I’m Still Waiting for a Truly Scary Video Game 

This time of year, posts about ghosts, the supernatural, and even scary video games are a dime a dozen. Even around the office, there have been lively discussions about ghosts and the supernatural. I don’t contribute much to these discussions, because I’m a bit of a skeptic. 

That doesn’t mean that I don’t like a good ghost story or haven’t experienced things that are unexplainable. Matter of fact, there are two instances which I experienced something sufficiently creepy. 

The first occurred years ago when my wife and I were shopping for our first home. The realtor was showing us houses in our budget in towns that that my wife and I liked, and she brought us to this pretty Victorian. It was an older home, quite large, and I was surprised that it was in our budget. Of course, we all made jokes that the house was probably so cheap because it was haunted.  

As we were doing our walk-through, I just couldn’t help feeling out of breath, and I wasn’t out of shape at the time, so stop calling me a fat ass under your breath. As we walked from room to room, I was filled by a feeling of lethargy and I just couldn’t fill my lungs with a satisfying breath of air. I was getting a real sense of dread in this place. The moment I walked out onto the porch, it was like a weight was lifted off my chest and I was able to breath normally again.  

I asked my wife if she felt like there was something off about the house and surprisingly she did not, which is odd, because she’s easily spooked by her own shadow. Suffice it to say, we didn’t pursue purchasing that house, because I prefer not be suffocated in my sleep by a vengeful spirit. 

The other spooky event happened a little less than a year ago. My wife and I were once again shopping for a house.  My daughter was growing up fast and we had another baby on the way and we needed to move into something bigger and in a town with better schools. Once again, the realtor brought us to a cute older house that was easily two hundred years old, but was beautifully restored.  

I have a theory that any house that is over a hundred years old has a very good chance that someone died in it. For every additional fifty years, those chances increase exponentially. The reason why, is that back in the good ole’ days, when people became sick, they usually became bed ridden at home.

In time, the local doctor came over and probably bled you or fed you mercury in order to remove all the bad humors from your body or some other crazy shit. Then you would die of mercury poisoning or from a lack of blood and or bad humors (WHO KNOWS?). If I died like that, I would be so pissed off that I would stick around and make other people’s lives miserable out of spite. This is all make perfect sense to me. 

Anyway, we were doing the walkthrough in this beautiful old house and we were standing in the dining room discussing the price and about ready to leave when I clearly heard a male voice say ‘hello.’ 

I was the only man in the group, so hearing another male voice was very surprising. The hairs on my arms and the back of my neck stood on end and I got the chills. I definitively got the feeling like there was something there and it was certainly not natural. The realtor heard this disembodied voice as well and she became pale as eggshells. She looked terrified and went room to room asking if someone else was there. The house was empty of course, and she came back into the dining room where I told her that we would not be making an offer. ZIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIING!!!!!!!! 

I look back at this and laugh now. It’s not like this “ghost” said anything scary and cliché like “GET OUT,” he just said “hello.” Maybe he was a nice ghost? According to my mother, who also believes in ghosts and has claimed to see some supernatural things herself during her childhood, the fact that the ghost made its presence known meant that he didn’t want us there. 

I drive by this house every morning on my way to work and notice that a nice family lives there now. They seem happy and not too dissimilar to my own. So now I feel insulted because the ghost doesn’t seem to be bothering them. What does the ghost have against me?  Fuck that ghost. If I bought that house I would have him exorcised him, because I’m Catholic and we do shit like that. I don’t play around. There would have been liberal use of holy water, the burning of incense, incantations (IN LATIN), and the hanging of crucifixes on every damn wall. I would have used the power of Christ on his ass until he left. YOU HEAR ME MOTHERFUCKER! WHAT DO YOU HAVE AGAINST MY FAMILY!?! 

So, what am I getting at here? I’ve been creeped out by unexplained things in the real world, as well as scary movies and books. There is only one thing that has eluded giving me the frights, and that is my belvoed video games.  

I remember Friday the 13th on the NES as the first “horror” game I played that did not live up to expectations. As a child, the original Friday the 13th was a terrifying movie. Jason (and his mother) gave me endless nightmares. I clearly remember the apprehension that I had when a friend got the game and asked if I wanted to play it. All fears were quickly squashed by the stifling game play and a curiously purple and green Jason. Sadly, the scariest thing about this game was the box art. 

Years later, I remember getting a copy of Splatterhouse for the TurboGrafx-16. This game looked terrifying and the box even had a warning label, so it must be legit. However, upon playing this title, there was nothing truly scary about it. It was a serviceable action side-scroller that “borrowed” a lot of horror themes and had ample amounts of pixelated 16-bit gore, but I didn’t lose much sleep from this game either. 

Over the years, horror games got better. Resident Evil on PS1 had a fair amount of cheap jump scares, but I never found it scary. The early versions of the Silent Hill series were unsettling, and at times bizarre, but not all that frightening. Even the Alan Wake series, fell short in giving me a good scare. 

Even games link Resident Evil 7: Biohazard, which many celebrated as being truly scary, I found more gruesome and tense. Not necessarily bad things for sure, but I was not at all that scarred by it. I think that many game makers fall into this trap of thinking blood and guts automatically equals scary, but that is simply not the case.  

Case and point, the only game that came close to giving me a true scare was P.T. (yes technically part of the Silent Hill series), and it is a teaser for all intents and purposes. This game depends more on psychological fears and the supernatural rather than gore and it works. Unfortunately, we will never know how a full-length P.T. will pan out, because Konami is more interested in running health clubs and making pachinko machines than making games anymore.

So, what is it about horror games that makes them less scary than their movie counterparts? I think it’s a couple of things. 

First off, the fact that I’m in control of the character in a video game gives me some sort of comfort. This seems counter intuitive since you are controlling the character and whatever happens to him or her is vicariously happening to you, but you have the ability to fight back, or run, or hide. In movies and in books, you are a spectator and helpless to intervene in any way. It’s that feeling of helplessness that I find scary. 

Also, the gore in movies is much more unsettling than it is in games. Games are still in uncanny valley territory and seeing character in a game getting sliced up is nowhere near as unnerving as seeing a live person acting out the same. I find that even cheesy practical effects in movies from the 70’s and 80’s are more gruesome than anything in a modern game. I would even argue that CG in modern horror movies, like in video games, are lacking that visceral je ne sais quoi that can only be found when actors are liberally bukakied with a mixture of corn syrup and red dye. Also, bonus points if the victim is Kevin Bacon. 

Perhaps one day a game will be released that I find truly pants shitting scary. P.T. came close, and I would love to see Hideo Kojima give it another shot, perhaps in a new franchise. I really do think that a scary game is possible, but developers have to put in the effort and not depend on gore or easy jump scares.  

Hollywood is going through the same problem right now in my opinion. It’s far easier to throw up some CG blood and guts than to delve into the true foundations of horror. Foundations of Horror would also make a sweet name for a heavy metal band, so any musicians out there, feel free to steal it. 

Is there a game out there that you think will make me shit my pants with fear. Let me know in the comments. 

Happy Halloween folks… 

5 More Creepy Places That Should Be in Games

Last year, around this time, I posted a blog about five creepy places that would make great settings in video games. That post got front-paged, so like a savvy Hollywood producer, I went back to the well and created a sequel.  Enjoy!

5. Moosham Castle, Unternberg, Austria


Moosham is a silly name and it’s not scary at all, but that’s okay, because this stately castle also goes by another name. The Witch Castle. The only way to make that sound even more creepy and foreboding is to say it in German, a language that’s perfectly suited for unsettling people. So go ahead and say it out loud Hexe Schloss.

Starting in 1680, the castle was the site of witch trials.  Back then, if the accused just didn’t confess to being a witch outright, you can go ahead and torture a confession out of them.  Go ahead and weigh the accused down with some rocks and toss her in a lake. If the accused survives the attempted drowning, then she’s a witch and you can burn her alive with confidence. If she drowns, then she’s innocent, but it’s totally okay, because now she’s in heaven with Jesus. EVERYBODY WINS!

I’m just kidding, the accused weren’t drowned, they were beheaded. So now, there are a bunch of pissed off headless ghost women roaming the property, who may or may not be witches.

It doesn’t stop there though. In the 1800’s large numbers of eviscerated deer and cattle were found near castle grounds. This was obviously the work of a werewolf. The villagers followed up by doing what they did best. They rounded up a bunch of dudes and tortured confessions out of them before beheading them. Now there’s a bunch of pissed off headless dudes roaming the castle who may or may not be werewolves.

Or Aliens.

Or Aliens.

Moosham Castle would be a great stage in the Wolfenstein series. Let’s assume the Nazis resurrected the witches and werewolves through satanic rituals and BJ Blaskowitz needs to send them back to hell with bullets and face punches.

4. Banff Springs Hotel, Alberta, Canada

Canada? There nothing scary about Canada? They have Mounties, Tim Hortons, and nationalized healthcare. Also, Randy Quaid came back to America, so Canada now has one less crazy person to worry about.

The Banff Springs, situated in the picturesque Canadian Rockies would be a pretty nice place to stay, if it wasn’t ridiculously haunted.

The Banff Springs has covered all off the haunted hotel requisites. It has one room that is more haunted than the others, where an entire family was brutally murdered. It has a ghost bride, who tripped on her own wedding dress while walking down the stairs, causing her to fall and break her neck. It even has a mischievous ghost bellhop.

What makes the Banff Springs unique is the supposed “secret room.” The first iteration of the Banff Springs was a wooden structure that burned down 1926. The hotel was quickly rebuilt into the castle like structure that we know today. However, when the charred remains of the original building were surveyed, a secret room was discovered that had no door, window, or entry point of any kind. Many speculate that this was a simple error from the original builders.

Creepily enough, workers of the hotel have been claiming for years that they hear weird noises and see apparitions in the hotel near the exact location where secret room once existed. So obviously, this secret room was a portal to hell that was opened when the first Banff Springs burned down. SCIENCE!

I think the Banff Springs would be perfect for a Fatal Frame game. I would have the main characters play out the entire game from the get go in their underwear. I WILL NOT BE CENSORED!

3. The Paris Catacombs

I have never been to Paris. I’ve been to Vienna, which I’ve been told is like Paris, but better, as there are no Parisians. Visiting Paris is on my bucket list and when I do go, checking out the catacombs will be on my checklist.

In the 18th century, cemeteries in and around Paris were severely overcrowded. A plan was put in place to remove tens of thousands of bodies and re-inter them in the abandoned and haphazard limestone tunnel mines.  It was an elegant solution that killed to birds with one stone.

Oui Oui, this gives us plenty of time to drink wine, eat fromage, smoke, and read Satre.

Oui Oui, this gives us plenty of time to drink wine, eat fromage, smoke, and read Satre.

Many of the bones found in the catacombs are laid out in beautiful, if not morbid arrangements, but don’t get too confortable while down there. There are many stories of angry spirits that haunt the tunnels. Many visitors report seeing apparitions and getting poked or pushed by an angry spirit is apparently not uncommon. Not to mention, some people have become lost and disoriented while down in the catacombs and there are a few unfortunate folks who have gone down and are never seen or heard of again.

I think the Paris Catacombs, or something like it, would be a cool addition to a game series like Elder Scrolls, where you see a lot Skeleton Warriors. Can you imagine all the bones in the Paris Catacombs reanimating to for a massive skeleton army? That would be pants shittingly awesome.

2. Edinburgh, Scotland


Scotland must be like Florida for ghosts. They just all go there when they retire from haunting random houses around the world. Not only that, but Edinburgh might as well be themed as the world’s largest haunted house. When someone goes to Edinburg it’s apparently easier to ask the locals what places are NOT haunted as places that do not have malevolent spirits are the true novelties here. It’s probably the reason why the Scots invented quilts, as it’s easier to clean up when you inevitably shit yourself when a ghost startles you.

There’s the Greyfriars Kirkyard cemetery where not too long ago, back in 1999, a homeless man decided that breaking open a coffin and sleeping in it was a perfectly fine idea. Very soon after the incident, visitors to the cemetery reported being attacked by unseen forces. Common complaints of the visitors were scratches and even broken fingers. More disconcerting is the fact that over the years, approximately 140 people collapsed while touring the supposed cursed cemetery. It got so bad that the city council closed of the cemetery to all visitors.

THE REAL MARY KING'S CLOSE 28/06/06 PICTURE BY GARY DOAK tel.+44 (0)7836 255 728 garydoak@blueyonder.co.uk
Also in Edinburgh one can visit Mary King’s Close, a subterranean collection of various streets, shops and homes. I suppose you can call this your standard underground labyrinth, with an interesting and dark backstory.  It’s like one big basement that you should totally not go down into when you are home by yourself.

In 1645 the close was abandoned when an outbreak of the plague broke out.  Those who were infected were left behind to fend for themselves, which pretty much means they died alone and afraid while the plague consumed them. Ever since the Close has garnered a reputation of being haunted, going back to the early 1700’s.

Visitors today claim to have seen the ghosts a small child who follows them around, a worried looking old women, seeing stones skip on there own down alleyways, and hearing the sounds of footsteps following them when there is no one behind them.

Lastly, no visit would be complete without a jaunt at Edinburgh Castle. Visitors here have claimed to be touched and pulled by unseen entities as well as seeing various apparitions, like a bagpiper, an old man wearing an apron, and a headless drummer boy.

Of course, no haunted castle would be complete with your standard haunting necessities like unexplained shadowy figures, sudden drops in temperature for no apparent reason, strange manifestations of mist, and of course, having sudden intense feelings of dread, sadness, and despair. However, feelings of dread, sadness, and despair can be explained by the fact that you are in Scotland. ZING!

Scotland would make a good stage or location in the latest Assassin Creed game. Ubisoft can add a haunted Scotland DLC. I also hear that the latest installment takes place in London, which is not far from Scotland.

1. Island of the Dolls, Xochimilco, Mexico

Unlike the German language, when something is translated into a romance language, like French, Italian, or in this case, Spanish—things just seem so much more exotic and pleasant.  La Isla de las Muñecas sounds like a place where I can get served a fruity rum-based beverage out of coconut while lounging on the beach, but I wouldn’t recommend it.

Legend has it, not too long ago in the 1950’s, a man moved to the island to simply get away and live life alone in isolation. He quickly learned that something is not quite right on his island. He believes that he is being haunted by the ghost of a little girl who drowned on the island years before his arrival.

To appease the ghost, the man would go into town to find dolls and he would tie them onto the trees on his island, like deranged Christmas ornaments. Over time, the man felt that the ghost of the little girl was no longer satisfied with the dolls and she wanted a more permanent companion. The man mentioned this fear to a relative who came to check on him and few days later, when the relative returned, he found the man floating facedown in the what many believe to be the same lagoon that the little girl drowned in.

To this day, visitors to the island have claimed to see the ghosts of the man and the little girl. If that is not freaky enough, many claim that the dolls, which have been hung on the trees by the man and more recent visitors whisper to you when you walk by. (Promptly shits pants.)

When reading about the Island of the Dolls, I can’t help to feel like this would be a real kick ass place in the Far Cry series. Forget cavemen and saber tooth tigers Ubisoft, a super natural Far Cry would be amazing.

Do you know of a creepy place that would make a good setting in a video game? Let me know in the comments.

And for those of you who celebrate Halloween, enjoy the festivities.. Dress up, get drunk, and eat candy.