HAPPY HALLOWEEK Boils and Ghoulies! Our favorite time of year has arrived once again, if it hadn't then we'd be having a very different kind of conversation right now. Thankfully that's not the case and we can get on with our celebration of mental anguish. This week we will be exploring variety of horror themed topics mostly related to gaming, rather than one giant terrifying post we feel its best to slowly draw out the tension with scraps of viscera.
Today is all about watching vs participating.
Us gamers are a special kind of fucked up. There exists within us a strange desire to simulate fear and anyone who plays games has most likely played something scary on purpose. Mulling over the trailers, watching lets plays and chin scratching over which title has the best scare: cost ratio. It takes a certain kind of someone to actively seek out horror just for the thrill and excitement fear can bring us. Of course we are not in any real, tangible danger so we convince ourselves its safe. We all saw our share of horror on screen at a young tender age and assumed we were equipped to handle any slimy monster, or red painted-whatever came at us.....
But watching vs participating is a very different thing. The first example of this was my personal experience with Resident Evil in the summer of 1996. I was 14 years old and was a big slasher horror fan, presumably like most boys my age. Thus far Mario, Sonic, Crash Bandicoot, Zelda: a link to the past were a few examples of my early gaming career. At the time horror, for me, was having one life left before a game over. Watching Jason Voorhees dashing innocent campers against a tree was shocking, but i didn't loose any sleep over it.
We spent all our allowance on renting the game for the weekend, bus tickets to get to Blockbuster video and slurpees with bags of candy to get us through the night. So our budget was stressed already and the guy at Blockbuster was really pushing us to get a memory card!? What the hell is a memory card? I can't save the game on the disk? We had a quick huddle about it and resolved that we would not require a Memory card. Mistake. We had inadvertently created a Roguelike and just amped the tension to 11 with that choice. Which in hindsight was a big moment in my obsession with horror.
When we booted the game up we had a good laugh. Even then, the intro was hilarious. But then we started playing the game. The slow loading screens were done so well that many of us gave up the controller before the next rooms door opened out of hopeless anticipation. The audio cues of slow footsteps would send us reeling. What pussies i thought, then i would play. Enter a room, and the now famous dog scene from the game really screwed me up. When the dog smashed through the window nobody in the room knew what to do, including myself. Normally someone in the room would have something to say, albeit not helpful or constructive, but something. This time, no. I popped off a few rounds at the carpet and ran away. A reasonable response. I was sweating, short of breath. My Heart was throbbing bad. I realized that i had just experienced that moment with my whole body and not just my mind.
Watching lets plays is popular because your waiting for a reaction from the player with nothing really to invest in. All the best lets plays are from horror games. Watching someone freak out is, and always will be, fucking funny. If you were the one playing you probably would have reacted in a similar way which adds to the funny (flailing all about and screaming like a baby) But you will certainly never forget it.
When you play the role of the character everything changes. Your invested --- spending time and money on something you expect to stimulate some sort of emotion. We expect this now because, usually, the games deliver and treat us to something special. In a film nothing is at stake. Awful things happen to innocent people. Killer lives or dies. THE END. You might remember an especially brutal kill or the sexy lead character, maybe the killers mask. For me, i remember much more about a gaming experience because, if done well, iv'e tricked my mind to believe that i was there. Rarely do i ever feel like the character i`m playing. Mostly i put myself into the shoes of the protagonist. Much more frightening that way. Occasionally i find myself recalling a certain memory of myself reading a morbid letter with faint scratching sounds coming from the wall beside me in a dark, smokey room and distinctly remember feeling nervous. Turns out it was a sequence from Metro; 2033. Has that ever happened to you?
Fear is a fascinating and powerful thing. Its a visceral emotion with the potential to overcome ones entire life if not tended to properly. It must be constantly analyzed, assessed and controlled in order to be an effective measuring device of outside threats. Some believe it to be an exaggerated leftover self preservation response from our primeval days hiding from predators. Still effective today and absolutely necessary for our survival. Something i feel we can all agree on is that we have felt it in at least one of its many forms, routinely.
Tomorrow is the efficacy of atmosphere and sound in Horror games. Tune in kiddies and happy HALLOWEEK.