I've been playing Amnesia the Dark Descent with my housemates the past week or so. We all get together on someone’s bed, turn the lights off and huddle together around my laptop or another mate’s desktop.
If we're playing on the laptop in our protective huddled formation, someone will control the keyboard movements separately to someone who controls the mouse. Thankfully we've not had any problems with coordination or synching.
We load the game, briefly hum out the loading screen passages that talk about being stuck in a cave one minute, beating a boy with a rock the next and occasionally speak of how nice Turkish Delights are. Yes, quite, quite. (They're revolting!).
Then we continue our game. We trudge through the dimly lit hallways, as Daniel breathes in and out, shuddering and freaking out, his sanity waning and thus causing our own to deplete. The game tries to scare you and atmospherically it really does. It makes you uncomfortable but much more than that it makes you feel depressed. We'll enter a room, to investigate, pick up some tinderboxes gratefully and then a ghoulish dust ball will whaft passed us and the door will slam shut. We'll all mutter obscenities, look at each other with unattractive pouts and cautiously approach the door, consent to opening it and peak out slowly.
One of the nice simple mechanics of Amnesia is that you don't just whack open a door, you can carefully creak it open a little bit at a time, affording you a vantage point of the horrors that might await outside.
The doors is now fully opened and we retreat our steps up a corridor and then suddenly a deep moan rattles through the player and our own bones and we see the shadow first, then we see the distorted figure and simultaneously as we begin to swivel our terrified characters body around and make a run for it, we know it has seen us. It rips through the air with an obscene and ghastly scream and we run, turning any corners we can, fast fast, don't look back. This can end in two ways.
1) We have rushed into a dark room, closed the door, then entered a wardrobe and closed it. The monster will either not enter the room or will and then lurk around trying to find us, whilst we are trying to carefully stay still inside a dark dusty cupboard. Our eye line happens to be by a crack in the door and we can see a shadow pace the room, the moaning still very apparent. We do not move we wait. Then everything goes silent, the door slams shut and we think we are safe. We continue.
2) You rush down a corridor go into a room, turn to close the door and the bloody thing is there right in front of your face howling at you it's body twisted, broken, sharp and monstrous. It swipes at you with its claws and you try and jump, run and to no avail. You are splattered with blood and the beast is relentless. You are doomed.
Gonna get you, gonna get you. Cooochy cooo
This game would not be quite as much fun and I use that word, very loosely, if it weren't for the company, in person you played it with. I could play this game by myself and probably still experience the dread that I did in a group. But I wouldn't have the same thrills of hearing my friends muttered worried curse words, say "wait did you see that, tell me you saw that?" or delight people not playing the game with a unison of screams.
Online gaming has made it very easy to hook up with friends from all over the world to play games and that's a great achievement. Yet it also means that people who live closer by or even in the same house might favour sitting on their own in their bed playing the same game that getting up, making an effort to change some plugs around and play games together in the actual sense of the word.
A while ago I played some Star Wars games on the original Xbox with my friends and it was really enjoyable. I commented that it had been years since I played a game with friends in person and the people I Iive with shared that sentiment. So we made a promise that every now and again without lengthy periods in between we would Lan it up and play together. Different games will lead way to different experiences. Playing Amnesia has been exciting in a morbid manner, but it's like watching a scary film in a cinema. I could watch Paranormal Activity in my room and not jump half as much as I would watching it in a cinema. There's something about being surrounded by people as unaware as you and you all sensing each others misgivings and worry of what will pop up on the screen next and when it does, the unified screams or gasps are intensified but because you're not 'alone', it is followed by laughter or a strange sense of comfort.
The more digital our present day becomes, the more worrying the future seems to be. At least to me anyway. It's one thing to tell people they're wasting their time being glued to technology, it's another when they are glued to it all the time and in a manner that ostracizes them from the company of others. I'm not saying that most people who play online do so because they hate humans and hanging out with people, in fact online gaming has enabled people to spend time with their friends when geography gets in the way. But for those that are in close proximity to each other or could be easily, I wonder is the option to play games with friends in person something that they would prefer or have we simply become accustom to the handiest of plug in and play with whoever from our own seats, with minimum effort. Effort seems to be a word that today causes people to feel sleepy simply by saying it. But surely if you could choose there are more merits and pros to meeting up with people, hanging out, sharing drinks and snacks and enjoying a game together?
Does it seem to anyone else that physical group gaming is declining and that it's just not as popular anymore? Has the benefits of the online digital world made us lazy and symbiotically fusing us with our pieces of technology?
If you wet yourself during a scary moment in a film or game, does that test the bonds of friendship?