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The veil between the living and the dead thins for Halloween. So while ghosts and ghouls creep closer to claim our very souls, let’s hide inside and play some video games. Though beware, sometimes the true horrors don’t just arrive when fall does. Sometimes the real fear is found in the very games you play.
Here are some of those games that, despite their outward appearance, were truly horrifying. Venture forth and play them for yourself…if you dare…
Dread is, and always will be, the most effective type of horror. A jump scare is good for getting your adrenaline flowing, and gore is always upsetting on some level, but dread sticks with you. Dread will follow you for decades. Dread will call you up seventeen years after you played through a fun platformer starring a bear and a bird just to say “hey asshole, remember that shitty carnival?”
There is nothing in this world that can compare to the sheer existential dread I felt during my time in Witchyworld in Banjo Tooie. The unflinching, hostile stare of Salty Joe, the facsimile of hell that just exists to remind children of eternal damnation, and of course, Mr. Patch, the luciferian ringleader and weird blowup dinosaur watching over it all. Forget ‘Dante’s Inferno,’ forget ‘The Vision of Dryhthelm,’ there is only one true way for a mortal to know what hell is like, and it is to traverse through the nightmare that is Witchyworld.
Plus the boss fight fuckin’ blew.
Since I avoid the traditional forms of fear, some of my scariest video game moments come from a sense of dread. That underlying feeling that something uncontrollable and unstoppable will soon overwhelm and overtake you. No game instilled that feeling in me earlier than the clumsy N64 classic, Star Wars: Shadows of the Empire. In the second level, Escape from Echo Base, you’re trying to navigate and blast your way out of Hoth while the evil Empire fights their way in. In an homage to a deleted scene in Empire Strikes Back, several of the viciously large abominable snowman, called Wampas, lurk behind closed doors throughout the level. Despite eventually knowing where these monsters hid, and how to slow them down long enough to kill them, their loud roar and dogged determination to eat me filled me with fear. To this day, even with their predictable AI and aged appearance, there is something overriding in my brain that begs me to run.
As a young child I didn’t really get any sort of video game access outside of a dusty Sega Genesis until I was seven years old and my grandmother got me a Gameboy Advance. Not too soon after that, I found myself with both Pokémon Ruby and Sapphire (yes both for some ridiculous reason only child me could understand). Ruby and Sapphire don’t exactly flirt with the more horrific elements that their original color counterparts Red and Blue did, but somehow I managed to find something to be afraid of.
A while after getting these games I was gifted a Gameshark by one of my friends on a whim. While most people used their Gamesharks or Action Replays to give themselves exploits like higher levels or infinite rare candies, I was using them to go outside the bounds of the world map. Eventually going through things like trees or buildings got boring, so I decided to run my way past the ocean that covers the entire eastern half of the game world. For a while I was met with the blues of the ocean tiles and the blacks of the empty void next to the borders of the world, but eventually I found myself on an island that was empty, save for a rock. When I examined the rock, I was met with what for most people would probably be innocuous: a Latias.
But I was completely unready and kind of fucking terrified!
Now I know that Latias is my friend, but back then this giant weird malformed sprite swooping down from on high legitimately made me jump and swear off Pokémon Ruby for the foreseeable future (not Sapphire though, because for some reason in my mind the ghosts were only in Ruby, duh).
Fear was such a prominent emotion to me growing up that it’s so hard to pick what game scared the shit out of me the most. The Sims, however, left permanent scarring in my little brain that still lurks around even when I play the game today.
Everyone laughs about all the “silly” ways they killed off their Sims, but no one ever talks about them coming back to haunt you. Every glimpse I caught of the cloudy figures floating on screen sent shivers up my spine, but honestly, that was nothing compared to the other nonsensical creepy things that happened. I had to step away from my PC every time I heard the loud screeching alerting me of a burglar sneaking onto the property, or when that clown would jump out of the cheap art you hung of him on your wall then proceed to follow your Sims around, sobbing. The event that really takes the cake, though, was the anonymous phone calls. You know, the ones where the person on the other line would warn you that you were being watched or perhaps that the end of the world was nigh. Of course, the creepy messages had to be accompanied in that dreadful blue box by those damned comedy masks. I admittedly am still terrified of all of these meaningless hauntings that transpire during gameplay, and I avoid them with what little power I have (which is basically none).