Are you enjoying Alien: Isolation? What about PT, or any other big horror game? Are you thrilling at the scares, revelling in the fear, shivering at the spooks? If yes, then know that I envy you.
I tried playing Alien: Isolation this week, a title that on paper should be my Game Of The Year. It’s an incredibly faithful recreation of the original film’s universe and aesthetic, and getting the chance to basically walk around inside Ron Cobb’s brain for a few hours sounds like the game of my dreams.
Yet I can’t play it. Well, I could, for the first hour, since that was the part where I could walk around and poke at the walls and admire the detail and chuckle at the old cassette players everywhere.
From the moment the alien first shows up, though, I was done. The first time you escape the beast, as you agonisingly wait for a tram to arrive while you look over your shoulder, the music building, the tension unbearable, I hit the quit button and probably won’t be back.
Not because of some dry sense of subjectivity, where I processed a harmless thought that “no, this is not for me”. I was physically affected.
This is nothing new for me. I’ve been a video game “coward” for as long as I can remember. From Half-Life’s underwater sequence (I HATE SHARKS) to PT’s, well, everything, I’ve struggled through some of the biggest games, and in some cases I’ve been unable to even get started on them. I’m the same way with some horror movies. The Ring, Evil Dead, I can manage, but the really creepy stuff, no thank you.
I wish I wasn’t! I look around me, at my colleagues and my friends, and how they find enjoyment in terror. They obviously go through the standard response to such experiences: namely, that when confronted with horrifying imagery or frights, their bodies start releasing the “fight-or-flight” hormones adrenaline and cortisol, and as a result they feel more “alive”. It’s a rush.
Me, I don’t get the “rush”. Well, I do; I’ve experienced it in actual fight-or-flight situations, whether it’s been from car crashes, sports or, well, fights. But when it comes to horror in video games, I get sick, and dizzy, but not in a euphoric or liberating or relieving way. I just feel, well, sick, in a sucky, wish-I-wasn’t-feeling-like-this kind of way. Which is why I rarely play scary video games. If I’m not getting some kind of enjoyment out of it – and indeed, am feeling the opposite of enjoyment – why bother?
I don’t know if this is because I’ve got a few pieces of wiring wrong, or whether it’s just a difference in people’s reactions to media. Loads of people hate horror movies, for example, for similar reasons to my own.
But that’s what interests me about horror games, and my aversion to them. While plenty of folks will avoid horror movies, and be up-front about their reasons for it, I don’t see the same kind of talk around horror video games. Sometimes I feel like I’m the only person on the internet who literally cannot play a scary video game.
I know it’s not because I can’t process genuine fear, as that’s something I’ve had to deal with countless times in the real world. My best theory (WARNING: I AM NOT A MEDICAL PROFESSIONAL) is that it’s got something to do with control. In the real world, I guess I have some semblance of control over my actions and reactions to things around me.
So perhaps it’s the fact that when I’m playing a game or watching a movie, I’m locked into a ride, and have to experience what’s coming completely outside of my ability to escape it, avoid it or influence it (at least outside the developer’s limited options in the case of a game). Which part of me obviously cannot abide, to the point it makes me ill.
Which when you think about it is crazy. Lots of games, from loot-grabbers like Destiny and WoW to free-to-play mobile titles, play upon weaknesses and compulsions in the human mind, but how many other genres are so reliant on a physical response as horror games are?
And how many other genres/styles of game, then, can manage to exclude people from playing, not because of some thematic dislike but for reasons of physical aversion? (I can think of certain FPS games and those affected by motion-sickness, and…that’s it)
That kind of extra-sensory rush, beyond the usual gaming effects like a raised heart-rate, make me jealous of those who do/can enjoy horror games. It sounds exhilarating! The pleasures of regular gaming with an added and expanded physical rush!
So the next time you’re playing a horror game and the frights kick in, and you start to feel that exhilarating sensation, spare a thought for poor folks like me, who genuinely had to ask their lady friend for help in the Assassin’s Creed IV diving sequences (AGAIN, SHARKS) because they were too frozen to do it themselves…