Editor's Note: Bump In the Night

Bump In the Night

This week, The Escapist investigates the true meaning of horror and how games attempt to portray it.

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True horror and fear exist only in the mind and differs from person to person, from the rational (loss of a loved one, a job, harm to yourself), to the irrational (spiders, fish, fear of the colour yellow) and of course the unknown (strangers, the dark, that thing thats been lurking behind my wok under the sink).

I'm in full agreement with the editorial - danger to a loved one hits the exact balance needed to induce (and maintain) real horror. If you're the one in danger, horror can only be fleeting because it will be quickly replaced by panic, desperation, resignation, or madness when one realizes there is nothing you can do to save yourself. Realizing there is nothing you can do to save someone else, though, is not something that lends itself to any of those escapes. That kind of horror threatens us not with a clean ending, but rather a living death.

I find the movie Memento is so powerful, for instance, because it postulates a situation in which the protagonist must forever relive the first realization of that horror - awakening in the belief that it's the exact moment his heart is being killed again and again.

I find it funny that the words 'real' horror keep coming up. One type of horror is no more real then another. Some actor jumping out and scaring you at a haunted house can in fact be horrifying, as can the loss of something/someone you hold dear to you. We are just talking about a matter of degree here.

I would not say that getting scared in a haunted house is the same experiece as losing your dog though, but I wouldn't disgard the experience either...

Most of the games I play based on horror were nothing but survival horror like the Resident Evil series. The greatest horror game I ever played was Eternal Darkness: Sanity's Requiem because not only it's a survival horror but also psychological too. The same feelings when I'm scared, sometimes I lose sanity till when I'm safe, I return to normal.

*Edit My mistake. It wasn't a typo.

I find it odd that, having forgotten this issue was coming up, I just picked up Silent Hill 3 while at PAX East.

I was never really into the survival horror genre. I had rented the original Silent Hill when I was about 14, but could never figure out the controls so never got very far. Not long after, I tried Parasite Eve and loved it, but not necessarily for the horror aspect.

However, for the last two years my new years resolution has been to try and play all the critically acclaimed classics. One of the titles last year was Silent Hill 2, and I quickly learned that I was one of those weirdos that loves being scared.

It involved feeling responsible for the safety and well-being of another soul for whom I cared immensely, and feeling powerless to prevent them from coming to harm.

Well, in my case, you can replace "dog" with "suicidal best friend", so I've a fair idea of what it feels like, yes. Thankfully they didn't, but there was some very close calls, and I had months of abject terror at the thought of it happening, and being powerless to stop it.

Woo for me bringing down the mood! *hifives everyone reading*

Horror is the realization that you sleep within the maw of the beast as it begins to hunger.

I have to say I'm a bit disappointed with the articles covering this week's subject. The subject (horror) is good, but I think most of the articles are pretty bad and kind of miss the point.

There is some truth to the idea that horror and fear can be a very personal thing. But some things are pretty much universal. The problem of course with horror and fear is that by definition they are uncomfortable feelings, which means that most people set out specifically to avoid them, or get VERY upset when confronted with such things. What this tends to mean is that most things that are considered to be horrorific are nothing but a little shocking because anything REALLY scary is defined as being taboo. Any REAL horror movie that freaks people out in a genuine way is going to find itself massively persecuted.

It's sort of like how you sit down and here people say things like "well, I like horror, but no Satanism, or Rape" when your going to run a horror themed PnP RPG, or are with some friends and picking out horror movies. The basic point is that while they can deal with being mildly shocked, very few people are going to seek out fright intentionally.

This is incidently what I think the problem is, society has created a sort of standard of what "acceptable horror" is. By definition you can't offend anyone, it has to be politically correct, violence generally has to be glossed over, or so over the top as to be beyond belief. All of the stuff about metaphors and "art" usually just exists to talk around a movie's failings, or perhaps justify it to people obtuse enough to be against what passes
for horror movies.

I guess what I'm getting at is that none of the articles are wrong per se, but some of them seem to miss the point of horror in the media (basically there isn't any). While creepy I'm not sure if you could say that any of the games mentioned (when some were actually mentioned) like "Resident Evil", "Silent Hill", or even "Fatal Frame" could be called truely horrorifc rather than creepy and emulating movie conventions fairly well in most cases.

The bottom line is that as much as I love goofy horror movies, I think in the end that as soon as someone made something genuinely scary it would be attacked on so many levels for being offensive that it would set new and unprecedented records for hate the media and
masses could spew. Only a relatively small niche of people would wind up appreciating it.

Also to be honest with you, I don't think Steven King is all that scary, though he has his unnerving moments. I think people who call him a "master of suspense" rather than of horror are more accurate in most cases. From stuff he's written about his writing, he's said flat out that he tends to try and create situations where the reader projects onto the story and makes it scary for themselves beyond anything he describes. To me horror isn't supposed to be ambigious that way.

Also while losing or fearing for a relative or pet can be scary, it's differant from being truely horrified.

To see real horror we will need to experience a perfect storm of both complete freedom of the media from regulation (either govermentally or socially) and the arrival of a very talented creaor (or creators) who would probably by definition have to be totally insane.

I know the feeling you're describing, Russ. It hit home.

Those were some interesting articles, but none of them addressed one of the more common sources of terror for gamers: Games that weren't made to be unrelentingly scary. It actually seems to be almost easier to do, in a way. It can be hard to write a consistently scary tale, but making one that isn't scary and then subverting that sense of safety with some genuine horror is more like an afterthought to many. But since the writer usually knows what kind of story they're writing, it works terrifyingly well.

Take Psychonauts, for example. The game was actually quite light in tone, even though it had a deep undercurrent of "something is seriously wrong here". But then there were moments like the secret room in Mia Vodello's mind dedicated to her lost kids: off the scale of sheer creepiness, especially because it makes you wonder how she could go on being herself after an experience like that. But the Meat Circus level completely takes the cake. It really cranked up the psychological freakiness, taking the literal nightmares of both Raz and the game's main villain, and blending them into one of the most horrifying game locations I've ever experienced. Ironically, this seemed scarier to me than the actual Asylum area, which was more like exploring an MC Escher painting than an "oh god what have I gotten myself into" moment.

Shalebridge Cradle from Thief 3 was apparently another one. Though I haven't played it, I have repeatedly read what people have written about it, and they all seem to shudder looking back on it. The game sounds a bit creepy as it is (stealth games generally are, by nature), but the Cradle apparently stands out, even among horror-game enthusiasts.

I'm surprised you didn't try to get Shamus to write something for this topic, actually. He's written a lot of stuff on horror games over the years.

Good Article, I'd just like to point out that you spelled cemetery wrong.
Sorry, Grammar Nazi's unite.

I understand how you feel. I've almost lost a few animals, and have lost plenty (two in one month due to the same bad driver at one point)

I'm glad you found the dog and fed him tasty meat strips. I don't think I could deal with something depressing like the dog dying then and there. Too many depressing stories I have read/lived through recently.

My younger brother's cat, Emily, was bitten and attacked by dogs. My mother and I chased them away, but she was hurt bad. For a few days she barely moved, her leg was injured. I stroked her a few times, but not as much as I should have. I sadly got bored and wandered off. She died a bit later.

I still feel like a jerk for not stroking her more.

My Mom currently has a cat called Ariel.

I nearly shed a tear.

An excellent opening for this weeks issue.

rmcsqrd:
Good Article, I'd just like to point out that you spelled cemetery wrong.
Sorry, Grammar Nazi's unite.

It's the title of a book. (One which you have clearly not read.) I spelled it as it is written on the cover. ;)

Russ Pitts:

rmcsqrd:
Good Article, I'd just like to point out that you spelled cemetery wrong.
Sorry, Grammar Nazi's unite.

It's the title of a book. (One which you have clearly not read.) I spelled it as it is written on the cover. ;)

Beat me to it. :p

Yes, I agree that the deepest horror is often linked with strong relationships. I love reading Lovecraft and all, but the man knew nothing about human beings. His concept of horror is detached from humanity for the very purpose of being distant and unknown, and it works in its context. But King's horror is intensely humane, making it all the more disturbing.

I watch gigantic amounts of horror movies, but I can say I toy with fear during most of them. It's an interesting sensation that ends up being both entertaining and introspective. Watching horror movies is FUN for me. On the other hand, I was numb with horror after watching Irréversible by Gaspar Noé, an infamously disturbing drama and honestly one of the few things that ever really frightened me in my life.

The problem with Irréversible is that it is profoundly tragic, very personal, and feels way too real. It is much less entertainment and more of an experience, and not a pleasant one at that. It creates the same feeling of shock and trauma that one gets from witnessing a car crash. Now, since "real" horror seems to be the theme of the week, I suggest the film to everyone who believes he can stomach it.

Holy hell! The tale of one man, his dog and frequent urination on property that is not yours, in states which you do not belong. Make the movie already, your short paragraph alone made my eyes vommit tears (no sarcasm, although I did embellish the tears part). Could be as heart wrenching as Old Yeller, Cowboys Don't Cry or The Old Man and the Sea...sob...

Oh hey, just a though, is any of the Game Dogs modeled after your pup? I hope its the tiny boss dog, he's so bad ass and cool "fired! you hear? Fired!"

awatkins:
Holy hell! The tale of one man, his dog and frequent urination on property that is not yours, in states which you do not belong. Make the movie already, your short paragraph alone made my eyes vommit tears (no sarcasm, although I did embellish the tears part). Could be as heart wrenching as Old Yeller, Cowboys Don't Cry or The Old Man and the Sea...sob...

Thanks, man. Believe it or not, I've had a book outline about my dog Roger sitting half-finished for years. I kept getting stuck on how to start the story. Funny thing is, when I sat down to write this Editor's Note, I wrote for about an hour and a half and ended up with over 3,000 words and realized a) I'd overwritten the Ed Note, and b) I'd just found the perfect beginning for my book.

So, short answer: it's in the works.

Oh hey, just a though, is any of the Game Dogs modeled after your pup? I hope its the tiny boss dog, he's so bad ass and cool "fired! you hear? Fired!"

Hmm. This is an interesting question. Perhaps we can crowd-source the answer. Can anyone tell me what any of the characters in Game Dogs may have in common with my old dog, Roger? By the way, did I mention that my old dog, the one I wrote about in this Ed Note, was named Roger? Because that was his name. Roger.

MooseHowl:
Those were some interesting articles, but none of them addressed one of the more common sources of terror for gamers: Games that weren't made to be unrelentingly scary. It actually seems to be almost easier to do, in a way. It can be hard to write a consistently scary tale, but making one that isn't scary and then subverting that sense of safety with some genuine horror is more like an afterthought to many. But since the writer usually knows what kind of story they're writing, it works terrifyingly well.

Take Psychonauts, for example. The game was actually quite light in tone, even though it had a deep undercurrent of "something is seriously wrong here". But then there were moments like the secret room in Mia Vodello's mind dedicated to her lost kids: off the scale of sheer creepiness, especially because it makes you wonder how she could go on being herself after an experience like that. But the Meat Circus level completely takes the cake. It really cranked up the psychological freakiness, taking the literal nightmares of both Raz and the game's main villain, and blending them into one of the most horrifying game locations I've ever experienced. Ironically, this seemed scarier to me than the actual Asylum area, which was more like exploring an MC Escher painting than an "oh god what have I gotten myself into" moment.

Shalebridge Cradle from Thief 3 was apparently another one. Though I haven't played it, I have repeatedly read what people have written about it, and they all seem to shudder looking back on it. The game sounds a bit creepy as it is (stealth games generally are, by nature), but the Cradle apparently stands out, even among horror-game enthusiasts.

I'm surprised you didn't try to get Shamus to write something for this topic, actually. He's written a lot of stuff on horror games over the years.

I might say the same thing for Ravenholm in Half-Life 2. The game certainly isn't anywhere near as light as Psychonauts, but it is a mean transition directly from a laboratory filled with old friends, especially since you don't know what happened to everyone there after the attack.

I don't know how much others get it, but the first Monkey Island games are like this for me too (entering a monkey's head, while carrying a decapitated skull as a guide, to find a ship full of demon pirates)

The bond between human and pet.
So strong.
Thank you for sharing.

Really good story, thank you.

I've never experienced something like that, but my worst fear is having to. I'm scared of being in that position.

 

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