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The Good, The Bad and the Downright Grisly – Thoughts Upon Horror Games
There is definitely a scarier quality in concerns to playing a horror game than to watching a horror movie. Don’t get me wrong – both are awful (and good) and terrifying (and thrilling) experiences in their own right. But horror games are a cut, slash and hack above. Horror games put you… well, you know. Within the horror. Bang slap in front of the zombie/ghost/murderer. Solving the mystery. Trying to save the dumb blonde.
It’s a very stressful situation.
Of course, if you’re going to put yourself in a stressful situation you should do it right, right? Go for the real creepies. The heart-stoppers. Bloodborne. Alien Isolation. Amnesia. Dark Souls. Dead Space. No point in only half-way ruining your life. May as well go the whole hog.
The thing is that when you’re watching a horror film, you can distance yourself to a certain extent. Sure, you get psychological horrors which sort of mess with your head, but you’re not within the drama itself. It’s not your physical head getting chopped off. Even the creepiest of horror films don’t sneak up on you in the way that a horror game can – there’s only so many loud noises and so much discordant music can do. But when your hands are on the controller, it’s a different story altogether.
I can’t even play Slender Man without suffering a minor coronary. You know – the pretty simple, free, downloadable horror game that went viral a couple of years ago. The first time I found a note within it and the loud, low ‘thud’ sound occurred (indicating that the Slender Man had now ‘sensed’ my presence) I screamed a little. In fact, my screaming has sort of become a trend within my household, as I’ve continued to shriek and wail whilst playing it ever since – it never gets easier. When I play scary games at my parent’s house they never come in to check on me anymore, feeling that my screaming is now typical (which is quite worrying: they would be terrible help in a crisis).
Yet the reason I continue to scream – and the reason why my folks would now epically fail me if I were ever being murdered/kidnapped/found a huge spider – is because horror games consistently change in a way that films just can’t. You can watch a horror over and over and get anaesthetised to what scared you the first time, as you know what’s coming. You recognize the script. This pattern is not guaranteed with a game. There is no safe chronology. They are malleable, unpredictable. A little too much like life. You don’t know what’ll happen to you, each time you click the little green ‘ON’ button. You could meet any harem of monsters that the Game Gods choose.
Now that’s scary.
I swear it’s a scientific fact that horror games are on another level (pun definitely intended): a new dimension formulates the moment that you become the protagonist. When you begin to move, the danger becomes real. Really, the very fact that horror games are games indicates that they are too much like life in order for you to not be scared. It’s in your instincts to fear eye-guzzling ten-legged Godzilla octopuses, or whatever. No-one is exempt from the fear. There’s an excellent YouTube video of online gamer jacksepticeye which illustrates this – in his video he plays the new Silent Hill teaser, claiming that he’s not usually really scared by anything, but as you watch him play he becomes increasingly unraveled (with hilarious results). I doubt that you can lose your sanity so quickly with a film, even if you are the creme-de-la-creme of the paranoid clique.
Of course, you’ve got to remember that it’s not actually life. I know it sounds like I’m quoting Horror Games For Dummies, here, but you do hear ridiculous stories of people thinking that these games has crossed over into their world and has made them anxious wrecks eternally clutching baseball bats – guys, you’ve got to keep it together. I mean, I understand why you’ve lost it a little, but only let your virtual self fall apart! The fearful aspect should only ever be understood as an illusion of life – as realistic as it may feel.
Understanding this, however, does make me wonder what will happen with the slow rise of the Oculus Rift in play (would I be going too deep with the humor if I say that I’m ‘killing it’ at puns, here)? What happens when we start putting ourselves even more within the games? Blurring the lines even more between the fear and ourselves? It’d be like fighting a Boggart, though I’m not sure who wouldn’t want to duel Snape in a dress.
Personally, I’d like to keep my frail psychological state as stable as possible, which is why I only play scaries every once in a while. If you’re like me, I’d advise that you only play sanity-wrecking games in daylight. With a pizza, to bring you down to earth. And with other people around, to protect you. Perhaps people who’ve never heard you scream, so they actually do help you when you need them, instead of laugh and say ‘isn’t that classic [insert your name here]? How darling!’
Or maybe just play the Sims instead.