The Video Games That Showed Up When I Least Expected Them

The Video Games That Showed Up When I Least Expected Them

A controller gets put down. A disc gets shelved next to dozens of others just like it. But, sometimes, the game lingers. It creeps into your sleep and live on in the backs of your eyelids, demanding ever more from you.

Here’s an example: the one night that the crazy nocturnal zombies from Alan Wake showed up in my head. I was me in my dream, and not the overwrought author that’s starred in two games.

I hadn’t played an Alan Wake game in more than eight months. But a nightmare I had about a month ago threw me into a world straight out of Remedy’s psychological horror thriller. I wasn’t wielding a torch and automatic weapons like the writer hero of the two games. I was in trouble, prey for powerful enemies without any special video game abilities.

I don’t know why some games stick around my subconscious more than others. Long after I’ve left them behind, they pop up when I least expect. I’m not talking about the warm fuzzies I get when remembering favourites like Phantasy Star on the Sega Master System, Shadow of the Colossus or Gravity Rush. Rather, these are straight-up ambushes from the chemicals in my brain, sneak attacks that I can’t predict.

Back to that Alan Wake dream. I was on the run, inside my own clumsy body after looking back at the shadow-engulfed people that were chasing me — I can remember in horrifying detail the way that a slimy darkness snaked up their legs and over their bodies. I remember feeling utterly f**king helpless. And somewhere in the churn of my thoughts, I also remember some more conscious part of my brain thinking: “Didn’t I beat this game already? And the other one after it? Why am I in here?!”

The feeling of being in a gameworld — without the power to control an outcome — can be a terrifying one.

Worst was how it ended. The Dark Presence — an evil force that possesses people in the Alan Wake titles — crawling up my feet, locking first my ankles, then my knees into place. I couldn’t “see” what happened next but I could “feel” it. I lost the battle against the Dark Presence. That never happens in video games, which is probably why I woke up so agitated.

This dream made me wonder about how and why certain games worm their way into my head. It makes sense that Alan Wake would stay lodged in the recesses of my brain, since so much of Remedy’s game concerns what happens below conscious thought. But Bastion was more of a surprise. The first few times I fell off the world in Supergiant’s acclaimed action RPG, it reminded me of the acute physical sensation of when I’d fall in my dreams: a sense of increasing momentum paradoxically paired with full-body paralysis. But the Bastion-based dream was worse than just falling. This nightmare was filled with Lunkheads, the frog-like creatures that were my most hated enemy from the game. I suspect the real reason Bastion showed up is because the game’s final choice is the kind of moment where you have to think about who you want to be in both real and fictional worlds. But dreams are never that clear cut, are they? I didn’t have to figure out what I’d do after a cataclysmic tragedy in my Bastion dream; I was only left haunted by giant, disgustingly real versions of some of its antagonists. Lucky me, I guess?


What’s more surprising are the games that haven’t lingered on the edges of my unconscious brain. I loved Papo & Yo and fully expected to have daydreams or sleeping visitations from the PS3 game. But Monster and Quico haven’t shown up after I fall asleep at all. Journey‘s another game, impressionistic as it is, that I figured would be in my dreams. But I haven’t had any kind of adventures in the Wanderers’ robe since I finished thatgamecompany’s masterpiece. Likewise for Silent Hill 3, a game I swore would stay with me forever after scaring the crap out of me years ago, but it never ever showed up in my most meandering thoughts or dreams.

It’s tough to figure out any sort of rhyme or reason as to why some games make appearances in my subconscious and others don’t. The amount of time spent playing a game doesn’t seem to factor into it. Titles that I’ve spent hours and hours with with, like the Mass Effect series, never come to bed with me. The muscle memory that’s a physical part of playing games probably isn’t any sort of conduit to the part of my brain that brews up dreams. But the feeling of being in a gameworld — recreated in your mind with all its terror, beauty and familiar cues, yet without a button to press or the power to control an outcome — can be a terrifying one. As much as I love games, I’m glad it doesn’t happen more often.


  • Alan Wake was such a good game

    I loved it, haven’t been able to play it again because it struck me so hard

    Will definitely be playing this in the coming days

    • Hey man 🙂

      I was the same. It was such a haunting experience. I tried a second play-through but got kind of overwhelmed by the last mission. Then last year I bought a new copy and all the DLC. It was a fine time indeed.

      Psyched as hell for the sequel announcement. Hoping they go for a different vibe. Maybe less twin peaks and more small town Stephen King (though it was already pretty close to that).

      • It was such a good game, every part of it

        I was always on edge, worried I would run out of batteries, or flares, flashbangs or bullets

      • Yeah I loved the game, I didnt get it till the DLC was out, it only came with the first one though, I am glad I bought that last one. The game is simply amazing writing and the gameplay is great too. My friend who doesn’t even play video games sat on the couch and watched me play alan wake all the way through, he was enjoying the story so much.

        Alan Wake def makes it into my best games of all time catagory.

  • I really need to get onto Alan Wake. I have it, the DLC, and the XBLA title American Nightmare. My wife has 100%’d it all. I haven’t played any of it, because I’m a stupid lazy idiot. 🙁

    • Stupid? No, I don’t know your intelligence
      Lazy? Yes, Alan Wake was much fun, your wife 100%ing it is testament to that
      Idiot? No, I don’t know your intelligence 🙂

  • Just to be contrary (again), I had a hard time finishing this game, it went for so damn long with so little variation. One of the most repetitive titles I’ve played in regards to gameplay, the only thing that seemed to change in enemies was how long they took to wear down with the flashlight before you finished them with a gun.
    And the story was pretty ordinary, I particularly didn’t like how it spoiled the game for you as you’d find pages detailing things that were about to happen… a guy with a chainsaw, you say? That’ll be scary, won’t be expecting that.

  • Yeah I loved Alan Wake, it’s a pity it got released on the same day as Red Dead Redemption which turned out to a huge hit despite much hype and overshadowed it.
    I remember I bought them both on the same day about a week before release from my local Big-W who were clueless about release and street dates, good days.

  • I went through a similar thing with Alan Wake. My friends got sick of me ranting about that game.

    In recent times, I’ve experienced similar things with X-Com. The world needs me, and I am pitifully ill-equipped to deal with it. Still, I march on to what seems certain death. The bullets bounce off the Muton. Sadly, his laser doesn’t bounce off me.

    The mind truly is a wonderful thing.

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