Afraid of the Dark

I love survival/horror – the creepy B-movie coolness of Resident Evil, the disturbing mellifluous nature of Silent Hill and even the cyber-terror of System Shock. All of them are decked in a richness all their own, while maintaining a whisper, and occasional shout, of the unspeakable darkness that lives within us.

Yet, even as I revel in their unnerving sensibilities, I am a neophyte to them. You see, I’m a Survival/Horror Poser (SHP). I have immersed myself in the plots, timelines and characters of the games all while having never picked up a controller to play any of them. I know all about James Sunderland’s terrible secret, how the T-Virus escaped into Raccoon City and why that “bathtub scene” is so shocking. But even as I know these things, I have never experienced them.

Oh, sure, I once thought I was alone, but I’m convinced I’m not. There are others out there, perhaps even reading this very article, now secure in the knowledge that they, too, are not all by themselves.

For the many of you scratching your heads, I don’t blame you. The SHP is a wily and rare breed: the horror fan without the bal- err, constitution to actually go into the games that so fascinate them. In my case, I get very connected to characters in games, especially the ones I control; so when I actually try to enter one of these frightful worlds, I freak out. Even with the lights on, in broad daylight and with people no more than 20 feet away, I simply can’t roam those foggy sidewalks or dank tunnels without being forced to set down the controller. Could you imagine what would happen if I turned up the surround sound in the dead of night with all the lights off? I don’t really know, but I have a feeling a Tom-shaped hole would mysteriously appear in the side of the house come the next morning.

And this is the real issue for us SHPs. We are just too involved in the games to separate from them. Horror movies have little to no effect on me, and I breeze through Stephen King novels like they were nothing, but put me into a game world where my actions can affect the outcome, and everything goes straight to hell. One could say that this is some deep-seated childhood issue about monsters in the closet or what have you, but I know the real reason: survival. The very name of the genre defines those who are excluded from it.

Think about it: Once our destinies become interlinked, albeit tenuously, with that of the main character, we grow connected with them. I am not sitting on the couch pushing a stick and watching a three-dimensional character run through dynamically- generated fog; no, I am that character. I feel my legs pumping, the chill of the dark, earthbound clouds hitting my face as I run through them, the sounds of the unknown all around me. What person in their right mind would put themselves in that situation? Are you friggin nuts?

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“Sorry, honey, I know you’re dead, so there’s really no way you could have written me a letter. We loved each other and had companionship, but who needs that, anyway? The only companions I need right now are Mr. Valium and Mrs. Prozac, and what a fine trio we make.”

I did fully immerse myself in one game, however; I even got all the way through it (and I was so proud of myself).

Resident Evil 2 was a game I first got the opportunity to play when it was ported to the N64, utilizing “revolutionary” compression technology to fit the audio and video onto the cartridge (i.e., crappy sound and artifact-laden video). Having heard so much about it, I simply had to play.

Readers who recall my fondness for playing as characters with breasts will know that I selected the lovely Claire Redfield to guide me through the hellish post-apocalyptic streets of Raccoon City.

Unfortunately, I can’t tell you exactly how it went from beginning to end, because it took me three months to finish, what with all the stops and starts I took. I do remember the moment when a Licker jumped through a one-way mirror in the police station; I just about ruined the fabric I was sitting on. I cursed out all the game developers and the entire disturbed unholy horde at Capcom.

I did make it, though, and that’s something for which I am proud. As that last, blocky cinematic exploded onto the screen, I had a real feeling of accomplishment. I, an avid SHP, had conquered one of the titans of the genre I so avoided. Sure, Silent Hill was out of my reach, and F.E.A.R. would probably remain just an acronym, but, that day, I was victorious!

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go see if I can get my nephew to check under my bed. It’s dark under there …

Tom Rhodes is a writer and filmmaker currently living in Ohio. He can be reached through Tom [dot] Rhod [at] gmail [dot] com

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