Amnesia Followup: Why We Crave Fear

Leah's post last week on creating her own Amnesia Custom Story really got my brain percolating. It had been a long time since I'd played any horror survival games and in the midst of a breezy summer day while everyone else was out on a patio, I felt the strong urge to hole up in my woman cave and dive back into the creepy world of Amnesia

There are lots of definitions of fear, but the kind that Amnesia inspires is one of those that slowly seeps in and leaves you feeling strange for a long time after you've already quit playing. Every time I jump back into the game, I'm good for about 15 minutes and then it starts: I start to feel a bit sick to my stomach and I can feel that I've stopped breathing deeply. I start pausing the game to go get random snacks or to check FB (argh!), desperate to release the tension...but ultimately I can't tear myself away from it...

Now I swear if anything in my daily life made me feel that way, I'd be working overtime to put an end to it. I'd probably be consulting someone about my intense psychological stress fits. But nope, somehow it feels good to enter the mind of someone who's just on the edge on insanity. It feels good to make decisions that go completely against your instincts. It puts you in the realm of dreams where you fulfill the urges of your psyche that don't have a chance to be exercised in real life. 

I was talking about this while I was in Japan with a friend of mine who had actually been recruited for a pro Call of Duty team. She said that she used to end a session shaking, covered in sweat and with her heart beating so fast it was like she had just finished sprinting. It was a mental workout that brings you to a state that you hope never to experience in real life. But that's exactly what kept her playing for so long. Not only that, but she said that playing video games helped her move away from some more self destructive activities, because they fulfilled the need for extreme experiences.

About 6 months ago a friend of mine gave me a copy of Dead Rising II. The premise is that there's a game show where contestants slaughter zombies for cash, and you're competing in it cause you need cash to buy the zombie antidote for your daughter. Unlike in Amnesia, where you're mainly exploring spaces and hiding from things, in this one you're mostly on a killing spree. To be completely honest, I didn't get very far in this game cause it made me kind of nauseous and I wasn't a big fan of Chuck. But that's not a criticism. It means the atmosphere and situations they made were as effective as hell.  

In our every day lives, we've tried to eliminate every possible form of inconvenience, let alone danger. There is an undeniable appeal to things which make us feel a little bit sick, but which have built in security measures; we can press a button and wake up from the nightmare in a flash. Ok well it's even more fun sometimes when you can't wake up right away and have to wait it out, like when you're half way up a roller coaster.

There is something deeply ingrained in us as animals that I think needs that kind of fear and anxiousness to be present to maintain equilibrium. At some subconscious level, we need to feel a sense of threat to ensure us that we are in fact alive and are really surviving, not just aimlessly existing. In my opinion, it doesn't need to be something as violent and disturbing as the Saw series to have an impact. It can be something much simpler. 

As a final thought, for any of you who are into this kind of thing and live anywhere near NYC, you have to go see Sleep No More. Without giving too much away, you enter a mysterious hotel where you are free to explore any place of your own will. Every room is an elaborate masterpiece done in an eerie 1920s style--like the apothecary, the speakeasy, the tailor's, the taxidermist's and so on. As you explore, you encounter strange scenes and interactions and an elaborate plot unfolds; each person will experience the story differently depending on his or her actions. The immersive quality and the sheer power of the performances is somewhat terrifying, but completely unforgettable. It was enough to keep me dreaming about it for months.