Sometimes I sit and look around at this mess of life I have created for myself. I start to feel very self loathing; there is something pretentious in me that believes I was meant for something more than I have achieved. I have a loving wife, a beautiful daughter, a family. I have friends based on utility, not companionship, which is admittedly unfortunate. But that is a good example of a larger problem which I feel has held me back in my life, one that I am not particularly comfortable with.
I cannot connect with people.
When I hop on this train of thought, this trans-Siberian rail to endless nowhere, I start to feel very alone. Loneliness is something I have grown to be fairly comfortable with; I grew up alone, and it is something I have always been accustomed to. I am very much out of my element otherwise. But the odd time, I begin to become aware of an intense realization of my faults, my failings, my personal shame. I start to tally these against my successes, which while in this mood, seem to be very few in comparison.
I believe in nothing; not karma, not God, not salvation. So while my mind starts to weight my victories and failures, it inevitably starts to justify itself, and it tells me: "These things don't matter, because nothing matters. Inevitably the result will be the same, and you will not know reward, nor punishment. Because in the end, your actions have no value."
The reality of this thoughtform begins to take shape, and it manifests itself in a very curious way.
I become terrified.
The questions began to race through my head. "What is life? What is living? What is death? What is the purpose of it all? How can one even imagine not being conscious, and if that is what the end brings, then what of consciousness is useful in the here and now?"
Slowly I come back to my senses; the phone rings, the baby cries. Suddenly I'm no longer alone in this perpetual state of desperate reasoning. My self awareness fades.
There is horror in loneliness, in isolation, and this is the true core of terror.
One of my favorite survival horror games is Resident Evil 4. The zombies from the earlier games were an admittedly spooky foe, but the games felt less intense, a little more casually paced. In RE4 there was an immediate sense of panic from the moment you started the game; you are being surrounded, not by mindless horde of the undead, but by seemingly conscious, violent, cruel people
. People like yourself, no doubt under an external influence; but people who can collaborate, who actively seek your death. It was exhilarating, exciting, and at many times very intense and disturbing.
Throughout the game you are accompanied by Ashley, the presidents daughter, and anytime this occurs the tone immediately changes. You turn from being somewhat vulnerable and isolated into an empowered alpha male; the guy with the gun, the girl, and a case full of ammo. It's still stressful, but with the added company, as useless as she is, a weight of oppressive loneliness is lifted off your shoulders. It remains a very good game, but the horror element is effectively blunted. You are no longer alone.
Ecco the Dolphin, one of my favorite games on the whole, has always been remembered fondly by those who experienced it before they knew its mysteries, and the tension and fear surrounding the game for some (where even a mere screenshot can make the heart pump faster) is almost legendary among its fairly small cult following. In the first game, you are almost always alone apart from the rare instance where you are put in charge with saving your fellow dolphins in exchange for a power up which will help you progress through the game, so any time you do enter a dialogue with another creature, it is cherished and savored. I remember being reluctant to leave the chamber of The Asterite, or Big Blue; it was back to isolation, to terror, to danger.
Dark Souls is uniquely frightening in this regard as well. Apart from your notable lack of power, the world around you is very dismal, and extremely hostile. It is never clear who is an enemy or who is a friend, and the only thing saving you from spiraling into nightmarish madness is the presence of other players; or rather, the blood stains and ghosts that they leave behind. The feeling of elation I had when I finally reached a new bonfire was an example of how little moments of relief can make a huge difference, but how they are best used sparingly to keep the player feeling oppressed and uncomfortable.
Slender is a new independent game which is the epitome of this feeling. It is almost stupid in it's simplicity; you are alone in the woods with a dying flashlight, running from an entity which was literally conjured up in a Something Awful forum thread. You are trying to collect eight pages in order to complete the game, but a "slender man" is chasing you the entire time, creeping around corners, and when he catches you, the game simply shuts down. No game over, no restarting. Yet the feeling of fear which comes from playing it trumps anything else in distant memory. It is as raw and primal as fear comes, and its power is in your
Conversely, Resident Evil 6 was an immediate failure in terms of terror for me; once you are paired up with someone, the experience changes drastically. You have one another to rest upon, to rely on. You are not bearing the burden of loneliness. And though you may face terrible things on your journey, there is someone else there facing them with you. They become like a beacon of hope.
It is only when that last thread of relief is uprooted that your experience begins to truly disturb you. It is only when you are truly alone
that you can experience the full impact of your horrifying circumstances.
In ourselves, we are all alone. And in those moments when the lights are off and I am in the dark, with nothing but the glowing computer screen to give me some fleeting semblance of connection to the outside world, I feel that fear creeping up within me. So I go look at my daughter while she sleeps, or curl up and read next to my wife in bed.
And like in some games where there are instances of connection in the midst of utter loneliness, this feels like a breath of fresh air; it allows me to get my bearings before heading back into the fray, back into loneliness, and back into terror.