The Only Thing We Have to Fear

Matt Turano | 22 Oct 2008 17:00
Op-Ed - RSS 2.0

On September 26th of last year, I was on my way home from work at two in the morning when I got a call from my wife, who wanted to know how far away I was.

"About half a mile," I told her. "Why?"

"Because I think someone's trying to get into the house."

If I could freeze-dry any single moment in my life, package it, and freely license it to any game developer who's even remotely interested in making a scary game, it would be this one. The problem that I have with most horror games - including EA's recently released Dead Space - is that they fail to convey the most essential element of fear, which, for me, means an overwhelming feeling of helplessness in the face of terror that has come to where I live. In other words, the horrible laid atop the mundane, not necessarily in order to indicate that something nasty this way shambles, but that it is, in fact, already here, and the only weapons I've got at hand are a tin of Altoids and a somewhat cranky disposition.

A good example of this kind of horror is a movie that scared the sweet crispy rhubarb out of me when I was a kid. The 1958 version of The Blob introduced my five-year-old psyche to the new and terrifying notion that we might not be safe anywhere, not even in our own homes, because if a strawberry-colored bag of ambulatory space pus can squeeze under the door or ooze through the heating vents in order to nosh on your ass, basically it's all over but the screaming. I figured it was only a matter of time, really, before my folks found my empty pajamas arranged on my bed in a me-shaped, flannel tableau o' terror, along with a note thanking them for providing such a tasty, though slightly stringy, midnight snack. My childhood demons were nothing if not polite.

Horror games that announce the appearance of every new monster with a dramatic intro sequence scored by repetitive, high-pitched shrieks of Psycho-esque violins can be entertaining, sure, but scary? Not so much. Games that lead me by the septum through level after barrel-filled level of industrial backdrops while occasionally flashing images of whispering ghost children across my field of vision might earn a startle response from time to time, but until you've scrubbed a Fruit Punch Gatorade and Boca Burger vomit grenade out of the living room carpet, spare me the whispering ghost children, thanks; the real ones are scary enough. An accurate method of gauging the overall scariness of children - corporeal or spectral - in videogames lies in the answer to a single, simple question: Can they crap on me or not? If not, bring 'em on.

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