I have always been a somewhat firm believer that the world of horror, whether it be through the medium of films, games, books or any other, held nothing for me personally, and I would gain nothing from its warm and spine shattering embrace. This was mainly founded on the thought that horror seems like a lose-lose situation. If it is a below average example of the genre, it would just be awkward and terrible to watch, and while the silver lining is that my psychological state remain intact, there is no entertainment value other than occasional laughter at the awfulness of it all. However if it is an above average example, here I will sit, most likely jumping at every tiny noise while I imagine the piece of works creator (also a piece of work if you ask me, personally) laughing maniacally to his own questionable mind, revelling in his victory. It will be an uncomfortable time from beginning to end for me, and I just don’t see the upside.
That isn’t to say I don’t enjoy things that keep me on the edge of my seat. I always have, and I’m sure always will, enjoyed Thrillers when it comes to films, and many a game has placed me right back on the precipice of my chair, but the difference is with those I find it a different feeling from what I’ve always assumed horror would leave me with. It’s a feeling of nervousness, anxiousness and a furious restraint of a gung ho attitude. You don’t even want to admit to yourself how desperately you want to forge on even faster than the game or film or book will allow, because of how aware you are that every step forward is exponentially more dangerous than the last.
Here seems like a good time to actually finally talk about my first real attempt at a Survival Horror (at the grand old age of 25), in the form of Amnesia: The Dark Descent. I have of course played games with horror elements before, such as Resident Evil, or Left 4 Dead, but I never really think it counts as Horror when there are more shots fired than a Comedy Central Roast, so I class this as first contact, if you will.
So, I have had this game on Steam for years now, ever since it was stupidly cheap in a sale and various praise from friends were ringing around in the back of my mind, and with the beginning of my gaming channel, I thought maybe I should do something that will be entertaining for people, if not me as much, because I’ll spend the whole time panicking, jumping and heavy breathing more than if I called you at 3am from that tree outside your window, and so far, in that respect it has thoroughly lived up to expectations, although please bear in mind I have only played about 2 hours or so thus far, so this truly is about my very first experiences in this whole new world of psychological assault and battery.
Now I’ve never been one to throw myself in at the shallow end, let alone the deep, so my first order of business was pumping the brightness up to full, and the audio down to “was that a noise designed to scare me? Sorry, I couldn’t hear it over the sound of my computer humming away”. After that it was a case of strapping on a pair, even if it was a small one, and throwing myself into it, and I was pleasantly surprised to say the least. I only realise this retroactively of course, once the game is fully closed and nothing can possibly hurt me anymore, but I wouldn’t want it any other way because I was so immersed in the atmosphere of the game I didn’t have the time, want, or mental capacity to be on the outside looking in at how enjoyable it was, while I was so far inside.
Don’t get me wrong, there were huge frustrations, like how slowly you move (before I figured out the…..run button), the endless pieces of paper you find and feel a compulsive need to pick up even though you’d rather stab yourself than read them, the constant searing white out screens which almost made me regret my brightness changes, and possibly the most, the chest of drawers that never contain anything but you can’t bring yourself to not check every drawer just in the case they have a tinderbox in to help light your way. However when I really think about why these things frustrated me, it wasn’t because they were necessarily bad points, they just all were slowing my progress, and it goes back to that desperate need in a gripping “Thriller” game, a craving almost, to know and see more about this world that has been created, seemingly just for you, to know what they have in store, what more they have to throw at you. This is where I have already realised the huge mistake I have made in the past, tarring all survival horror games with the same brush as I did to hack and slash horror flicks, when the ones like I am experiencing now with Amnesia don’t throw anything in your face, they take everything they have and hide it, tease it just into your peripheral vision and taunt you, dare you to come and take a closer look and see if you can handle what’s there. And while that may actually be an even sicker way for someone to create something, I mean at least throwing blood spatters and body parts into your quivering face is honest, anyone who has known me for longer than about 12 seconds knows I find it impossible to back down from a challenge like that.
So this is a message from someone who has hopefully made the mistake for you, and allowed you to circumvent a similar one, be careful just what you write off before you’ve given it a go. Don’t get me wrong it’ll be a long time before I ever think clicking on “Horror” on Netflix is anything other than pure insanity, but maybe next time I see a game with a tag “Survival Horror” I won’t immediately disregard it as the work of the devil.