Whenever I tell people that horror is my favorite genre in video games, many of the reactions I receive vary from bewilderment to excitement. Horror holds the most gruesome stereotypes, for many obvious reasons; the gore, dark stories, cruel twists, and the use of devices that play on people’s fears. However, I challenge anyone to view horror in a more positive light. These games and this genre can teach us strength, compassion, and more importantly, that you can survive even in the darkest of times and against all odds. Horror games can simulate some of the challenges we face that makes us feel fear and vulnerability. They can show you that you can face the “monsters” that show up in life or even the ones inside your own head.
Playing horror games helped me get through various difficult moments in my life. Especially during the times that made me question if I have the strength to get through the struggles of a regular day. When the world was a little too large and mean for me to face “IRL” I could face those challenges in gaming. This has led to my desire to create my own gaming studio focusing on horror games. I want people to experience themselves, at the most vulnerable state. At the raw, sensitive, gritty core that we are often told to ignore, that we only tap into it during extreme situations. We can explore this part of ourselves when surviving our fears in a horror game.
The game that I would lose myself in the most was Silent Hill. Originally created by the Silent Team, published by Konami; Silent Hill was one of the first of psychological horror. Silent Hill’s premise is people who have made a great mistake or have unresolved issues are compelled to come to the town of Silent Hill. Among the fog and uninhabited buildings, they must face their fears and overcome the dark areas in their life… or be consumed by it.
Silent Hill 3 had the one of the most compelling protagonists: Heather Mason. Heather learns that she is to be a cult sacrifice. In order to bring hate and resentment into her heart, she is forced to face monsters and various forms of torture and ultimately suffer before she is sacrificed. On her horrifying journey, she uses her anger, determination, and sheer strength to drive her forward; against all odds, to ultimately defeat the cult that did this to her and her loved ones. She realizes that you cannot live with hate in your heart because there is no cure for it, it doesn’t go away and it only creates chaos and harm, not peace or clarity.
“Listen, suffering is a fact of life. Either you learn how to deal with that or you go under. “
Obviously, we most likely won’t have to face mutated monsters, but the idea of what Heather did can relate to everyday life situations. When I played this game, I was dealing with a heavy amount of bullying that was both at school and at home. There were countless moments where I laid awake in bed, not knowing how I was going to face the next day. Despite being pushed into strenuous situations, remembering how Heather survived her monsters helped me prevail over my own. I knew I had to survive these terrible and depressing moments. Each time I survived a situation, I proved to myself that I had value and I was worth fighting for. I finally became able to see my own worth, and I wanted to become a shining example for others who were also lost in the dark.
Also, the horror genre of games has made me examine how people show compassion to others struggling to survive their own monsters. To show the support and understanding even when you may not understand or agree with another individual is incredibly important. Playing a supportive role in someone else’s nightmare is also challenging and interestingly enough- there are even games that simulate this.
A strong supportive duo is Susan Ashworth and Mitzi Hunt, from The Cat Lady designed by Harvester Games. This psychological horror indie game is well known for its open dialogue on depression and suicide. Both have suffered greatly in their lives, but they still help each other out through the game as each deal with new stressful obstacles. Susan copes with her new burden of immortality, which she received after committing suicide by Death. Meanwhile, Mitzi is coping with the suicide of her boyfriend and the terminal status of her cancer.
At first neither agree with the other’s perspective on certain issues, but none the less they continue to be understanding and caring toward one another’s pain. Helping each other out through their dark times, they each teach each other a new strength the other didn’t know had or had thought to have lost. Neither belittles how the other feels, or even tells them to stop feeling the way they do. Instead, they listen, sympathize and offer a new perspective on how to cope with their pain. They also do various actions to help the other feel better; Mitzi helps Susan socialize a little more each day; while Susan helps her find the person who helped her boyfriend commit suicide. Each finding closure with their problems through the compassion and efforts of the other.
“If there’s one thing that Mitzi taught me, it’s that you have to pick yourself up and carry on. It doesn’t matter that life isn’t fair; it doesn’t matter that you make mistakes; you fall, and rise again.”
– Susan Ashworth
We don’t always get to be the hero of our stories. Sometimes it’s important just to survive the story. Horror games explore fear, vulnerability, and pain as well as courage, strength, and compassion. It shows that anyone can fall to the darkest of times, and get lost to our own demons. But we have the strength to survive our challenges and the compassion to help others survive theirs. Horror games give us a reality check by making us examine what makes us uncomfortable and then defeating that obstacle.
“Through the Woods” was developed by the Antagonist team and published through 1C Publishing EU on October 27, 2016. Karen was a character that fell to her own demons for a long time, severely harming loved ones and even her own child. She admits that when Espen was born, she felt nothing toward him and knew that it was wrong but there was nothing she could do about it. She tried ‘her best’ to raise him but ultimately failed.
We forget that we can be the villains in our own play, making dark choices that can severely impact not only ourselves but our loved ones as well. Though it may not be with malicious intent, the result none the less is the same; someone is hurt. What our responsibility is to acknowledge the seeds of those feelings or thoughts before the blossom into a poisonous action.
Despite this when Karen’s son is kidnaped, she goes after him and ends up in a well-known Norse tale ‘Ragnarok’. For those unfamiliar, Ragnarok is ‘the Great War’ when a Vidar (a powerful warrior) is to stop Fenris (a world eater), thus saving the world from being destroyed.
This is eerily like Karen’s life because she herself is stuck in her own tragedy. Karen who is the evil Fenris and her husband is Vidar, attempting to save their son (their world) from her destruction. We learn about the destruction she caused through one of her trials. Karen was not only distant toward her son but also abusive and claimed it was her husband. WHen Karen won sole custody, Karen’s husband committed suicide.
Obviously, this is extreme and cruel, but we all have done something that was unnecessary and cruel. Sometimes it’s a defense that naturally triggers and we cannot take back our actions. During these times, the best remedy is to admit that you were wrong and to try and take responsibility for whatever was damaged. It’s ok to be human, and sometimes being human is to be ugly.I am sorry to inform anyone reading this-there is no happy ending. Espen dies to save the world, and Karen carries the burden of continuing this sacrifice. Though hurt and will forever be haunted by the sacrifice of her son; she survives.
Even with our best efforts, healing can leave a nasty scar. Which also means that sometimes the answer is just you surviving the ordeal. It may not be the best answer or the one we want, but it’s the one that helps you move forward. Every time you look at the scar, it’s the answer to anything you will ever face. You have survived before and can again. Karen was not the hero of her story, but she survived and grew from her mistakes.
Horror is not meant to be pretty or attractive. It’s there to remind us how frail we are; our vulnerability, our pride, our shameful desires, and fears. While also showing us how to grow from it, to better ourselves through strength and compassion. So please, go out and buy a horror game, help fund those who are only trying to help us better ourselves.
Special Thanks to Emily Gordon, without you my words wouldn’t make sense…