My heart racing, I crawl across the narrow ledge, rocket launcher at the ready. I jump, literally, when a bull-daemon pops its ugly head around the corner and howls at me. I fire a rocket, my nose now filled with the sweet smell of fear, only to see the damned thing retract its head an instant before the rocket impacts. I jump up, switch to the shotgun, move forward, and then all the lights go out. I hear another howl, realize that the monster is behind me, shoot blindly, see nothing, turn, shoot again, and then realize there is not one but two of them. At that point, my pulse is up to 140, as the sound effects, the sudden change in music and the ever present darkness around me (all that is running is my monitor as a light source, and right now it is kind of dark in here) have done their job very well, I get ripped to pieces after a short but ferocious fire-fight, turn off Doom 3 and switch on the lights. I take another five minutes to “recover”, and then walk downstairs and slump in front of the TV so that the adrenalin can leave my bloodstream. I cannot sleep when I am still excited or scared.
Horror in games, don’t we love it? A good scare is all we want. Who could ever forget that classic line in Diablo I, the first real boss you met, the first real challenge, and what a challenge he was. He made a bloody mess of the floors, doors, walls and ceilings. He, who carved flesh from bone, and who wore a very, very dirty apron. The Butcher is what I speak of, and his line was “Ah… Fresh meat!”. Whole generations of Diablo players have grown up with that sentence in their head, and for a lot of them it was the ultimate representation of horror. Today’s games and graphics have come a long way since Diablo. They’ve come even a longer way since Doom, where the same strategy was applied over and over again. But the concept has never changed: They scare the blood and guts right out of you, and they like doing it. Games like F.E.A.R. have been made especially to do that, and they succeed very well. System Shock 2, another favourite of mine, has people who refuse to play without the lights on and the sound off. The realism in some FPS, and the graphical displays of horror and madness they show can really haunt you.
Of course, it is not just in games that this can happen. Modern literature has plenty of horror novels. H.P. Lovecraft and Stephen King for example have written a few. My first read through King’s, The Tommy Knockers was so bad that I didn’t dare finish, but I also did not dare to lay down the book. There is not much to the actual book, but the human mind is sick enough to really lay it down when it comes to mental imaging and such imaging can blow you off your feet without you ever moving them. I also read plenty of Lovecraft stories, that master of Nightmares, and again I was scared witless by the imagery conjured up by his books. The thing with those stories is not that the scenes written down in them were particularly horrible, but they conjure up some really, really horrible visions in your mind. Nothing is worse than your own imagination.
Visual stimulation also exists in many forms. Some people are already suffering when they are forced to watch a lot of blood flow. Films like The Evil Dead make them sick. For me, The Evil Dead is a giggle. I have seen plenty of slasher-movies as well, and if blood flows akin to water I usually cannot help but to raise a smile. My wife is just as bad as I am by the way. We’re nice enough people, but sometimes its just too ridiculous and we collapse with laughter. What I cannot stand, however, is human cruelty. You’ll never catch me watching Saw. Whilst the images in of themselves are not that bad, I simply cannot stand the thoughts behind it. I cannot for the life of me imagine why someone would be so mean, and watching such a scene is the ultimate horror for me. This again has to do with the human imagination. You question yourself whether or not you are capable of such horrific acts. What would you do when trapped with a saw, and your only option to get out is to cut off your own leg, slowly, horribly and painfully? Or even worse… would you set a trap for your fellow humans in order to “teach them the meaning of life”? Are you capable of such acts? Every day we are confronted on the news with the most horrible aspects of human life, but for most of us this is a far-off event, and we do not consciously think about it, merely block it. But human behaviour can be very cruel, and we still carry that cruel edge.
You know, when I take a look at Diablo III I see the same kind of fear there I saw in the previous games. A feeling of hopelessness overwhelms you, and I bet you’ll be impressed the first time a great wave of Ghouls or zombies comes at you. I also bet that Diablo himself will greatly impress you. With the right music, the right atmosphere and the right sounds there is no reason at all why a game won’t scare you half to death. Just imagine, for once, that you are a Hardcore player, and that you have just worked yourself through act 1, and that you’re half dead already. Then, that great beast of a monster (which incidentally, I gathered, is common throughout the game) enters the screen, bashes you about, picks you up and rips off your head. Yes, you’ll hear your spine crunching. Yes, most likely you’ll also hear that final “pop” that designates the actual act of beheading. The real fear is not that these imaginings in themselves are sickening. The real fear is that your mind imagines what might be you there. You, picking up that sword and disemboweling something. You, with your gun, firing at something dark from the abyss. You, stuck to a metal pipe in the basement with a saw in your hand. You, opening the door to the Butcher, hearing that awful voice. You, standing before a horde of never-ending zombies. You, being picked up…
Luckily for you, you can turn off the pc, never return to the lands of Sanctuary.
email Baranor directly.is a weekly column that explores all things RPG and fantasy, with a special focus on the Diablo series. Views expressed in this column are those of the author, and not necessarily those of Diii.net. Leave your comment after the column, or