This week’s edition of the Gameological AVQ&A was all about the games that scared us. Not just ones that caught us with a jump scare. We’re talking real prolonged terror. Anthony John Agnello mentioned the original Silent Hill, and PaganPoet backed him up:
I’m just fine with Resident Evil being the template, of sorts, for survival horror games. It’s a fine game, and it’s plenty spooky. But let’s be honest. At the end of the day, it’s really just a playable zombie film. Nothing about that game is anything that the average teenager hasn’t seen before. That and you’re relatively aware of—even early on in the game—what is going on, even in spite of the various plot twists and turns. Okay, we’re in this giant mansion and there are zombies on the loose. Our goal is to not only survive, but try to unravel just what is going on here.
Silent Hill, however? I know the game has a lot to owe to films like Jacob’s Ladder, but even the films that it pays homage to are not necessarily “classics” that most people have seen before. It was such a mind-fuck the first time I played it. Your only goal in the game is to find your daughter, but you have no idea what keeps happening. Why am I being attacked by a gray little alien kid with a knife? Why does the world keep switching between this foggy, snowy world, and a world of rusted chain link fences and endless darkness? Why are there so few other human characters here? What the fuck is going on? It may not seem like it now because 1) We’re all so used to the series by now and 2) The series has dropped in quality in the past half-decade or so, but this game is so disorienting and so scary.
It’s probably related to the age I was when I first played the game, and the fact that I have a real fear of being lost. It’s the reason I was freaked out by The Blair Witch Project, it’s the reason I was freaked out by House Of Leaves, and it’s the reason I still, to this day, have a recurrent dream about being lost in a building where the hallways and doorways keep shifting and changing.
Contributor Jake Muncy talked about the effect The Legend Of Zelda: Majora’s Mask had on him. He wasn’t alone. It also got to Alf Pogs:
Majora’s Mask and the apocalypse didn’t start scaring me until the third day, when you go and see the Postman who’s been dedicated to maintaining his routine but finds it doesn’t help him in the face of impending doom. He’s terrified, on his knees in his room sobbing, and because you’re a voiceless protagonist, all you can do is hear him jabber in terror.
And kylebuis followed up with:
The scariest thing about that game is how little control you have over the events that keep repeating. Sure, you can solve a few people’s problems, spend a whole three-day cycle reuniting Kafei and Anju, and save part of the world. But then the clock ticks past midnight, and the dread hits you: Soon you’ll have to pull out the ocarina, but there’s not enough time to save everyone. On top of that, most things you fix will be reset to the peril they were in when you first started. It isn’t until you finally beat the game that you get that moment of catharsis and see the whole world set right. Well, as much of the world as you set right anyway.
Oh, and fuck the happy mask salesman. That’s a face designed for a horror movie.
Tron Guy brought up Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem, a classic horror game for the Nintendo GameCube that is infamous for the odd, meta-tricks it pulls on players as their character slowly loses their sanity. conundrum provided a few examples (and one that was completely unintended):
My favorite moment ever in that game was the one time it froze on me. I had never had a game freeze up on me, and at the time, my character’s sanity meter was empty, so I was sure it was one of the game’s tricks. I think I stared at the same screen for two minutes, listening to the disc ineffectively spinning until I realized that it wasn’t a sanity effect. The game had messed with me so much, I didn’t believe reality.
Aside from that, the volume one was the best. I remember a friend playing while some of us were at his house and he started getting pissed and yelling at us that someone was sitting on the remote when the game pretended that the volume was going down.
And GaryX provided an explanation for why the game’s modern day, mansion-set scenes were so unnerving:
I love the mansion sequences because of how meta the terror is. It’s how we, the audience, act after reading a scary story, watching a scary movie, or playing a scary game. You wander around your place, senses slightly alert, wondering what that knocking noise is and—wait, were you just already in this room?
Obviously, the game takes it in a Lovecraftian direction, but the early portions are a great representation of how horror stories ripple outward and affect our psyche outside of them.
This week, Patrick Lee delivered a For Our Consideration comparing the depictions of youth culture in the cities of Jet Set Radio and The World Ends With You. Down in the comments, GhaleonQ searched for a game with similar themes:
Let me offer the My Summer Vacation/Boku No Natsuyasumi. It takes place in the past, I suppose, but the experience wouldn’t be different today because it takes place in rural or suburban settings.
Your character visits relatives for his monthlong vacation and, when removed from urban youth culture, realizes that he’s defining his culture against that of the adult world. How you react is up to you. You can revel in your youth and spend your time in leisure and the care of others without concern for responsibility or adding to the world. Maybe that’s okay! You always have the opportunity to build relationships, create memorable moments, and fix the world in which you live, returning to your pals a little more mature and closer to the man you’ll become.
I think the two series Patrick wrote about celebrate youth as a permanent, fully formed thing, but I like to think of our childhoods as temporary periods of great change and growth; they’re memorable because they’re unable to be sustained. So the real poetry of My Summer Vacation, besides the titular pun, is that youth is a summer vacation. That’s why it’s uplifting. You can maximize your enjoyment of it and, perhaps, waste it, or you can use it as preparation for real life when it comes.
Destroy Him My Robots didn’t think My Summer Vacation quite fit the same criteria as the games in Patrick’s article, but backed up GhaleonQ’s other points with some insightful commentary:
I’m sorry, but I think you’re reaching a bit here. Boku is a fourth grader; he doesn’t know the first thing about youth culture. He has no real interest in music or TV or fashion (come on, his parents picked that haircut), much less anything transgressive. He doesn’t bring a stack of beloved comic books he’d otherwise miss; he brings his butterfly net. The fourth game has that collectible rubber monster fad, but it’s the kids from the countryside that introduce him to it, and the Qix arcade machine is just kind of there. There’s no culture to speak of surrounding it.
I agree with a lot of your other points (the farm setting of the third game is particularly good at goading the player toward diligence), but I’d also rather take the last paragraph a bit further. It’s not just youth that is a summer vacation. The heart-breaking resolution to the grandmother’s arc in the third game—the end of her self-reliance—marks an end of a summer, too. The second game is set in an inn; a perfect symbol for the things, people, and ideas that come into our lives but inevitably leave. The fourth one takes seasonality a step further and implies a cycle by mirroring Boku’s group of friends with his grandfather’s (or great-grandfather’s? I forgot).
Elsewhere, NakedSnake talked about sharing similar perspectives at the time to the ones depicted in the games Patrick wrote about:
This article is more or less in line with my own perspective on that decade. I graduated high school in 2001, and I definitely remember thinking then that everything was all rather tame, from a youth revolt perspective. I did my best to rage against the machine. I took part in the World Bank/IMF protests. But in my heart I knew that this was all too easy. These weren’t real enemies. There was just nothing else that was worth rebelling against. There had been too many years of prosperity and good feelings across the nation. The joke when I was in high school was that there was no difference between the political parties. Now, I wasn’t 18 again in 2008, but I can only imagine what a huge change there was from the perspective of youth culture. The moral clarity must have been blinding.
That’s all folks! As always, thanks for reading and commenting. We’ll see you all next week.