(Note: there are two instances of foul language in this post.)
My mother and I have a unique relationship. She raised me by herself (I have never met my father), and as an only child to a single mother, we forged a bond that is unique. We’re close. So close, in fact, that we own and run a business together. Despite our close bond and relatively open and honest relationship, there’s one specific aspect of our relationship that is completely closed.
I do not curse in front of my mother.
There are some funny things about this. The first is that she curses in front of me–often. The second is that while I’m not the most vulgar person on the planet, I do curse from time to time (particularly while watching sporting events), but there’s this block when it comes to cursing in front of my mother. It was never something that she was particularly adamant about; in fact, if asked she would probably say that she thinks that it’s weird that I don’t curse in front of her, but I just cannot bring myself to do so.
We had this ritual when I was younger. Every pay-day we would pick up Chick-Fil-A and go to our local game store, Microplay. Microplay was a great little store that offered both rentals and retail, and they would allow people to pay $1 dollar for 15 minutes of play with any game they had in the store. I would spend hours in Microplay every other Friday evening, trying out games for systems that I could only dream of owning.
I first heard about the Sony Playstation a few months after it came out in the United States. I remember being bewildered about the system’s polygonal graphics and I remember hearing about one game in particular: Resident Evil. I was and still am a horror fan. I try to see as many horror movies as I can, and I genuinely enjoy being scared. I had never played a “horror game” before, and the inspirations behind Resident Evil–classic horror, including George Romero films–were attractive to me.
One day, I spotted the Resident Evil box behind the counter at Microplay. I excitedly asked the store manager (Tom?) if he had a Playstation in the store. He gave me a wide smile and went in the back to get one.
At the time, the shoddy FMV intro and cheesy voice acting didn’t bother me. The game looked like real life to me, and the “scary mansion” setting was perfect for what I wanted from the game. I started as Jill, and began to make my way through the mansion.
The first time I encountered a zombie, I wasn’t scared. I coolly backed away and unloaded a few rounds into it, and waited for what would become the game’s trademark blood stain before warily inspecting the area around it. I continued deeper into the mansion.
I soon came to the iconic “L-shaped” hallway that would become the impetus for a wholly unique moment in my life. I turned the corner, and the camera shifted into a view that was behind my character.
A window shattered as a zombified dog jumped through it and began chasing me.
“Oh shit!” I yelped.
I paused the game and looked at my mother sheepishly. She, along with Tom and other customers in the store, were laughing at my exclamation. I shook my head and returned to the game.
When my time with the game was over, I thanked Tom and bounded out of the store. As soon as we left, I turned to her and said, “I’m so sorry I cursed in front of you, but I need that game!”
Horror games provide a unique experience. Unlike films, which are relatively passive, games are interactive. The person being hunted on screen isn’t an actor. It’s you. Your progress in the game is dependent on you overcoming your fears and pressing on. Dying is simply not an option. Resident Evil used its static backgrounds and camera angles to raise tension to levels that were simply not possible in films, and it was effective enough to cause me, a horror aficionado even at the young age of 12, to do that which I had not done before and have never done since.
Unfortunately, horror games are dying out. Silent Hill, once the heir apparent to the Resident Evil legacy, is a shell of its once-great self and Resident Evil 6 is a game which brings shame to its legacy. There are some flickers of hope for horror fans out there, primarily in the form of smaller games such as Amnesia: The Dark Descent, Lone Survivor, and Slender, but there is no place for horror in the AAA gaming space.
Dead Space, now the gold standard in big-budget horror, has changed. According to publisher Electronic Arts, this was necessary in order to get the game to sell at a level that justified its budget. It seems that true horror is going to be relegated to the independent space, and I must say that makes the 12 year old in me sad, despite the successes of those independent developers in producing truly frightening games. In fact, while watching the E3 presentation of Dead Space 3, I had a familiar reaction, although with a much different tone:
Perhaps some day gamers will flock back to the horror genre, and horror games can provide the kind of huge margins that horror films provide for studios. Until then, we will continue to see the horror genre ignored in mainstream gaming. Regardless, my memory of the only time I’ve ever cursed in front of my mother endures, and I have a game to thank for that.