The Horrors of Gaming
Frightening horror games are few and far between. The Resident Evil series, despite its moniker of “survival horror”, has never been particularly scary, and as uncomfortable as Dead Space is to play, the overwhelming sense it conveys is desperation, not terror. Unlike film, the medium to which it is so often compared, you always have some measure of control over your character’s fate in a video game. This power takes away from the feeling of helplessness that comes with a good horror movie, where you are left to watch the victim’s messy demise, powerless to intervene. In most horror games, a trusty shotgun or the option to restart offers comfort in even the darkest of corridors.
However, there are still plenty of things that frighten me about gaming. From the freaks that inhabit the towns of Professor Layton to the frightful design of the 3DS twin-stick attachment, video games can make you hide behind the sofa and soil yourself. So on this All Hallow’s Eve, allow me to present the dark side of gaming.
Don't Feed the Fish
As if making a game featuring a talking fish with a human face wasn’t disturbing enough, SEGA decided that we should be required to talk to and nurture this marine-monstrosity. Much like a tamagotchi, only if it were designed by David Lynch, this Dreamcast era pet-sim charged you with rearing a Seaman: an aquatic creature that develops from a tiny parasitic hatchling into a man-faced fish, and eventually a hideous amphibious creature.
Leonard Nimoy provides spooky narration as your pet develops from a vulnerable youth into a smart-mouthed fish-frog. Seaman will ask you strange questions, which you answer via microphone, share useless facts and even insult you. All the while, he stares at you from his dark tank with those dead, fishy eyes, thinking about what he is going to do to you once he is free of his watery prison.
The Japan only sequel was a superior game, and even though it retained an animal with a human face (a smart arse bird that drops in every now and again to goad you) it fails to replicate the sense of unease felt each time you came face to face with Mr Seaman. Rumours of a 3DS sequel have children worldwide breaking out in cold sweats, and may well prove to be 3D's reason for being.
There is only one thing about the subscription based PS+ that still interests me: automatic, cloud saves. Having lost much of my data earlier this year when my PS3 suffered the yellow light of death, I can absolutely appreciate the benefits of having an external back-up, stored in a mysterious cloud. I lost about six months’ worth of saves - dating back to the last time I made a back-up on my iPod - as well as every copyrighted file that I was unable to previously copy.
Whenever my PS3 jams mid game or starts making unusual noises, I panic and think about all the data from the last nine months that I stand to lose. It was frustrating to wave goodbye to the save data for the games I was playing at the time of the last crash, and re-installing three years of PSN games and DLC was certainly time consuming, but it wasn't until a few months later when the true horror set in. Throwing on Borderlands for some co-op with a friend, I discovered that the fruits of those long hours of looting and murder had all disappeared, and I was mortified when I loaded-up DJ Hero 2 only to find all my unlocked mixes reverting to their previous, unavailable state. For any discerning gamer, the prospect of a busted HDD is far more frightening than any game could ever hope to be.
A PSN exclusive demo-scene, .detuned is well and truly fucked up. It starts harmlessly enough with a solitary man sitting on a chair, but things quickly go pear as the soundtrack stars to thump and everything goes a bit psychedelic. It is up to you to torture and distort this unfortunate chap, as a race of cuddly monsters look on and smile. With the help of the trigger buttons, his face impossibly contorts and elephant-headed men appear and prance around the chair, like some sort of bestial maypole. I played .detuned for thirty minutes back in 2009 - the amount of time it took to grab the trophies and run - and it has since been relegated to the far bottom of my XMB, a constant reminder of one of the most frightening Saturday mornings of my life.
The Many Faces of Oblivion
Of late, my wife has been playing the GOTY edition of Oblivion. She seems to be enjoying it, despite the numerous glitches that have closed off parts of the game, and was rather impressed by the breadth and scale of the adventure. However, my enduring memory of her time with Oblivion is the bug-eyed, terrifying faces of its inhabitants. Every time I glance at the screen there is some emotionless, bug-eyed human, lizard or cat-thing staring out, threatening to do terrible things to me. On top of this, my wife has been playing from a third person perspective where the jump animation is other-worldly, as the character effortlessly floats from one spot to another in the most evil way possible. Very, very disturbing.
The Glitches of Red Dead Redemption
Anyone who has spent a significant period of time with the excellent Red Dead Redemption will have stumbled upon some of its numerous glitches. Rockstar clearly invested a great deal of time and effort in creating a convincing setting, though buzzard men and mule women do slightly spoil the atmosphere and are guaranteed to send shivers down your spine. Fellow wranglers journey astride invisible horses and winged men swoop through the sky in search of Marston prey. No-good layabouts lounge on chairs that don't seem to be there, and a canine gunslinger speaks to you in an unfamiliar tongue, trying to convince you to help him storm a fortress, presumably so he can piss up a lamp-post or fetch a tennis ball from within.
As disturbing as these random encounters may be, they are tame in comparison to the donkey-lady. She roams the deserts of Mexico; a disgusting creature with the body of a woman and the head and vocal chords of a mule, longing to be found and mounted by that special someone. Her lonely braying may be heard from miles away, but she is best avoided lest you lose your lunch when you first look upon her unfortunate form.
Odds & Ends
1. Much to my delight, my pre-order copy of Uncharted 3 has arrived two days ahead of release. After racing home from work, I have spent the last hour playing the main campaign and haven’t stopped smiling. I’d better get back to it!