I was walking down a dark corridor. Lights where flickering, noises were in the background. There was distant shuffling, the sounds of metal objects beging disturbed and crashing to the floor. I held my weapon close to me, there wasn’t a lot of ammo and if I was swarmed I would be in serious trouble. My hands were sweating and my knuckles were sore from gripping the stock so tightly. I heard a slight scratching behind me. I turned around and a mass of flesh that was once human rose up to eye level and without warning bit deeply into my shoulder. Someone screamed.
My wife apologized for her outburst. “sorry, sorry” she said. I told her it was ok, mainly because I get immense pleasure form watching people actually being effected by video games. I could hear my eldest son getting out of bed so I paused the game and obscured the view. He came out and asked us to be quieter.
The experience above was all from playing ‘Dead Space’ which has been an immense amount of fun. My spouse gets a little irritated when I keep mentioning to people that she screamed but I think it is an excellent illustration of how well video games are conveying genuine experiences of horror.
I am a horror nut. Experts tell me it is because I crave adranaline and the relief that comes from sucessfully averting life threatening situations. I am allergic to sky diving, mountain climbing or otherwise putting myself in the way of real physical harm. Media that can recreate dangerous experiences are pretty much my drug of choice.
For the past few years I have had a difficult time feeding that need for good horror. There was this period in the seventies where there was a decent amount of horror themed TV shows and movies about. Some were good, some were great, but most are yawners that have zombies with foam superglued to their faces. We seem to be repeating this trend with big-budget horror directed towards the below twenty set. Surgically enhanced twenty-somethings and a geek, madman/virus/monster on the loose, “twist” ending, comic relief and fake scares. Predictable boring dreck.
Dead Space on the other hand in the first five minutes puts you in an impossible situation with low ammo and health and forces you to look around every corner and keeps your muscles tense until you can hit the next save point. After getting through a particularly difficult situation I find myself wanting to find someone and say “we made it” and hug the nearest human being. Being able to keep up this slow burn tension throughout the game is an achievement that I have only experienced in a few movies. Films like Alien (of which Dead Space is highly derivitive or a tribute of) and the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre come to mind. The difference here is that for an average gamer the experience lasts for twenty hours or so instead of ninety minutes. Well worth the purchase price if you are thinking about how much it costs per hour.
I am not ready to hand the scepter of horror mastery to video games quite yet, but I expect to sometime in the next few years. Video games have a lot to master in terms of storytelling and the ability to suspend disbelief. The quality of the stories and the mythology of these games gets better every year. Just the fact that the game is better than most of the movie experiences I have had lately should be enough for filmmakers to take note.