In response to “The Infected” from the Escapist Forum: Writing about personal loss for sympathy is kinda shoddy journalism…which is why I’m glad that’s not what this is at all. =)
There was this whole talk at TED about how games can save the world; how this entire civilization before the Greeks managed to survive through this ludicrous famine by distracting themselves with a dice game made from small bones. How even today, we play games to show we can solve problems no matter how big. Sure, I think we can all agree it’s escapism in a way, but if people feel better about it, who’s to argue?
And yeah, it seems obvious you’ve been through a lot more than most of us have. I know I’d be really reluctant to write about something so personal.
My mother was involved in a car accident when i was around six. A man ran a red light and hit her and my sister whilst they were on their way to swimming training. My sister walked away from the crash. My mother wound up in a hospice with a tube in her throat to help her breath, unable to speak, unable to move. I can think of no greater horror then being stuck in my own body, day and night, unable to speak my mind or even drink a glass of water.
When my father told me, i was too young to understand. As he tried to cope with his daughter and wife in hospital, i was sent to a lot of friend’s places to stay, to give him time to deal with what had occurred. It was at this time that the teenage son of my dad’s friend showed me Commander Keen on his PC.
I was hooked. Day in and out i played that game. Then i finally had to go home, when my dad managed to sort himself out. Somehow someone got me a Nintendo. Again, day in and day out, i played and played, games like Super Mario Brothers and Legend of Zelda.
When i managed to get my first Playstation was when i started to help my dad out more around the house. He taught me to cook simple meals for him, myself and my sister when i was eleven, as well as wash his clothes and keep the house relatively clean. All the while, my Playstation was there, with Lara Croft and Crash Bandicoot keeping me company when he was working late, which was more often then not.
As soon as someone thrust a controller into my hand, i was away from the world. My endless chores melted into nothing, video-games lending me worlds of fantasy and wonder where i could decide fate. Where i could decide who lived or died. Where i could escape from the un-ignorable truth – that my mother was never coming home.
I still remember one day, when i innocently asked when mum was coming home. My father yelled that she was never coming home, and that i will have to get used to it. I believe that was when Duke Nukem 3D first came out. I used to play on my dad’s PC for hours. It used to drive him nuts.
Eventually he got me my own PC, some shitty hand-me-down – and then i could play whenever i wanted. I even began to write stories on it. Soon my escapism evolved into two categories – writing and gaming.
Was gaming cathartic? Perhaps. Did it help me deal with my problems? Not really. Did it help me forget my troubles, even if they were subconscious, even if it was only for an hour or two?
In response to “A New Horror” from the Escapist Forum: The things that Dear Esther and Korsakovia did right made me more upset about what they did wrong, really. Dear Esther would’ve benefited greatly from allowing me to sprint (I ended up jumping around, as the Source engine lets you a limited bunnyhop), and there were times where music and dialogue ran over each other; Korsakovia really ran into some bland level construction and unfair combat later on.
That doesn’t take too much away from their effort, though. I found both Mods to be engrossing and nontypical, and some of the signs in Korsakovia actually made me shudder. I’m hoping that thechineseroom takes what they’ve learned from their first two outings and does something truly unique on their first independent outing. I think they’ve got it in them.
I was almost done with Korsakovia and about to start Dear Esther last year when the hard drive they were on died, and I keep not getting around to reinstalling them. Maybe this will finally get me to do it.
The introduction of Korsakovia is amazing and probably the best thing (to me, at least) I’ve seen in any horror game ever. The combat (when there is some) kind of sucks, but it turns out to be relatively easy once you figure out how to hit things. It was pretty frustrating before I got the hang of that, though, but nothing compared to the goddamn jumping puzzles, which nearly got me to stop playing. Those are the main problem with it. They’re not fun, and they’re not scary, and they’re only hard because trying to pretend you’re Mario when you’re actually Gordon Freeman (not in a story sense; in a same engine, same point of view, same controls sense) just doesn’t work, and this is coming from someone who actually thought Xen in HL1 was fun.
If you can get past that, though, the atmosphere is amazing, and the bizarre level design will screw with your head. It’s also neat that it’s (somewhat) based on a real neurological disorder, and as someone familiar with it and how things like that work, it was pretty cool seeing it handled surprisingly well (if bent a bit for storytelling’s sake) in the game, better than most similar things in TV/movies. It’s worth checking out just for that and the way it’s presented and develops over time. If you have to noclip your way through a couple jumping puzzles (as a last resort, preferably, since sometimes you can’t do it just because that’s not where you’re supposed to go), so be it.
In response to “Fear Beyond Words” from the Escapist Forum: Very excited by the game. One problem: “Psychological thriller”? Pshh, it’s horror. Call a spade a spade. Thriller is the genre Hollywood invented because people started associating “horror” with dumb slasher flicks and body-count porn. But horror’s got a much wider and richer history than that, and I for one feel that intelligent and interesting horror should be proud of it’s roots.
Update: I had to post that comment before I even finished the article, and I am glad the writer of this article seems to echo my stance. It’s not even just Lovecraft (who I think was a pretty bad writer, albeit a bad writer with a great imagination). Anyone interested in the true span of horror should pick up The Dark Descent, a fantastic fantastic look at the creme of the crop in 19th and 20th century short horror stories.
I think there is a fine distinction between ‘Creepy’ games and ‘Scary’ games. The former category uses psychology to disrupt the players sense of security and really tweaks their mind. This is my favourite form of horror and it really feels immersive and genuinely scary enough to prevent you from getting a comfortable sleep that night. Then you get the latter category which merely uses horribly mutated beasts jumping out at you from cupboards, all but yelling BOO, and getting blown away by the nearest twelve-gauge. This to me isn’t horror, it’s just making you jump. You know what else makes me jump? Someone running up behind me and poking me. But you don’t see a game about that.
A classic example I can cite is the F.E.A.R series. The original F.E.A.R remains my favourite horror game so far because it does the ‘creepy’ thing so well. At any point the Antagonist, Alma, could pop up and scare the socks off you. The fact that she’s just a little girl with no clear deformities makes it all the more creepy that she’ll be standing in a pool of blood. One memorable event was when you’re crawling through a vent and your torch will flicker. It’ll come on briefly and you’ll see Alma crawling towards you, then it’ll go out again and it takes a little while to come back on again. Then… There’s nothing. You’re in the vent alone. That creeped me out.
F.E.A.R. gave me a different reaction. Once I found out that the “creepy” bits are never actually hazardous, I just kind of shrugged every time Alma tried to scare me. Sure, I might have flinched reflexively, but I never really felt the jolt of a good jump scare. In Perseus Mandate they finally forced you to contend with some of the things that jump out at you (or pull you unexpectedly to them) and as a result I found it creepier.
This is an area that I think interactive entertainment can surpass non-interactive entertainment in delivering scares, and it’s part of this article: you, the player, are responsible for handling whatever the game throws at you. I say “can surpass” because it seems rare that games actually live up to this potential. Nevertheless, the potential is there.
Realizing it, I think, will require throwing out the idea of making an action-horror game. Despite the number of titles that fit that genre moniker, I don’t think the two fit together particularly well. An action game usually wants to make you feel empowered, stoic, capable. A horror game usually wants you to feel vulnerable, edgy, frightened. If not altogether incongruous, these goals are at least inconsistent.
I also think it’s important to distinguish “horror” from “terror.” Although they’re often used interchangeably, these words can mean quite different things: “horror” refering to the shock or revulsion felt upon seeing something disturbing, “terror” refering to the feeling of dread for an upcoming event. By these definitions, games are already very good at “horror,” since that’s mostly up to the audio and visuals. “Terror” though, often remains elusive.
In Dead Space there’s a shambling pregnant woman with spikes for arms and a foetus bursting out to claw at you. It’s a horrifying monster design. But it’s not terrifying because I never dread it: if it jumps out, I’m always ready to dismember it with high-powered weapons. To be terrified by a game, I need to feel overwhelmed, vulnerable, and nearly powerless. Do any of those things sound like they’d make for a good action game?
What makes Fatal Frame more scary (to me) than Resident Evil or Silent Hill are two-fold:
1. Weapons. Sure, anyone can feel safe and secure with a rocket launcher or even a lead pipe, but what happens when you take away all conventional weapons and leave the player with something totally unconventional? If familiarity of the weapon is lost, in comes the horror.
2. The enemies. Thanks to the movie “Predator”, we all know that if it bleeds, we can kill it. Zombies need special attention in shooting for the brain, but they fall like any other creature, and a couple whacks with the lead pipe can bring down a crawler in Silent Hill. But what happens when you are facing something that has no lore in mythology on how to kill? Ghosts are already fully dead and have no bodies, thus they cannot bleed or give us any indication on how to destroy them. Combined with the unconventional weapon given, Fatal Frame is definitely a fine choice for scares and thrills.