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Confessions of a scaredy-cat gamer

Dear ex-babysitter: Describing 1996's Resident Evil as "a cool game where you play as a secret agent and fight snakes and stuff" to a 10-year-old kid was kind of fucked up. Especially when said 10-year-old a) loves video games, and b) is particularly sensitive to scary things. Laugh all you want at that live-action intro nowadays, but back then, that thing was the stuff of nightmares. By which I mean I didn't sleep for two weeks thanks to the T-Rex noises those animatronic dogs made as Alpha Team ran to take refuge in a totally-not-creepy mansion.

It's not that I don't like scary games, I just have a hard time handling them. I see a virtual zombie munching on a dead guy, and something in my brain goes "NOPE." I get the chills. I start sweating. At the age of 12, I refused to leave the safe room in Resident Evil 2's Raccoon City Police Department. I was smart enough to know that whatever was waiting for me on the other side of the door would be as real as the couch I was sitting on once I dozed off to dreamland.

I dialed into the Internets on my dad's computer and looked up cheat codes, thinking a rocket launcher, shotgun, unlimited ammo, and a badass alternate costume would be enough to fill me with courage. And yet, I still couldn't open the door. The distant moans of zombies; the chilling musical score; that goddamn animation that happens when you exit one room and enter another. All of it had me on the verge of panic. And it's not even that I was nervous about dying--I had more guns on my person than all of my redneck uncles have sitting on their kitchen tables combined (sorry Uncle Larry, Mike, Tony, Duane, Eric, and Jeremy--you're all swell dudes!). That's just what scary shit does to me. The only way I could make any progress was by begging my younger brother to sit on the couch next to me while I played; he agreed, in exchange for my share of our nightly dessert.

For real, I'd really like to know what happens at the end of FEAR, but the second Alma came crawling through that air duct The Grudge-style, I fainted and fell out of my computer chair (yes, I've seen The Grudge, and some of my closest friends continue to leave me voicemails with that god-forsaken uhhhhhhhhh sound just for the hell of it). I was totally fine with the shooting of militarized clones and whatever, but every time she showed up, I was paralyzed by unbridled terror. I don't think little kids are inherently creepy, but the second they start bending their joints backwards to crawl like a spider, I'm out. Ain't no one got time for that.

And look, I know ya'll think Slender isn't that scary, but the pile of mush floating around in my skull would like to disagree. During GR's annual 24-hour livestream last year, all I did was watch Sophia play that game and I nearly lost it. Walking around an unsettling forest in the dead of night, finding little post-it notes that say things like "DON'T LOOK OR IT TAKES YOU," was bad enough, but knowing an otherworldly stalker was somewhere nearby was straight up unbearable. When the screen got all staticy--meaning Slender Man was close--Sophia and I became synchronized screamers. She just didn't know it because she was in a different room.

You know what's really fun? Having to park your car three blocks away from your apartment at 3 a.m. after a night of playing (er, watching someone play) Slender.

But for as much as these types of games freak me out, I'm always drawn to them like I'm some sort of masochist. I mean, I know nothing but excruciating fear is in store the second I load up Amnesia: The Dark Descent or Outlast, but there's a kind of euphoric high that that fear creates. It's unlike anything else, an entirely different feeling compared to thrill of playing a competitive game like League of Legends, or the calm sense of wonder I get when exploring an interesting world like that of Journey.

Building the courage to tackle my fears head on, even when they're just virtual ones, is oddly empowering. Sure, I may weep uncontrollably, or soil my favorite pair of sweatpants, or fall out of my chair in such a way that I accidentally shatter my femur, but nothing gets my heart pumping like staring straight into the face of terror--even if I need my younger brother to sit on the couch next to me from time to time.

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17 comments

  • CitizenWolfie - November 5, 2013 8:48 a.m.

    Dude, you basically described every experience I've had with scary games. Ever. The only way I get through anything remotely scary these days is with a walkthrough and that's only because it nullifies the whole point of the horror aspect in the first place - it's the wandering around, looking for the next objective knowing that something is about to happen. When "X" inevitably jumps out I'm fine, battle mode activated and everything. But it's those moments of silence that stay with me and get in my head. It's one of the reasons I can't get through a Silent Hill game or stumble around Rapture in Bioshock. On the other side of that is the relentless barrage type horror - I've never finished Resident Evil 4 purely because those sieges against the villagers and las plagas fuck me up so badly. Dead Space's air vents weren't exactly a fun experience for me either. I'm really tempted to pick up The Evil Within but I absolutely know that I'll get about an hour into it (probably after what seems like ten) and as you put it, just go "NOPE." The silly thing is that I'm an absolute horror film hound and my DVD shelf consists of 80% of things with "Dead" in the title. And I love those live action horror experiences too where actors jump out at you. But put a controller in my hand and a scary game on the screen and I'm shaking like a far Chuchu's butt cheeks
  • KishouTenpi - November 3, 2013 7:03 a.m.

    I played AvP (The new one on 360) and actually couldn't play the marine campaign for a month after rthe first jumpscare with the pipe...
  • Rhymenocerous - November 2, 2013 12:13 p.m.

    I was 7 when I played Resident Evil, and I'm not going to try and act tough... I was terrified. However, I persevered, scraping past each horrifying abomination by the skin of my teeth, and, eventually, I finished the game. That was a true survival experience, and it frustrates me that I haven't been able to get that feeling again in 2 entire generations of games consoles (even though I was now at the age where I could actually legally buy the game). I'm really hoping The Evil Within is a proper survival horror again. It should be difficult AND scary, as well as give you that Dark souls style sense of achievement that you've just survived by using your own wits... Rather than the game helping you out with checkpoints (that increase your health for some reason), and stupid glow in the dark ammo.
  • pl4y4h - November 2, 2013 11:29 a.m.

    I just hate being scared and it's really the jump scares that really annoy me (translation: turn me into a huge puss). I guess the last "horror" game I played was Bioshock (at least the beginning of it anyway)
  • sagakarikikkaru - November 2, 2013 4:07 a.m.

    The first "horror" game I played was Resident Evil 4. I couldn't help myself but I couldn't help myself so I did and found out that I'm not as easily scared as I thought. Then I played Dead Space -_-.... I would have said Doom was my first horror game but doom's not a horror game at all...
  • Korppi - November 2, 2013 1:08 a.m.

    I consider myself a pretty big wimp when it comes to horror, but not quite as far. I suppose my obsession with zombie overrides my scarediness in the case of RE and others.. I never got far enough to SEE the monster in Amnesia before running the hell away. It took playing Dead Space 3 and having it desensitize me toward Necromorphs before I could play the first 2.
  • g1rldraco7 - November 2, 2013 12:46 a.m.

    It must have been hard to confess this Ryan and I am glad you did. I hope you feel better and I understand what you mean about horror games. Those dead things and people killing themselves is just O.O in Dead Space still make it hard for me to sleep and makes me not want to have children later on in life, but hey things change.
  • Brett35 - November 1, 2013 11:30 p.m.

    Thank goodness im not alone. I can't beat the first level in the 64 version of turok because of pure fear. Couldn't play bioshock, had every light on in the house to watch 15 second segments of the outlast gameplay so I could pause it and calm down. Hackdirt (Oblivion) and the deep ones still give me the chills. When younger I would sprint at night time from streetlight to streetlight to make it a couple blocks home from a friends house after playing the original Gears of War. Heck I couldn't finish watching I am Legend even though I tried multiple times. The scariest movie Ive seen beginning to end was the original House on Haunted Hill (all black and white). It sucks :P
  • Child Of Death - November 1, 2013 10:36 p.m.

    The game that ruined many nights of sleep for me was FEAR. My god... that game... it scarred me for life.
  • Xtapolapopotamus - November 1, 2013 9:32 p.m.

    Great article, Ryan. Man, you mentioning The Grudge reminds me of my favorite memory of that. So my old roommate went to bed one night and left his closet open slightly. We had two kittens in the apartment, and they had snuck into his room after he went to bed. So he's laying in bed, trying to sleep and sees a pile of clothing and black move in his closet. He screams (loud enough to wake everyone in the apartment) and... It was just the cats playing in some laundry. But man, imagine that. That's why I can't sleep with any doors open in my room to this day. D:
  • xdarkheartxa - November 1, 2013 9:26 p.m.

    Dude that sounds like me with resident evil dead aim as a kid haha the moment I saw that hanging body disappear I was out.
  • Eightboll812 - November 1, 2013 9:12 p.m.

    It's funny because certain things really bother me and other things don't. When I was "young" I did like horror movies...to a degree. I was never like a nut about them, but I watched Hellraiser and Alien and some other movies and it didn't bother me that much. But the game that had me cringing before entering the next room, and desperately wanting to quit but not allowing myself, and hoping I was getting near the end of the game so I could quit without feeling like I copped out, was Doom 3. Maybe it was amplified by playing it in a dark room. I made it through though. As I've gotten older, I don't like that "terrified" feeling so much and games like Resident Evil just don't have much appeal. It's not that I can't take it. I know I can, I just don't want to.
  • GOD - November 1, 2013 7:47 p.m.

    On the bright side this propensity to be scared by horror games easily probably lets you feel more immersed in other games as well. Also you have nothing to be ashamed of Ryan, because watching people like you play scary games is one of my favorite new things. Think of it as a talent to be scared shitless.
  • winner2 - November 1, 2013 7:37 p.m.

    I'm the same way, but I just can't play scary games alone. Even bioshock scared the shit out ofe,when you first enter the lighthouse, the medical pavilion, the spider splicers you have to photograph, and other moments. I feel like a champion just getting through 20 minutes of a scary game.
  • JMarsella09 - November 1, 2013 7:26 p.m.

    It's funny. I cannot handle horror movies, even the old black and whites from the fifties and before. Yet, for some unknown reason I love playing horror games. True, the terrify me just as much as the cinema, but I am still drawn to them like pain seeking fool. I feel you Ryan.
  • StrayGator - November 1, 2013 5:02 p.m.

    I suspect that you might be enjoying this "euphoric high" specifically BECAUSE you're relatively easily frightened, similar to someone whose body isn't used to caffeine getting pumped like $%&$% from one cup of coffee.
  • shawksta - November 1, 2013 4:41 p.m.

    Oh Ryan, we have all been there. Your not alone buddy.

Showing 1-17 of 17 comments

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