Feeling The Fear

Scoff you may, but I have it on good authority that 3-Demon was cutting edge graphics for 1983 and damned scary!!

One of my earliest gaming memories involves gently tapping on my parents’ door on a Saturday morning and asking if I could play about with the games on my Dad’s Apricot business computer. Nestled in amongst the floppy discs and DOS games was one called 3-Demon, a first-person maze game which involved the Pacman-like eating of pellets while trying to avoid ghosts which would lurk around any corner. It petrified me. I was on the edge of my seat the whole time, braced for one of these horrific ghosts to leap out at me at any time. I loved it but the tense atmosphere it created has stayed with me through the decades. I’ve since discovered screen shots on the internet and laughed at myself for ever finding 3-Demon scary but then I remembered I was probably only nine years old, new to games and also that I am a complete gaming wuss.

For years I hid in the safety of cutesy platformers and as I grew older I’d hear the guys at college talking about Resident Evil and although I’d take an interest, being a horror film and monster fan, I’d still go home and stick to building roller coasters in Theme Park. From time to time I’d dip my toe into these horror games, usually via demo discs stuck to the front of magazines or much more recently, downloaded from Xbox Live. From Silent Hill to F.E.A.R 2 my reaction would be the same – yelps of terror, a racing heartbeat just waiting for something to happen and jumping at the slightest movement on the screen. I’d then have to begrudgingly request somebody else takes the controller so I could reclaim my place as the mildly traumatised observer. It turns out gaming becomes quite tricky when you’re trying to peek out between your fingers AND utilise a controller. I did start a playthrough of Alone In The Dark on the PSone where I was armed with a torch but I never completed it and I always played during daylight hours and with company. I blamed not finishing it on a glitch; it was definitely just a glitch, not cowardice.

If Theme Park World was being made today, it may just look like this!

It seems I am capable of overcoming this fear as Left 4 Dead for the Xbox 360 proved. On the drive home I unwrapped the case and devoured the manual to the sounds of my own feeble whimpering and uttered “I don’t think I can do this, I really don’t. There’s zombies! And this one pins me down and this one drags me off… with his tongue! No I can’t do it”. On starting the campaign it took a good few minutes just to descend the first two staircases. I jumped whenever a zombie ran at me and my chest thumped at the low growl of a prowling Hunter but by the end of the campaign I felt like a pro. I had conquered my fear of videogames! I finally had an adult, sane response to a few fictional beasties on a screen.

Or so I thought. You see, I’ve just picked up a cheap copy of Dead Space and now my mature attitude to horror games has been shattered. Not just shattered but sliced and diced into smithereens by freaky human-headed alien beings. I’ll be honest with you, I’ve only gotten past the first section which is pretty much a tutorial and even that I did in a couple of stages. I felt so exhausted that I’m yet to go back to try the next level. I got dizzy constantly spinning round to check what was behind me. The noises of the creatures, those faulty mechanical doors, the panic of being attacked or of just walking around a corner, or getting in a lift or standing still, was all too much. I have regressed to being a complete wuss again and I am ashamed. Even when playing the newly released Serious Sam HD a poor friend sat in my party chat had to listen to panicked cries as all manner of bizarre enemies hurtled towards me. Where will this all end? Will I now cower behind a cushion as a Worm slowly approaches to prod me off a ledge? I overcame “the fear” once and I’ll do it again. I shall return to Dead Space with courage in my heart and maybe, just maybe, by the summer I’ll have reached the third mission.

When the evening starts off like this, you know your trip to the inlaws is going to be a washout

Last five articles by Kat



  1. Iain Iain says:

    I’d like to think that me locking you in cupboards help beat the fear of L4D :p
    I done pretty muh the same with Dead Space. I played through the 1st section and traded it in. It was costing me too much in replacement underwear :/

  2. The Preacher says:

    I’m glad it isn’t just me that has this irrational fear of scary games. To this day, I’m still freaked out by, and terrified of the prospect of, a cryssalid attack in the original UFO: Enemy Unknown. It’s not as old a game as 3-Demon, but it’s still very dated in appearance, and pretty laughably cartoonish in its pixellised presentation.

    I can’t play Resident Evil or Silent Hill or Dead Space games without panicking and turning them off again, cowering under my quilt and knowing I’ll have nightmares about it later. I can watch horror films, and read some very graphic and macabre literature, and not be affected at all. It only happens in games. I don’t know why.

    Incidentally, I wasn’t scared by Left 4 Dead or Left 4 Dead 2 either… that can’t be a coincidence. Maybe it’s just not that scary a game. There may be zombies, but there’s no real tension or atmosphere of fear involved.

  3. Pete says:

    hehe… nice first write Kat ;)

    I remember playing Resident Evil with my ex-wife and both of us being nervous wrecks because of it! I’m not a great fanof horror and feeling scared though she was! I don’t think we ever made it past the first couple of stages either :D

    Since then I’ve not played those types of games! I’ve been tempted to try L4D though but only because I know a load of people who have it and play the co-op stuff quite a lot… or rather they did lol They’ve moved on to other things now! ;)

  4. Rook says:

    There have been some games that I have felt anxious while playing, but non that effected me more than Dead Space. After watching a scary movie, to prove I’m not scared I will go to the kitchen without turning on the hall light. Makes everything better again. The same with playing scary games, it’s lights out, proper atmosphere, don’t be a wuss. However, Dead Space had me playing one level at a time and with the lights on.

    Having beaten the game twice and on my third playthrough, I still get freaked out playing it. Although, I insist on lights out now. Condemned was another game that had me on edge, but I adjusted to how that game worked, not with Dead Space.

    I’ll refrain from sending you that message over XBL that simply says Boo! :D

  5. Lorna says:

    Great to see you Kat and a fab first piece to open with…something that is very close to my murky palpitating heart. I’m very jumpy with many games and have always viewed Dead Space with a mixture of suspicion and terror. I don’t play shooters as a rule anyway, but wanting to support EA actually coming up with some new IP that wasn’t a sequel or a sporrts game, I took a closer look. Then I saw that it resembled Event Horizon and thought ‘bollocks to that’. I got as far as the first zombie in Resident Evil back ont he GameCube and then switched it off because it a – scared the living fuck out of me, b – killed me right away and c- was only going to get tougher from there on in.

    I remember trying to play Aliens Vs Predator way back on its early PC release many years ago. The sinister tick of the motion tracker nearly gave me a heart attack without anything actually ever coming near me. This too was turned off, even before my terrified marine ever saw any action. To me, the motion trackers remain one of the most ingenius way of evoking terror without actually expending much effort. Just the sounds, the crude layout, and your own fear….excuse me while I retreat back to my corner and pull the shadows over my head.

  6. Lorna Lorna says:

    I would suggest Viva Pinata for all the jelly gamers by the way, but the mournful way Dastardos drifts across your garden to claim the life of your dying Pinata is nothing short of chilling…

  7. Adam says:

    Your not alone in your fears Kat though I’ll confess to always developing the odd fears in the non-scary games.

    I get creeped out regularly by things that are bigger than they’re supposed to be and so anything in a game where theres a very englarged version of something, scares the bejesus out of me. In Eastern Plaguelands (World of Warcraft) theres some particularly creepy looking grubs that I can just about deal with and then theres a wandering Elite thats 4x the size and it just scares the crap out of me everytime.

    It’s only fair to developers of scary games to play them in the scariest way possible though. I made a conscious decision to sit and play FEAR, late at night and with headphones. It’s not the scariest of titles and they really just go for the cheap BAM shock moments that you know are coming (but still make you jump). When you really tire yourself out and sit and play in the dark, it really can give you the chills. In Episode 2 (Half Life 2), theres a section with glowing grubs in a cave, that don’t really pose any threat, but when your tired, they sure creep me out. I remember making sure I squished everyone with my crowbar but everytime I got close, I’d panic and end up smashing the hell out of the cave walls and it eventually got to the point where I was running and crouch jumping as fast I could to get the hell out of there.

    The best one and an all time faveorite of my gaming annecdotes came from Operation Flashpoint. I used to play it online with 4 friends and this was back before we were using Teamspeak. We didn’t play it in any competitive sense, we used the map maker to just drop down units, vehicles and supplies etc. and then would just run around the 10 KM squared map making our own fun. There were 2 solid towns which we’d agreed to put enemy troops in, incase we ever got bored and wanted to go and shoot them and we always steered well clear of them. There were also a few individual units dropped into the heart of forests. An hour and a half in, one of my friends had one of his 4 AI controlled troops (under his command) reported as missing, we went to investigate and found his corpse in a bush. What we actually think happened was that he was riding a motorbike and lost control (we never could find the bike though). Whilst we were all standing around scratching our heads though, one of our AI minions hit the ground and started reporting approaching contacts (that we just couldn’t see because our view distances were low), we took it with a pinch of salt and ignored it untill we heard a tank shell fire, at which point we lept back into the jeep and sped off to the south. We holed up on the top of a hill untill we spotted a dust cloud headed our way (normally a tank battallion) and so we drove off into the countryside which caused a tire to blow and so we ended up running into a forest where you can guess what happened.

    It doesn’t seem scary but the problem was that the AI was not scripted in any fashion to seek or destory, they litterally were placed programmed to just sit there till we shot at them. We were always very careful about going near them anyway just incase, so that they developed a hunger all of a sudden and mobilised against us, made us think “AHHHH SKYNET!”

    Never been so terrified by a game.

  8. Lorna Lorna says:

    That sounds terrifying Adam – talk about ghost in the machine!

  9. Kat says:

    I’m starting to feel a little less of a wimp now. Thanks ^_^

  10. Mark R MarkuzR says:

    I’m somewhat at a disadvantage here as I don’t scare easily and tend not to react to sudden shocks such as the proverbial “nasty looking decomposing face in mirror as the protagonist closes the medicine cabinet door” or the “cat jumps off shelf at the same time someone plays back an audio file of several pigs squealing” moments. They just don’t do anything for me. I think it’s why I’m always on the look out for the most extreme horror movie I can get, just to experience that thrill of anxiety and the edge of your seat anticipation. Closest I ever got was the last few minutes of the wonderful [REC] movie, but it was only the last few moments. Great though.

    I’ve yet to play any of the accepted “scary” games though, so perhaps it would be different as the mind is much more immersed in a game than it is in a movie. I suppose, however, it comes down to rationality for me. I know zombies, werewolves, vampires, demons and ghouls don’t exist (in my mindset anyway) and I can’t be scared of something that doesn’t exist. Give me a game where I’m being chased by a few dozen horny inmates carrying a giant tub of Flora and a few blunted and rusted Stanley Knives and I may think differently though. That is a very real threat :)

    Oh and Adam… the machines are taking over. Trust me. The iPad is just the beginning.

  11. The Preacher says:

    The iPad just looks too like the anthro-Mac Winslow in Questionable Content (a webcomic, in case nobody knows of it) to be intimidating. It’s kind of cute. If they had called it the iT-800 and made it look like it should be wearing Arnold Schwarzenegger’s face as a disguise, I imagine I’d be appropriately terrified. Actually, just a “Made for Windows Vista” sticker on the case would have had a similar affect on the way I view it.

    I really don’t know what it is about horror games that affect me. It’s not any one thing, but the culmination of sound design, graphics, and the underlying idea. Especially sounds. Thinking on it, what freaked me out the most playing UFO was that rhythmic thumping soundtrack on the battlescape. That coupled with a cryssalid leaping out of nowhere and assimilating my men before I even knew it was there is what got to me when the other aliens were looked on as just a tactical obstacle. I’m also reasonably sure that, unlike films or TV which are banned from doing so in the UK by law, games employ subliminal messages. I go out of my way to look at or read about gruesome things. I find graphic descriptions on documentaries about serial killers or cannibals fascinating. I enjoy it when people get their heads bitten off or their spines ripped out by the monsters in horror or sci-fi films. The only other times I have been so purely terrified as when I was playing the original Resident Evil or Dead Space were when watching Watership Down (which did deliberately use sublimation to induce fear in viewers, and I was only 6 or 7 when I saw it – never trusted rabbits or been able to watch that cartoon again since), when I’ve come across a large spider in my house, or during certain filial confrontations when I was a child. I’m very jaded, and games can still turn my spine to putty.

  12. Ben Ben says:

    I can’t play ‘scary’ games, and the only reason for it is that I’m a bit of a big wuss, Resident Evil is a prime example of a game I simply cannot play…at all!

    For me though it’s the use of audio in games that really turns the screw, be it in the form of a musical score or sound effects. Take Dead Space for example, remove the audio from it and it becomes a whole different ball game, in essence the audio is what I believe really makes that game great.

    For L4D2 it’s more of the sound effects and how they are used to create a sense of expectation and suspense, the way you can hear the witches cry get louder as your proximity gets closer. Even when the music levels die right down and you’re just left with the sound of you and your team mates trudging along with only the odd “uuurgh” from a straggling zombie and followed up with a blast from a shotgun, it all adds to the overall atmosphere of the game.

  13. MrCuddleswick says:

    Noice article Kat! Very Noice!

    I thought Dead Space was cheeeeeeeeap with its scares. Not to the extent that Doom 3 was, but in the same ballpark.

    “I’ll just walk down this corridor. Oh, wait, to my huge surprise the lights have flickered and I can hear something in the vents. I’ll just take a look behind me. Oh, yep, yep, the game has (to my massive surprise yet again) spawned in an enemy behind me.”

    Still a good game, no doubt, and it does have a few moments of sheer genius. But I kind of get to the point in these games where the most surprising thing that can happen is that nothing jumps out.

    Silent Hill was the game that really scared me. You just didn’t know what was going to happen next. The bit where you walk into a room and the phone rings………I honestly stopped playing for a few days after that call.

  14. Simon says:

    I never really got the whole scared thing. Sure, a game has made me jump but it is rare a horror game does this to me. I’ve probably jumped more in FPS or in driving games where I get shunted unexpectedly. Maybe I just have balls made from Chuck Norris’ kidneys or something.

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