I have played many game genres in my time. Many settings, many storylines. My interests range from retro platformers to fast-paced FPSs to JRPGs to so much more. I could give you a list of many of my favourite games, but at the end of the day I know I will eventually grow tired of them. They will have become stale, broken shells of their former existence. And they would either collect dust in my closet or end up in the hands of some merchant. I've grown to live with the fact that many of the favourite games that I cherish and hold dear now I will eventually forget about in the long-run.
And yet I know one thing will remain. After all of the broken pieces of past favourites have been swept into the sewers, when I've grown old, grey, and senile, I will still have one last thing to keep me entertained. Out of everything I have played and will ever play, the one thing I know I will never grow tired of is being afraid.
The horror genre stands upon a pedestal for me. It has always been my preference, even when I was a tiny little bastard creeping about the house terrifying my family. Vampires, ghosts, zombies, mutant freaks, lab failures, serial killers, murderous teddy bears, eldritch monstrosities, ancient death gods, creatures we could barely wrap our minds around lest we implode. All of these things and more have been a part of me for as long as I can remember.
There are several reasons why I love horror
, but the main thing that draws me into the macabre and terrifying is the struggle of the human mind. Horror plants itself into the ground before our feet and challenges us. It teases us, saying “I dare you to lock eyes with me, for I am everything you dread and wish never existed”. At first we fail. We cringe and draw ourselves away from this wretched thing, hoping it will fade away into oblivion and dust. But, the longer we close our eyes, the longer the darkness stays latched onto us. Our only choice when presented with fear beyond our darkest nightmares is to stand up and face it.
Horror is about moving forward. Removing the shrunken heads and banshees, we can compare it to everyday life. Fear of meeting new people, fear of traveling beyond your front lawn, fear of riding in a plane, fear of large crowds. It all balls down to fear of the unknown and the incomprehensible. “What is that?” You would rather not find out. “What would happen if I did this?” You would rather not find out. “Are they friend or foe?” You would rather not find out. Humans usually refuse to put themselves into unknown situations because something might go wrong. It's a common survival instinct to be wary of new and unusual things. However, just because it's common doesn't mean it's a good thing. You will suffocate if you hold your breath for too long. There comes a time when you need to rise up and stare into the abyssal unknown. When you see people jump straight into new situations with no second-thought, it means they have found that strength that allows them to stare the unknown in the face. And the unknown has a lot more to offer than the known.
This transcendence from weak and frail to strong and aware is why I prefer horror video games above all else. I get to experience
the feeling of moving past my fears. I love being afraid in games because I get to say “I surpassed my darkest nightmare.” There are thousands of games that make you feel challenged, but nothing digs deep into your core like horror does. When I finish a game where I had to brave the dark corridors of the unknown, I feel more accomplished than with any other game I've set my hands on.
I admit, I am also a fan of the bizarre and abnormal. This plays a large role in my preferences, drawing me to horror like a fly to a corpse. You won't find me far away from games like Silent Hill
or films like Uzumaki
. This obsession with the strange and odd probably stems from my initial obsession with the macabre, but it also stems from growing up cynical and wary of “normal” things. I don't want to experience what I can experience on a daily basis outside of video games. This is why I dislike sports games and have a hard time getting into some rhythm games. But that is merely the tip of the pen. Games display plenty of odd and quirky things. Who goes around eating pellets while being chased by ghosts? Not me, at least. So when I see something that goes even beyond the usual bizarreness in games I am immediately enthralled. I fell in love with Soul Reaver
not just because it was about vampires and dead things, but because it gave off this powerful, dark, and creative atmosphere that you rarely find in vampire stories, especially as of late. I fell in love with The Secret World
not just because it involves ancient evils rising up from the netherworld, but because it puts us in a very familiar setting that is suddenly filled with the world's darkest, innermost fears.
You cannot put a number on how many times I have awoke in a cold sweat, overflowing with ideas and inspiration. I go to sleep at night hoping that I will have a heart-pounding nightmare, something that will make me sit up in bed clutching the sheets. When I awake with my heart pounding in my ears at 3am I know I've accomplished something. While I love lucid nightmares—I can morph the world into an even more ghastly place, create new monstrosities, make fear into clay—I am even more inspired when I have no control. I like being tossed around by my innermost fears. The more I am tossed around, the more I struggle to regain my composure. The more I struggle to regain my composure, the stronger I become. Then I am able to defeat the evils plaguing my subconscious. However, I have not once had a dream where I destroyed the antagonist. I always wake up just before I do, or just before being killed myself. Maybe I don't want
to destroy the antagonist. Maybe I'm having too much fun.
But I always ask myself: Is this odd fascination with blood-curdling screams and dim-lit corridors shared throughout the gaming world, or am I amongst only a few who hold the genre so ridiculously close to the heart? As I mentioned, I grew up obsessed with horror. It is, almost literally, a part of me. Has my becoming intertwined with the genre given me rose-coloured glasses? Surely horror can't be the only genre that tests your inner strength and will to push forward. And yet, despite how much I search, I still come back with horror set upon a pedestal. A giant, bloody pedestal covered in bodies.
Take indie games, for example. A lot of people enjoy them because—get ready for my usual analogy—they're like that hamburger you get from the local mom-and-pop restaurant. Instead of the burger being tossed together almost robotically by big-name organizations, the burger is prepared lovingly and from the heart. That is one side of the story. Something a lot of indie gamers don't admit to much is that half of the reason they play indie games is because they're broke and can barely afford anything else. Maybe they grew to love indie games over time, but the majority of them originally started because they wanted a game they didn't have to pay much (or any) money for.
Can this be applied to why my heart flutters when seeing a zombie's eye open before it chomps down upon a surprised victim's windpipe? Is there some drab, underlying reason for this obsession, or is horror truly what I make it out to be?
Maybe I've gone mad. Maybe these thoughts and preferences come from the mind of a possible mental patient. Maybe I am actually in a padded cell, dreaming of disembodied heads and onryo ghosts and gaming news sites. Or, what if the true horror of it all is that what I see in my dreams, those horrific images of death and decay, are what the world truly is?
Don't be silly.
Touching back on solid ground, I will never know if I am truly biased or if my views are shared throughout the gaming universe. But it doesn't matter. I am the Horror Enthusiast and will be nothing else for as long as I live. All I can do is smile and frolic about in graveyards and morgues, happily daydream of cities teeming with the undead, search libraries for ancient books written by mad Arabs, wondering if my sanity snapped at birth. If it did snap at birth, then oh well. I'm having a good time.