrenalin burst as you cut down waves upon waves of demons as the hero of Demos.
Now let's fast forward to 2010/2011 when the world was treated to a new breed of fear:
Amnesia: The Dark Descent.
Before this game we had some great games, in fact we had gone through the main rise and fall of the genre titled Survival Horror including such iconic titles as Resident Evil, Silent Hill, Fatal Frame and Dead Space but how many of these were truly scary?
Now I'll admit, to this day I am still scared shitless over Alma from the F.E.A.R. Series, but I think that's more to do with her similarities with Sadako than anything else. But let's just keep her on the back burner for a moment:
So Amnesia came about and it span the horror game genre on it's heels.
Suddenly it took the classic gaming trope of the butch marine with a gun and said:
"I'll take that gun, that knife, in fact I'll take all your weapons. You're no longer butch either and you know what? There's still monsters stalking you!"
Let's just think about that for a second, a game where you 're being stalked by god knows what and you have no way or fighting it.
Since then we have seen a small number of games emulate, imitate and (in my opinion) succeed Amnesia in what it did, perhaps the most noticeable being last year's Outlast (you can read my review of that here.
But what makes these games so compelling? Why do we keep going back to them night after night to play them?
The answer is simple: Closure
You see, when you watch a film you know that you can hide under the bed sheets and the film will end and a resolution will be reached, maybe the bad guy will be killed, or frozen or something, but either way the trauma of the film will be over.
When you play a game however you can't just hide and hope it goes away, because it doesn't. Unlike films, a game requires input from you.
So when you're playing the world's latest horror survival game, and you're trapped in the mad doctor's underground lab while you can turn off the game and walk away, you can't just hide under the sheets and have your character escape.
The same has happened with me and Outlast, I have reached a point where the stress of playing the game is just too much and I can't bring myself to get past this one part.
So what does that mean?
It means that I'm still there! I'm still trapped in that asylum and no matter how much I try to avoid the truth I know that a part of me knows that and I will never ever see closure unless I can somehow push through that paralysing fear that is stopping me.
It's just like the classic scene in those generic horror movies; the big lumbering brute has been stalking the Scream Queen through the dark corners, she has found a temporary refuge in the dark recesses under a table being used for mad experiments and she has a choice:
She can stay there and accept death as an inevitable outcome.
She can muster all her strength and courage, leap from under the table and hope that her second wind will either let her escape in time or give her the edge on the brute just enough to shove those scissors deep into his eyes.
That is me right now, I am that Scream Queen trying to decide what is better. More panic or a slow death and right now procrastination seems like the best option.
I mentioned earlier about the villain Alma from the F.E.A.R. series.
Alma holds a special place in my heart as the first villain in a video game that truly scared me.
With Alma however, it wasn't just her similarity to Sadako that got me, but how she was used as character piece.
Alma is vengeance personified, the twisted remains of a psychic girl forced to undergo truly horrific experiments. It's true in the series the real villain of the games is not Alma or her cannibalistic son Paxton, but her own father who forced his daughter to go through these tests.
So why was she so terrifying to me? Why even now after completing all three games and reaching my closure do I still feel the cold hand of dread about playing her games?
It all comes down to her actual interaction with you in the games. More often then not when you encounter Alma in her games she will either scuttle up towards you before disappearing into ash, or she will just casually walk away into the shadows. So rarely does she ever attack you, and that just makes the dread even worse.
You walk down a corridor, go to open a door and you see her unmistakable shadow envelop you from behind.
You know she's there, you know that you can just turn the door handle before you and run away, but despite this, despite knowing the futility of the situation you turn around seeing her right before you and you unload your machine gun clip into her.
You know that guns don't do anything to her, you know that she doesn't want you dead as she has a use for you and is trying to guide you towards her intended goal.
You know all of this but regardless you still unload your gun and she turns to ash before your eyes.
By having this character do nothing but stand there makes her so much more terrifying than the beasts that jump out of the shadows to scare you.
Perhaps I'm alone here, perhaps horror games to me in the Post Amnesia Period is no different to before and actually none of them are scary in the slightest.
What I know is that despite inducing a panic attack, Outlast is one of the most involving games I have ever played and F.E.A.R. (Despite being 2 out of the 3 games being released before Amnesia) still scares the shit out of me!
And you know what? I'm still going to play these games.
Why? For the same reason people watch scary movies. To experience the rush of the situation without actually put your life at risk.
Some people go hang gliding, others go BASE jumping. Me? I pretend to be a dude trapped in a mental asylum.
On that note, stay safe and I'll see you Cryptside!
- Your friendly neighbourhood Doctor Loxley