WARNING: Following post is long, contains many pictures, and is kind of depressing and personal
As a child, around eight years old, I watched two people close to me die slow deaths due to cancer. One was my grandfather. The other was a neighborhood girl still in high school. I was just old enough to understand their deaths, human mortality, and that no one could tell me for certain what happens to us when we die. The experiences were pretty traumatic and I'd lie awake countless nights with nihilistic philosophies swirling in my head. I was haunted by the spectre of death so badly that I would become physically cold at night, when I would have nothing to distract me from my thoughts.
So why bring up something so personal? Because that's what true fear is. It isn't a quick jump scare like you'll find in Resident Evil or Dead Space, it's a lurking presence that haunts you. And it's especially terrible when guilt is thrown into the mix.
One of the places I found solace from those thoughts was the mental oblivion of video games. If nothing else, they were a place to forget; to occupy my brain during my free time. Some of the first video games I owned were a 5-pack of LucasArts adventure games. It instilled in me a lasting love for the genre, and it included the game that this whole lead-in has been building towards.
LOOM was created during the golden age of adventure gaming and it turned convention on its head. Rather than collecting items, you were discovering spells in the form of music sequences (predating Ocarina of Time). And while the game's setting was fantasy, it was a weird, dreamlike sort of fantasy all its own. But while it was strange and ethereal, it also wasn't explicitly a horror game. And that's what makes the following sequence all the more shocking.
Needless to say: Spoiler Alert!
At a certain point, I (as protagonist Bobbin Threadbare) had to infiltrate the Guild of Blacksmiths. In order to do so, I had to covertly swap appearances with a friendly, if uncooperative apprentice named Rusty napping outside the gates. Unfortunately, while trapped inside the fortresslike Forge, a recently-made enemy happened upon the apprentice now wearing my clothes. Some offscreen carnage, and then this.
Yep, the dragon that was chasing me killed Rusty, and not in a pretty way. You can see his skeleton reaching out in pain and still dripping blood. That's because the dragon ate him alive. He died because of me.
Now, keep in mind, this game was made in 1990 before the ESRB existed. And the game probably would have been too difficult for me to progress that far had the 5-pack not included a strategy guide. Still, putting this into the game was almost cruel.
After further screwing up by inadvertently providing a mad warlock the keys to the universe only for him to unleash armageddon, I finally broke out of the Forge. Only to find this waiting for me outside the gates.
Rusty is now a ghost angrily seeking revenge. Revenge that, incidentally, he totally deserves. My thoughtless use of Weaver magic had not only doomed the world, but it had resulted in a child being eaten alive by a dragon. I was a murderer and I had turned a quiet apprentice into a monster.
Few things put real fear into me. Jump scares are nothing but cheap surprise sprinkled with terror. But this is the stuff Edgar Allan Poe's nightmares are made of. It made me feel cold physically the way only personal tragedy could. If that isn't an accomplishment in horror, I don't know what is. Maybe LOOM wasn't the best place for this scene, but maybe it was the unexpectedness that made it so effective. I don't have an answer for that one.
I'm not going to spoil any more of this excellent adventure game. If you want resolution to this plot point, you can find it yourself.
LOOM is on Steam for $5.