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Where bears, birds, and nuclear missile mecha meet.

While brainstorming over the possibilities for my first (real) post, I've decided to do something I don't encounter frequently in video games that I usually play, and that's experiencing a semi-genuine sense of fear. While it would be easier to talk about this through horror titles, I have to confess that I've literally only played about a handful of them throughout my lifetime. Though while I was thinking of my personal scariest moments in games, I came to a curious realization that I think you'll find interesting.

I'm thinking that the only people who can honestly relate to this example will have either grown up in the 90's or just really hate water levels. I however transcend the gap between those groups, and am part of both... actually, they're most likely one in the same now that I think about it.

When I was a wee tot, back when I was still having fun-filed adventures with my N64, I remember playing Banjo Kazooie and enjoying every single moment of it. I'd still say it's one of the greatest series of platforming games I've ever played to date. Yes, that game with the walking talking bear and his spunky bird sidekick who resided in a backpack. The premise was that your sister is taken away by a witch who wants to obtain her beauty, and you had make your way through the witch's castle in order to rescue her. The main objective of the game was to travel to these different worlds in order to obtain puzzle pieces that you'd use to unlock other worlds and travel deeper into the castle, a fairly basic platforming setup. The originality of the gameplay, distinct caricatures of characters, awesome captivating levels, I fell deeply in love.

Though, the one thing I will never ever in my life forget is the most terrifying water antagonist I've continuously swam away from time and time again.


In the second level of the game, which was basically a tropical beachy-ocean cove setup, he made his presence known. Just to note, about a quarter of this level consists of water which you're forced to enter and cross in order to get to some crucial areas. Whenever you swam a even few feet away from the shore, the regular over world music became drowned out by a very Jaws inspired orchestra tune, and before you knew it, there was a f**king shark three times your size chasing after you.

No matter where you were, he'd always spawn what seemed to be too close. You couldn't even kill him at that point in the game either, making him all the more to be feared. It wasn't even so much that you were scared of the realistic aftermath of getting caught by him. You weren't instantly killed and had to restart the level if he bit you, he didn't even do a substantial amount of damage. He only took away one health container, yet the fear of getting caught was so much greater than necessary. As I look back on it now, it's astounding how powerful that psychological fear was, especially at such a young age.

Obviously now, a few more years mature, I realize how silly it was for me to be so scared of an situational enemy that you could out swim more often than take damage from. Though I'm far from forgetting...

While trying to search for a decent video featuring Snacker, this clip made me happy.

Moving on.
A good amount of years pass after the N64 era and I become interested in games that are a little bit more sophisticated, specifically the Metal Gear series. It was the first stealth game to be introduced to me and I suppose that's why it appealed to me so much. The idea of being this one man army, secret operative figure really caught my attention in a delightful chokehold that honestly still hasn't let go to this day. However I didn't own these games until far after they were introduced. I'd gone from friend to friend, relative to relative, and picked up bits and pieces of the game play and plot as I went along (for both MGS 1 and 2).

By the time I was 14 or 15, I had beaten both games and generally understood the underlying tones that each of them conveyed. MGS1 included many important ideas, but the one that hit home for me was the power of believing in something as an individual. MGS2 was a lot more vague and convoluted in terms of plot, though overall, it had a theme of deceit coupled with a lack of control and choice, which I thought was extremely well done.

Forget about spoilers, if you haven't played MGS 2 yet, you either never will, or are just begging for some plot to get spilled into your brain. Trust me, without the story events, my main point won't make much sense.

Another personal unforgettable video game moment happened in the very end of MGS2. As you're traveling through the last area that leads up to a showdown between you and Metal Gear, the strangest conversations occur between you and your commanding officer via codec.

To add some context to what just seems like a random burst of oddball, 4th wall breaking comments:
You find out that the coronal and your girlfriend aren't exactly who they seem to be. They're actually part of this huge situational "simulation" that's designed all around your character with intent to mold you into a copy of Solid Snake. These people who have led your throughout your mission, a majority of the entire game, turn out to be extremely sophisticated AI originating from a super-computer developed program. Because of a virus released by a programmer you meet earlier in the game, they're malfunctioning, talking nonsense, and referencing previous Metal Gear games.

When I had first played through the game by myself, the most I could say for this scene was that I found it positively hilarious. I didn't think of it as anything more than an interesting plot twist that also served as a sort of comic relief. I find great comedic value in a game that pokes fun at itself a bit while also breaking the fourth wall to talk directly to the player. It wasn't something that I was initially fearful of at all... oh how naive I was.

A few years pass and I decide to replay it, though for no particular reason I choose to do this in one big sitting which ultimately led me to finishing a large portion of the game between the hours of 9:30PM and 6:00AM, you know, for kicks.

I came upon the exact same spot in the game, but it was far from the same experience. The nonsensical ramblings weren't the same anymore, they weren't as funny as they used to be. Everything had a much darker tone than I remember from originally playing it, it was almost sickening. Even the part where the game directly addresses it's player only intensified my feelings. I can recall goosebumps all over my body and continuously having an awful case of the chills. I was absolutely terrified.

After I had finished, I recall dozing off during a few of the cut scenes for maybe no more than a minute or so at a time (also my brain wasn't 100% due to the lack of sleep), so I wanted to look up a plot summary of the ending in order to comprehend it all again. What I can take from some of the interpretations of Metal Gear summaries shocked me more than the ending itself, and they actually make perfect sense.

There's a reflection between the codec group to Raiden and the game to it's player. There's a point in those very same conversations when Rosemary and the coronal attempt to convince the player that they should shut off the video game, literally turn off the console. They also lightly touch on the fact that MGS2 is a sort of role playing game and subtly hint to the player, "The point is that you play out your part." What I'm trying to get at here is that the computer AI who essentially control Raiden in the video game mirror how the video game itself is controlling the very person who's playing it. He doesn't have a choice, Raiden's decided to take this mission and fully carry it out as he's been instructed/controlled by the coronal to do so. But think about it. The writers/programmers of this game know that the people who buy it and want to play through it inevitably will because that's just what we do as gamers. So, to make this controlling effect that Raiden experiences known to the player, they throw in the few lines "turn the game console off right now" "The mission is a failure! Cut the power right now!" "Don't worry, it's a game! It's a game just like usual." If you were presented the same situation, you've spent hours upon hours on this story, and all of a sudden it tells you to shut the game off, I highly doubt that there would be anyone that would follow it's instructions right then and there, which really only demonstrates the power it has over the gamer. You would continue to play and play and play until it's finished. You're doing exactly what the programmers want in the same sense that Raiden does what these AI have been telling him to do the entire time, thoughtlessly following orders, completing a mission, playing a game.

Needless to say, after this realization, I could feel the hair on the back of my neck stick straight up. It's one thing for the events of a video game to make me feel scared, but when it breaks through that and brings it out into the real world, that's a completely different ball game. I couldn't believe that a game was capable of such a thing. My mind was simultaneously blown and experiencing something that vaguely felt like paranoia.

At that point, I personally recognized this as one of the most ground breaking moments in video games, the likes of which have permanently changed my perception of storytelling entirely.

Post MGS2:

My Main Point:

In comparing these two separate experiences, I found something to be rather curious.
In the instance of Banjo Kazooie, it was a typical, irrational childhood fear of a character in a video game, not uncommon for most gamers I'm sure. We all collectively understand what those fears truly feel like, as well as know that they will dissipate over time. I've grown up, and I can now play Treasure Trove Cove without screaming in terror like a small girl.

Though, in the case of MGS2, when I first started out playing my own copy, my first reaction to the ending bit was that more of entertainment than anything. I thought that the game was only trying to be clever and witty by interacting with the very boundaries that it works within. A few years and a replay later, I see the true underlying idea that's presented within this set of events and dialogue that unfolds, and for me, it's gloriously scary.

One fear was out grown, while the other was grown into. I believe that this serves as a prime gaming example as fear consistently being in the eyes of the beholder, as well as things we perceive to be frightening working in a cycle. Most people understand that as we age, we naturally grow out of the fears that are acquired while we're young and develop newer ones as we mature and start truly comprehending the characteristics of the world around us. It happens to everyone, you figure out that the boogie man isn't real, and to compensate for that, you might lose a bit of social innocence because a kid in your grade school class might make fun of what you wear, making you worried about your appearance.

When you really take a second to analyze it though, it's a brilliant, natural balance that we all have. It goes to show you that just because we age, we don't necessarily become scared of less things, contrary to how we would like to imagine. Not only that, but I thought it was interesting how my feelings before and after occurred in the opposite fashion in relation to each game. I felt scared, then afterwards laughed to myself with Banjo Kazooie, while with Metal Gear, I found humor in a situation that later turned into fear. It truly is all a cycle.

The fact that this principle in humans can be directly linked to video game experiences is at the very least, fascinating, and I'm curious as to what other correlations they can have with real life. I actually do find comfort in the idea that studying video games and how we react to them can potentially help us to learn a little bit about ourselves as individuals, just as you could in any other art or media. I'm not 100% certain if this is a completely apt form of validating video games as a respectable creative form of expression, but something tells me it's a step in the right direction.

P.S. I'm interested to know if there are any other games out there that have presented and executed this idea of a 'cycle of fear' entirely within the confines of a single series. If such a game exists please let me know what it is and if it's worth buying.

(P.S.S. I apologize if my MGS mirroring explanation didn't fully make sense. It's difficult to explain something like that to people who may not understand the complete contexts of the video game itself, or at all for that matter.)
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About Dr Roboone of us since 11:58 AM on 12.06.2009

I was a child of the 90's, which basically defines all of the games I grew up on. Stuff like Gauntlet, Duckhunt, Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past and OoT, Crash Bandicoot, Streets of Rage 2, Mortal Kombat, Street Fighter 2, Goldeneye: 007, Banjo Kazooie, Secret of Mana, Starcraft, Diablo II, Pokemon Red & Blue, you get the idea.
As of the last few years though, with the downfall of how great G4 used to be, I've become extremely out of touch with video games, and that's where Destructoid comes into my life. It's not that I'm not interested in brand spanking new games, it's just that I haven't the money to invest in them. I mean, sure I've gotten a Wii, but now it's just a novelty at best, only useful for SMBB and Mario Kart (I even tried Wii Fit at one point).
However, Destructoid's thrown me back into the loop, and I plan on getting back into gaming like a young child with hours to burn and no cares in the world.

I love D-toid's community and their magnificent writers, mostly the cast of the Pod-toid podcast. That is what I enjoy most about the site though, the honesty that their reviewers and players possess while discussing the most interesting of topics (some of which I didn't even think existed) in games, and I truly value that.

My Favourites:

Chrono Trigger
Legend of Zelda: Windwaker
Wario Ware
Shadow of the Colossus
Pokemon Blue
Harvest Moon: Back To Nature
Banjo Kazooie + Tooie
StarFox 64
Monster Rancher 2
Azure Dreams
Metal Gear Series (1-3)
Zombies Ate My Neighbors
Diablo II
Final Fantasty VIII
Indigo Prophecy
Resident Evil 4
Legend of Mana

And probably a few more here and there.