I’ve always had a love/hate relationship with horror games. I can watch a scary movie any day of the week, but for me, video games are just so different. While my desire to play them remains strong, I’m usually too terrified to reach the finish line. Some games I can handle, like Layers of Fear; which has an engaging narrative with more of a focus on exploration, and so it wasn’t terribly scary for me. Games like Outlast and Alien Isolation, on the other hand, are a no go—their constant build of tension and shock tactics proved a little too intense.
But despite my fear, I decided to pick up the sci-fi horror game, SOMA. It might’ve been the similarities to my beloved BioShock that drew me to play this game. Even knowing that the creators of SOMA had created terrifying games in the past, like Amnesia: The Dark Descent, I still continued in my venture.
As soon as I woke up in Site Upsilon and began cautiously exploring its dark and eerie underbelly, I wasn’t able to stop—but at the same time, I wanted to shut the game down. Upsilon has been seemingly abandoned, twisted and warped at the bottom of the ocean, yet it was teeming with mystery. From the very start, I wanted to find out what had happened to my character, where everyone had gone, and exactly why I’d ended up in this mysterious facility. One minute I went from getting a brain scan in a doctor’s laboratory, to waking up in a dark, abandoned place. The only thing standing in the way of me uncovering these mysteries was blind, irrational fear.
Everywhere I went in this game led to me being so terrified that I could barely stand it. Even as I write this, it seems ridiculous how scared I can get. Like, “Come on Jacie, it’s just a game!” Even though SOMA turned out to be a more thoughtful, atmospheric experience, there are nonetheless several monster encounters—and every single one had me running away, panicking, blindly pressing everything in a bid to escape. Most of the time, though, I just screamed and threw my headset off. Watching my character die so brutally—together with the design of SOMA’s creatures and soundscape—was just too much for me.
Later in the game, I reached Theta Labs; a large sprawl of dilapidated walkways and machinery. There’s this one part, where the only means of escape is a powered down elevator. I had to sneak around doing multiple things to get it up and working, all while this big monster limps around and screams in my face. After the usual running and panicking, I snuck into a room that controlled the locks to all doors in the area. So obviously, the first thing I did was lock myself in. Windows gave me a great vantage point of the hallway, so I sat myself down and waited. And waited. “I’m just strategizing my next moves,” I told myself, “it’s got nothing to do with me being a huge chicken.”
I must’ve watched that monster hobble back and forth for well over an hour. Even when I couldn’t see anything, its loud screeching filled my ears. Sometimes I would play with the locks to see if I could try to trap it in an adjacent room—most other times my back was against the corner wall, trying to decide what to do. Eventually, I worked up the courage to unlock the door. As soon as the machine door slid open, I made a dash for the elevator down the hall. With how fast my heart was racing and the sounds I made, you would think I was being chased in real life. I did it, though – I escaped!
I haven’t played SOMA since, but honestly, I think about it every day. Its desktop icon – a single ominous eye – glares at me, calling me a wimp. It wasn’t until much later that I read about a certain PC mod, which allows players to play through SOMA without constantly fretting about monsters. “Wuss Mode,” you say? Sign me up! I honestly believe I would enjoy SOMA so much more if given the freedom to soak up its immersive, mysterious narrative. In fact, It’s one of those rare horror games where the story is so good, you kind of wish the horror elements weren’t there (maybe SOMA could be a great sci-fi movie one day!).
Sadly “Wuss Mode” wouldn’t help me in games like Layers of Fear either, where the scary moments are the story. None of the countless horror games I’ve tried strike the right balance, and I fail miserably at each and every one. I can’t even get past the beginning area of Resident Evil 4, with its creepy village and crazed Spaniards coming from all angles. For real!
I know what you’re thinking—just stop playing horror games and you won’t have to deal with it, right? Well…no. I really want to play them. Maybe one day I’ll finish one. Because as hard as they are for me to stomach, it’s the thrill that keeps me coming back. I can’t be the only person that feels that way about horror games, right? Wimps unite!