What were you doing when Kennedy was assassinated? When Neil Armstrong set foot on the lunar surface? When the shuttle exploded? Where were you “when the world stopped turning?”
Most of us have been asked all of these questions and more. Some of us even have answers. Me? I wasn’t even a zygote for the first two events on that list, but the latter two are so ingrained upon my psyche, affected me so deeply, that I’ll take the sights, sounds and smells of those two days with me to the grave. There are events – moments – that touch us deeply, tear us out of ourselves and force us to face that which we had previously thought impossible. Planes striking buildings – on purpose – yeah, that fits.
Games, being entertainment, rarely capture our attention in quite the same way. After all, we play them to escape the shock and awe of daily life, not to replace it. Occasionally, however, there are moments – events – in gaming that transcend. Moments which remove us from our preconceptions so completely that the sights and sounds stay with us for years.
Doom did that to me. Doom reached out of my stuttering 486DX2, grabbed me by the head and threw me into the muck, screaming.
I played games with my headphones on back then, and somebody, somewhere must have known that. I remember the moment clearly: I had entered a room, and it was quiet – too quiet. I saw something shiny up on a ledge, and snaked my way across a slender walkway to reach it. It looked to be a health power up, and I was in desperate need. It was torturous work climbing all that way, but I knew that if I didn’t go for it, the next encounter might be my last. Then, in the quiet, when my mind was focused on the task of not slipping from that tiny ledge into the lava below, when the pulsing red cross of the power-up was only inches away, it hit me. A screaming, hissing Imp leapt from around the corner and attacked. The tearing sound as the Imp’s sharp claws tore through my flesh still echoes in mind to this day; as does the feeling of a little pee coming out as I tore my headphones off of my head and ran screaming away from the PC.
Moments like these remind me of why we game, and shine like a beacon, casting all misguided criticism of games as lacking in art or relevance into shadow. Games move us and make us feel. Games present familiar things in new and unusual ways. Games make us think.
And pee (a little).
When I consider the debate over games vs. art, I recall a similar controversy over the genre of film now known as “horror.” Makers of horror films have believed for decades that they were at the forefront of a revolutionary new art form, and the world of film criticism is just now catching on. Any list of “top films” containing the work of Kubrick, for example, (And in case you’re wondering – that’s just about all of them.) must by definition recognize the art of horror. I write this note today with profound confidence that the very best videogame experiences will someday become similarly accepted.
This week in “It Came from The Escapist” we explore the artistry of the horror game genre: Tom Rhodes explains why he loves horror games in spite of (or perhaps because of) the fact that he can’t quite bring himself to play them; Cole Stryker takes a look at a rare horror gem, Black Dahlia; Jon Schnaars dissects the role of genre conventions in the enjoyment of entertainment (giving us a compelling look at Resident Evil 4 in the process); and Shannon Drake explores the most immersive games around, Alternate Reality Games (ARGs), in which the line between the game world and the real world fade away completely – by design. Enjoy.