My wife and children have a hard time believing that I am not afraid of anything supernatural. Because they do. They are all afraid of them. Ghosts, orcs, werewolves, all that crap. I just don’t. When they tell me this is weird, considering I’m the only one of us who goes to Mass every Sunday and literally eats the body and blood of a man who has come back from the dead, I distract them by showing them my last day. Statue of the Virgin Mary, who plays the role of Ave Maria.
My youngest teen, Sharkie, gave me a list of her scariest games ever. Looks like someone must be giving me nightmares. I start because everyone says it’s terrifying and that the original Resident Evil game really scared me, on the days when I got scared. I’m sorry to disappoint the hordes of people who needed a change of underwear to explore that house, but the most frightening thing about it is that they still use recording devices as save points.
“But what about jump scares, dad?” Sharkie asks, because I shut it down after six fun hours but not remotely terrifying.
I say “jump scares, jump schmares”. Most video games use jump scares, right? Every time a whizz of fire comes out of a block in a platform game, it’s an intimidating leap. Jack Baker saying “Welcome to the family” isn’t just a more terrifying leap than ripping at some nails on a new screen in Sonic the Hedgehog. Both make you go, “Argh!” Also, in 7 you have weapons. The moment you focus on ammo resources and aim for the head, the game becomes a shooting game rather than a scary experience.
“Ah, you need to try the gun-free kind,” Sharkey says.
The amusement and the fun, and the immense pleasure… blood-borne. Photo: Sony Computer Entertainment
So I Go And Go Amnesiac: The Dark Descent. I like the idea that all you can do is run and hide in those games, and replicate what will happen with much greater accuracy in realistic supernatural horror situations. Each has a really unsettling vibe…and it’s absolutely crushing when I take a few things to get past a particularly scary bastard because I realize I’m only playing a game. When you die and come back, it is as if the lights come on in the cinema. Again and again and again.
Amnesia: The Dark Descent may have given me nightmares, but I’ll never know because he told me to “play with headphones in a dark room”. Don’t tell me what to do when it comes to video games! Don’t you know who you were!? I ran a cable outside to my garden and played it under the scorching afternoon sun, with the audio playing through some small Sony SR7 speakers I used with my Walkman in the ’90s. I couldn’t see or hear anything bloody. It didn’t scare me at all. This will show them!
Sharkie suggests I switch genres and try more hack-and-slashy. Enormous fun. But no game that asks you to name your character at first can be intimidating when your default video game name since football manager Kevin Toms in 1982 has been Pants McPants.
I’m annoyed with myself that I wasn’t afraid to play, because this is truly a work of art. Disturbing, breathtaking visuals and this complete “I woke up in a world I don’t understand” quality. But then again, multiple reboots ruin the total immersion that true horror requires.
Truly a work of art… Little Nightmares II. Photography: Bandai Namco
The very nature of games – control, via a controller – is the opposite of the helplessness you feel when watching a horror movie and you can’t control anything. The moment a character investigates the frightening sound in the dark basement connects you with the momentum of horror until the character meets its horrific end. It’s shocking and scary, and you’re emotionally invested. At the exact moment, horror has to be the scariest video game ever, you die. And return. Alive. Broken spell.
But I was afraid to play Resident Evil in the ’90s. Silent Hill. Why are you not afraid now? The cliched idea to get right here is that real life in 2022 is more terrifying than any artificial horror. Covid, forest fires, war in Ukraine, misinformation spread by governments that are killing their arrogant transgressors and our elderly religion. These are some of the evils of residents.
But I think it’s more than that. I grew up with equally horrifying things when I was younger: the threat of nuclear war, AIDS and being kicked in the head by Stephen Gibson. I was still afraid of Salem’s Lot. But supernatural fears require a supernatural imagination. Belief in the possibility of anything. And the older we get, the less we want to believe in possibilities. In my twenties anything was possible. In his forties? Life is shrinking. Opportunity shrinks. The world is shrinking. You understand that you will not be taking a safari in the Serengeti or snorkeling in the Great Barrier Reef. Frustratingly, you stop believing in everything you can’t see with your own eyes. The things that pay the rent, feed your kids and keep you getting older. You can’t be afraid to escape wendigos in Until Dawn if you can’t even walk the next day kicking a ball around the park with your child. No, survival horror video games won’t scare me until they release Resident Evil 12: The Doctor Calls About Your Stool Sample.