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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Does instituting a buddy system defeat the whole point of playing horror games in VR?

Illustration for article titled Does instituting a buddy system defeat the whole point of playing horror games in VR?
Screenshot: Resident Evil 7 (Capcom)

Every Friday, A.V. Club staffers kick off our weekly open thread for the discussion of gaming plans and recent gaming glories, but of course, the real action is down in the comments, where we invite you to answer our eternal question: What Are You Playing This Weekend?


Here’s how far I got in my first attempt to play Resident Evil 7 in VR: The door. As in, the first door, into the game’s first house, 20 minutes before the first thing that can actually kill (of even mildly inconvenience) you rears its backwoods mutant head. I stepped up to the threshold, looked into the overpowering, grimy darkness within, and took a step forward. Then another. The next would take me out of the last sliver of Louisiana sunlight that was my final connection to the non-Texas Chain Saw Massacre-inspired portions of the planet, trapping me in the stygian rot within… And I just couldn’t make the leap. Like the world’s worst (or maybe smartest) horror-movie protagonist, I did the thing we’ve been yelling at dumb teenagers and doomed police deputies to do for decades, and I turned and fled from the obvious murder factory.

Last month, I wrote in this space about my complicated relationship with my PSVR, which alternatively inspires feelings of “Oooooh, amazing” and “I’m such a goddamn jackass” in my heart. Although ostensibly written as games criticism, this was mostly just an excuse to get diehard fans of the system to recommend stuff for me to try. (Sneaky, I know, but I had faith in the internet’s collective desire to tell me when it thinks I’m wrong.) People came through in droves, with Resident Evil 7’s VR mode a frequently cited high point. Having missed out on the title back in 2017—I, uh, don’t “enjoy” horror games that much—I decided that the best course of action would be to use it to put the VR version to the test, on the grounds that it’d be an excellent demonstration of the PSVR’s immersive capabilities in a long-form experience. At some point around here (possibly after watching me shake with anxiety while also pledging to fight onward) my girlfriend suggested for the first time that there might be something seriously wrong with me.

Having been repulsed in my first efforts to play the game by the grim specter of an open, unlocked door, I was now forced to regroup, and re-plan. I was still committed to playing through the game in VR mode, but obviously things as they stood were a little too immersive. As with a lot of VR games, RE 7 VR is pretty gritty-looking in terms of graphics, but the combination of stereo headphones and the sheer inescapability of the headset’s mini-world made the whole thing overpowering. I was going to need help, and since my girlfriend was now locking herself in her bedroom every time I mentioned I was thinking about booting the game up again, that meant outside assistance. So I called up my Spookums Guide, and told him we’d need to set up some playdates.

Primary qualifications for a good Spookums Guide: They should be chill, they should like hanging out and watching other people play video games, and, ideally, they should have watched a semi-recent Let’s Play of the game in question, so as to prepare The Player for any upcoming jump-scares (or, as they’re known in industry terms, “Spookums”). Mine’s named Stuart, and he’s pretty good; so far, he’s resisted the urge to overtly fuck with me while I’m locked in my big goofy video game helmet, and he’s been cool about the couple of times I’ve given tiny (manly) screams during our time together. Working as a team, we’ve made some good progress in the game, clearing the first house and getting through some of the early chase sections, which I’m happy to report are extremely upsetting to do when you literally have to look over your shoulder to make sure a shovel-wielding, unkillable psychopath isn’t bearing down on you for a little “family time.”

Part of me feels like I’m cheating myself by bringing in a friend to rob Biohazard of some of its power to terrify me; what’s the point of having a virtual reality helmet, after all, if not to absolutely bury myself in a game’s world, whether it’s a realm of colorful, cheerful robots, or murderous, axe-handed Venom monsters? And yet, horror has always been a communal experience, with my favorite memories of scary movies coming from sitting in a packed theater, gasping along with the crowd. (Or in games terms, of my buddies cowering on the couch while I tried to deal with a bunch of ravenous fucking dogs bursting through the window in Resident Evil 1.) Playing through the game with someone else creates a bonding experience, while also helping me overcome what’s always been the hardest part of playing a horror game: The fact that you have to willingly take the next step forward, out of the light and into the darkness.


Also, some of the spookums in this thing are really rough.