Video games are a wonderful media for horror!
They are immersive and engaging, much more so than films and television shows which are passive. They are like books in that they have much more time to tell a great story, more time to build tension. But they surpass books in that you have much more freedom in video games, when reading a book you are following a character through their story, sometimes you might be doing so from inside the character’s mind but still you are a passive follower. In a videogame you are the main character, you might have a linear story to follow but it’s you that this is happening to.
I love how video games really get you involved in the environment and story around you. I will always remember one of my earliest exposure to horror in video game format, it was Silent Hill and I immediately felt more afraid than I ever had watching a film or even reading a book. It took me forever to complete the damn thing because I had to keep stopping and wander off to do something else to reassert to my brain that I wasn’t really that character. It was brilliant!
So in light of my love for the genre and this medium, I plan on writing an entire series about horror in video games. I will be discussing some popular entries in the genre and explaining why they are awesome!
Today’s entry is Amnesia: The Dark Descent.
Beware of spoilers below!
The game begins when Daniel wakes up in a Prussian castle with almost no memory regarding himself or his past. He knows his name and that he comes from London, creepily he also remembers that something is hunting him. He finds a note from himself explaining that he lost his memory on purpose and that he needs to go to the inner sanctum of the castle and kill the baron (I leave myself notes like that all the time).
As Daniel wanders through the castle he learns more about himself and the castle via notes and diaries (anyone else feeling a Bioshock vibe here?) The shadow hunting him also appears several times as gross growths throughout the castle and creepy human/monster things.
Daniel discovers that he had gone on an archaeological expedition with professor Herbert, to find the tomb of Tin Hinan. They found it and Daniel got separated from the group (prat) and found an orb which he picked up (doesn’t he know never to touch stuff in tombs, I bet it was cursed). Daniel goes back to London before everyone else with his totally-not-cursed-orb and gets obsessed with it, reading all of the books and talking to all of the smart people. He starts to have nightmares, totally not related to the orb I bet. Herbert’s expedition mysteriously vanishes, and all the smart people Daniel had spoken to about the orb die horribly (See! Cursed!)
Being properly freaked out Daniel went to the Baron in Prussia, the Baron explained that the shadow is the guardian of the Orb and totally wants it back, it will also kill Daniel to get it (probably pretty pissed that he nicked the orb in the first place). The Baron tells Daniel to use the orb to fight the guardian. Unfortunately, this involved the torture and murder of lots of people that the Baron just happened to have. Daniel kills some people, decides he’s a monster, gets tricked by the Baron who nicks the orb, which breaks, and this sends Daniel on his mission to murder the Baron for revenge.
Turns out the Baron isn’t just a dude, he’s a being from another dimension who has been torturing people to stay alive. He’s trying to use the orb to get back to his dimension. Daniel bumps into some smart orb expert people who tell him what the Baron is doing, there’s also some talk about taking one of the smart guy’s heads (yikes) which can be done without killing him (neat) and lobbing it into the portal.
There are three endings, one, the baron can win, everyone dies including Daniel. Two, Daniel stops the portal being opened, the Baron is killed by the guardian and Daniel leaves pretty chuffed with himself. Three, Daniel lobs the head into the portal as he was asked to and the guardian kills the baron and Daniel.
Moral of the story don’t take things from tombs, they are probably cursed.
This is a really fun game, it plays to several horror clichés, such as the cursed item cliché but I think the medium saves the story from the clichés.
Clichés are fine when a new twist is put on them and while this game doesn’t do it via storytelling, it does manage it by telling the story in an immersive and satisfying medium. So where I might roll my eyes at a cursed item being the focal point of a movie or television show I didn’t do it here because it was a new way to experience an old cliché.
The three-ending set up adds to the immersive nature of the game, as it depends on your actions how the story ends. While this is not a unique thing in the game medium it is done well here.
Usually, in games where your choices make a difference it’s normally between good and evil, your choices make your character good or bad, or you get the good ending or the bad ending, depending on how much of an asshole you are. In this game while the ending where Daniel lives and manages to leave could be termed the good ending and the ending where everyone dies is a bad ending, they all fit the tone of the story, Daniel’s always going to be a bit dumb and always going to be a bit of a douche. The story is about his decent and all these ending fit with that, he’s either redeemed or he isn’t. Admittedly there’s the third option where there is a possible redemption that we don’t witness. But all of them fit with the story and the medium only serves to enhance the story rather than override it.
Have you ever played Amnesia?