Why I Struggle With Horror Games.

Halloween has been one of my favorite times of the year since I was a child. I used to love putting on a costume and pretending to be someone (or something) else for an entire night. Although I no longer don the guise of some nightmarish creature every year, I still enjoy many of the traditions that this holiday has to offer: passing out candy, carving pumpkins and attending costume parties are just a few, but my favorite would probably have to be watching horror films. There is no better time of the year to hunker down with a large bowl of popcorn, turn out all the lights, and disappear into a hellish world where happy endings don’t exist. When it’s put that way, one can’t help but wonder why anyone would consider it enjoyable, but we still do.

Despite my love of scary movies, however, that’s where I have to draw the line. When I attempt to experience that same medium in the video game universe, I simply can’t handle it. There is just something about making the decision myself to open an ominous door or walk down a dark deserted alleyway that triggers the “Nope” switch in my brain and, considering the time of year, I thought I’d talk about the game that brought this revelation to light: “Condemned: Criminal Origins”.

The year was 2006: I was 19 years old and had just moved into my first apartment. I had also recently attained my very first Xbox 360 and was excited to build my library of games. Unsure of where to get started, I asked an employee at the local Game Crazy (miss those) his opinion. He started raving about a game I’d never heard of – Condemned: Criminal Origins, a first person horror game unlike any other (at the time at least). Per his recommendation (and later to my regret), I picked it up that day and went straight home to play it, brimming with short-lived excitement. It was clear almost immediately that I would struggle with this one: it may have been the combination of living on my own for the first time and having never played a horror game before, but I could only handle it in single hour increments. Nightmares started to plague my sleep every night. I remember waking from a particularly horrible one and actually checking under my bed to make sure there were no monsters under there. Sounds ridiculous right? I thought so too, and I became determined to finish that blasted game. It would not get the better of me…….or so I thought.

I remember the tipping moment well. I was investigating an abandoned mall with only a flashlight to illuminate my path. The shadows seemed to move all around me. I’d hear a noise, only to turn towards it and see a freshly knocked over mannequin with no culprit in sight. Adrenaline started coursing through my system; I could actually feel my heartbeat through my eyes. Didn’t even know that was possible. Defiance awoke within me. “I will not quit, I will not let the game win, I will never listen to that idiot Game Crazy employee again!”. So I trudged on. Finally, I reached the destination my waypoint was leading me towards – an escalator. Something on the second floor caught my eye, so I looked up to see a mysterious figure running out of sight, quickly followed by something tumbling down the unmoving escalator. My hands were shaking and all I could do was stare. As it came to an abrupt stop at the bottom of the stairs, laying at my feet, I realized what I was looking upon – a dead, mutilated body with a sign stapled to his torso which read only two words: GET OUT! My reaction? “You got it”, and I ejected the game, threw it in the corner and ignored it for months.

Eventually the completionist side of me took over and I slowly finished the game, in daylight hours only of course. After my triumph I didn’t hesitate: it was immediately traded in so that it could one day torment another unsuspecting fool like it did me.

Determined to transfer my love of horror films to the game genre, I have made a few attempts to jump back in, including finishing a playthrough of Alan Wake. Although it was difficult, I’m glad I did because it’s one of the more unique stories I’ve experienced over the years, and I’ve actually considered revisiting it (a rare consideration). Doom is probably the closest thing to a horror game I’ve actually finished in quite some time. The chaotic combat and somewhat self-aware approach to the game seemed to dull down the horror enough to make it bearable, and it’s one horror game that I really enjoy!

Condemned may have been the wrong game to use as a jumping point for the horror genre, but I’ll continue to test my aversion in hopes of eventually enjoying it in the virtual world as much as I do in the cinematic. Anybody else struggle with horror games like I do? Or are you an avid fan with a favourite title? Let us know by leaving a comment below!