Turning Fear Into Fun

For those who know me, I’m not really a fan of “scary” things. I’m terrible with movies. I’m terrible with games. I’m terrible with my jerk face friends hiding in our shadowy laundry room just waiting for me to walk by. That’s why it’s so odd for me to play horror games. The odd part of this being that I play a lot of horror games. Some people like them. Some people like “feeling the fear” or whatever other crap they might say in regards to their love of the genre. Me? I hate it, which really brings my sanity into question given the number of them I’ve played.

The point, you ask? The point is that a simple little addition to the formula is what gives me fond memories of horror games instead of terrible ones. It’s friendship. That sounds like the corniest line of cheese this side of an inspirational Saturday morning cartoon, but I mean it sincerely. If you have a good group of friends, you can get through anything.

To backtrack slightly, the thing that spurred this along was the fact that I had pre-ordered Dead Space 3. I pre-ordered, I paid it off, and I was in. I was very pleased about this purchase decision because I really like the first Dead Space. It didn’t hit me until about a week ago that I still haven’t beaten Dead Space 2. The furthest I had ever gotten, it appeared, was midway through Chapter 4. The last

One of Dead Space 2’s chilling “OH GOD WHY!?” moments. An insane mother holds a mutated baby that then blows her to bits seconds later. Fun.

time I played it before this week was, funnily enough, February 5th 2012. With the impending release of a new game I didn’t want to have to backlog immediately, I took to my console and began playing. As expected, I slowed my pace by about Chapter 3, and eventually stopped. It took the prodding of one of my roommates to finally bring my PS3 out to the living room and play with the lights off…and my friends watching. It was because of this that I finally conquered Dead Space 2 almost two years later.

The experience was fun, as to be expected. The idea that your friends were watching you play a scary game and trying to make you even more scared sounds terrible on paper, but it really is a lot of fun. The whole time, comments about the game were being thrown around and occasional noises and motions added a bit to my adrenaline, but I was able to laugh at the situation after my friends pointed out how crazy I was being. I was actively associating fun times with this game, thus giving me good memories of the game.

Now that you understand the formula (y/x + ooga booga + friendship x π or something like that), it was around the time my roommate Dave made me fall over after scaring me after a Dead Space bathroom break when I understood it too. Friends offer unique insight into anything you do. Being mean like Dave is one of the ways that happens, I guess. It started me thinking about other games I’ve played in the past and how my friends made an otherwise negative experience better. I recall being in a basement with one of my friends for the entirety of Dead Space, as an example. A game that is, arguably, much scarier than its sequel, Dead Space would’ve taken a lot out of me if I would have played it by myself.

Even as far back as the original Resident Evil, way before I had any justifiable reason for playing/being witness to Resident Evil. I spent several nights with my cousin playing Directors Cut and having so much fun because I had another victim with me. I remember a sweat drenched, heart pounding weekend where a friend and I played through as much as we could of the first three Fatal Frame games. I distinctly recall yelling loud enough to wake my friend’s mother, which nearly resulted in a one-way trip home.

Hey! I said no means no!
Hey! I said no means no!

Really, I’ve conquered so many scary games because I’ve had my friends with me. I’ve defeated Silent Hill, Clock Tower, Resident Evil, Dead Space, Condemned (well and truly, eff bears…forever), Siren, Penumbra, The Suffering, and several other relatively unimportant ones (read: I don’t even remember anymore). That’s a lot of games for a genre I claim to hate so much. It’s just all about assigning good experiences to bad ones. It’s a mental game, really. You’re using outside forces to tweak your memories and opinions of something

What am I even doing to myself anymore?

that otherwise would have no outside force. I love tricking my brain like that. It makes me feel like I have more power than I actually do.

Perhaps I’m perverting the general system of horror games by doing this. As a rule, these things are typically lonely and very solitary personal experiences. I fully believe that most developers intend for the user to play the game in a lonely and solitary position…lights off…volume up…darkness settings down…no company. If I’m wrong for doing it this way, don’t tell me. This “way of life” (if you will) has saved dozens of games from being half played. It’s probably saved dozens more from being sixteenth played.

And now, I’m (apparently) going to be tackling Amnesia: The Dark Descent. As nightmarish as I expect that to be, I also expect it to be fun because I’ll have a friend suffering with me. And we all know we get by with a little help from our friends.




  1. Alessio Summerfield
    January 23, 2013

    Nice article, Sam. It’s too bad that Dead Space 3 looks as far from scary and moody as humanly possible.

    Multiple “squad mates” assisting you as you take cover and machine gun other machine gun equipped humans in a wide open snow field seems like the exact opposite of video game horror. As does the scenario where Isaac is trapped in a room with a giant dysfunctional drill, and real tension begins, only to be interrupted by Isaac telling what sounds like Ellie, “I see a yellow power core, I should probably shoot at that”, completely removing all elements of terror and experimentation.

    EA has ruined Dead Space. I’m ignoring anything after 2 if I play 3 and my hunch is correct. Which is sad, because the first two were two of my favorite horror games to date.

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