Horror is a genre that encompasses a large variety of source materials and mediums of entertainment with its most primary goal to attempt to scare the absolute poop out of you. All hail Cthulu!
Whilst not necessarily the most popular genre out there I would bet that most, if not all of you, have had some sort of experience that has caused your eyes to widen, your mind to race, your skin to crawl and for you to suddenly doubt everyone and everything around you just in case there is mischief afoot! All of a sudden that lamp in the corner of your room is an unknowable, potentially maniacal threat that has moved just an inch to the left for some devious purpose, or has it?
MWA HA hahaha! (My incredibly meagre attempt to convey the clichéd laugh of supreme evil and mortifying discomfort that is now a classic genre staple)
I have had many an enjoyable, aka – freaky as all buggery, experience with horror in my lifetime but recently I have come to a rather disappointing conclusion. It just doesn’t do it for me anymore. I seem to have become impervious to the ‘fear’ that is necessary to some degree to have a true appreciation for some of horrors greatest works. Whether reading about it, watching it, listening to a piece of music that is intended to create a mood of foreboding suspense or becoming involved in an actual physically encompassing ‘experience’ that’s supposed to get you all skittish and jittery as you walk around being surrounded by the machinations of a constructed environment with the Scarefest mazes at Alton Towers being a prime example. It just doesn’t scare or freak like a scary, freaky thing should for the most part and I’ll get to that exception to the ‘most’ shortly.
Whilst other children of my age were watching Disney movies and playing outside I grew up watching films like Poltergeist, It (brilliant performance from Tim Curry) and The Exorcist as well as playing games no child was technically allowed to go near such as Resident Evil and Silent Hill. That startling scene in the original Ghostbusters movie when the librarian spectre brings the terror to the party is one of my earliest memories and a pretty good one at that. The most intriguing aspect of the Patrick Swayze film Ghost for me was the groaning, grasping black shadow entities that dragged evil souls damned to hell down into the depths with them. I can still hear them now and the fear that I experienced as a child when I saw this was brilliant.
Partaking of these horrifying experiences were never the defining aspect of my childhood but simply a few in a larger tapestry that would come to define how I developed. I have always gravitated toward the unusual, the supernatural and the darker side of things. Instead of pop music I would listen to Slipknot, Disturbed and Cradle of Filth. I enjoyed watching films like The Crow, Beetlejuice, Dracula and End of Days and TV shows such as Lexx and Angel. I never have any issues with real life experiences the way others do either. Dark forests, graveyards and midnight walks have always fascinated me and have you ever bet someone that they wouldn’t be able to spend a night in a supposed haunted house or any other likewise intimidating task predisposed to dark and strange potential occurrences? Well you would lose that bet with me.
Another aspect of what I am referring to that truly pisses me off is also the dilution and mass consumerism of an idea for the sole benefit of turning profit for a corporate entity. What I mean by this is that film series’ like Saw and Paranormal Activity actually had some great ideas and a solid premise when they were unleashed upon the world. And then they were noticed, lauded for their contributions, gained a fan base and then dragged through sequel after sequel after sequel and brought to the brink of capitalist oversaturation to the point where people have become sick of the sight of them, and not in the way that they are supposed to make you sick. You know with the gore, the viscera and the goopy entrails of something that used to resemble a person and whatnot. These two are just a couple of examples of this occurring throughout the entertainment industry but I hope you understand my point. There is such a thing as too much.
I suppose the fact that I have a logical mind that consistently reaffirms to me that none of it is real probably doesn’t help either. Bugger my inability to concede my senses to the prospect of a terrifyingly good time.
So perhaps, with all of this taken into consideration, I have become gradually immune to the effects of horror as I have matured over the years (I am only 30 by the way) as well as irked by the overabundance of nonsense attempts to make money by exploiting people’s desire for a good scare. And so maybe I need something more, a lot more.
With this in mind it is a surprising and slightly disappointing revelation that I cannot get that surge of adrenaline like my 10 year old self could. That is with the exception of one particular medium of entertainment however. One that is often misunderstood, needlessly maligned and unnecessarily accused of being in a state of perpetual immaturity which are all points made by those who fear the popularity of a burgeoning form of entertainment that they refuse to acknowledge or try to comprehend in any objective way. I am talking about gaming.
I would wager that some of you reading this have already scoffed a disapproving scoff at the very prospect of considering becoming engrossed in such a pursuit. Well I am here to tell you from my own personal experiences that gaming within the genre of horror is literally the only thing that can scare me like I used to be all those years ago. In a game world you are not simply reading it or watching it, you are actually a part of it. You are in control of a character that can have a tangible and lasting effect on the events of a story and that story is in equal measures attempting to have an effect on you. If someone perishes in a book or a film there is bugger all you can do about it besides yelling profanities at the screen or pages. In a game you can actually do something about it, unless a particular death is scripted of course then you are still a spectator. But you can be damned assured that whatever monstrosity just murdered your new comrade is now coming for you and the game will ask you a very simple question. What are you going to do about it?
If you do not believe that a game can be a truly terrifying experience then I urge you to go and watch the evidence right now. Go and watch a video of someone playing Outlast, Amnesia, Slender or Project Zero (Fatal Frame if you are from the United States of that name is better than the one we got for it) whilst simultaneously recording themselves. They are dropping an obscene amount of sweat, tears and faecal matter into their clothing and for a very good reason. They have become engrossed, absorbed and fully ingratiated into the experience because they are a part of it rather than just a spectator.
I can attest to the fear inducing adrenaline surges of games such as Dead Space, Condemned: Criminal Origins and the previously mentioned Outlast. My beard hair would stand on end making combing it quite the chore. It is only through gaming that I can achieve the immersion and the imagination of becoming encapsulated by an experience designed to test my very nerves to my core and I would recommend that you do so to. I believe that no other medium can portray the atmosphere, the mood, the tension or the absorbing potential of a truly captivating game. If the opportunity arises the please, have at it. I am not at all saying that I will never feel this way about any other book, film or the like ever again but this prospect does appear to becoming increasingly unlikely, unfortunately.
Are there any horror experiences, gaming or otherwise, that have left you pining for the comfort of a teddy bear and a snuggly blanket to hide under? If so, please let me know.
Forged From Reverie.