By Scott Ramage / October 30th, 2019
Disclaimer: The thoughts and opinions expressed in the following article are solely those of the author and not oprainfall as a whole.
Ever learn something by seeing it in a video game? Just as an example, Dragon Warrior was my introduction to parts of Early Modern (Shakespeare’s) English, with the thees and thous and such. By accident or by design there’s a lot of legitimate, helpful information that can be gleaned from video games. Not horror games, though.
I should probably clarify. For years I’ve had a morbid fascination with playing and streaming indie horror games, particularly ones that are, shall we say, under-cooked. From them I’ve seen tons of clichés and game mechanics that fall apart the moment any questions are asked. Life would be very different if people tried to learn anything from them, so how about we take a confusing, ill-advised journey through five things I didn’t learn from horror games?
#1. How Flashlights Work
Let’s try an experiment for this one. Take a decent flashlight (one bigger than your fist) and put some fresh batteries in it. Now go into a dark room, turn it on and point it at a distant wall. Note how the light it emits isn’t one foot in diameter. Also note how stuff the flashlight isn’t directly pointed at also light up a bit. This is called “how light works.” Light reflects off of things like walls and furniture, particularly when it’s a lighter color, and disperses from the source. That’s not to say one flashlight will completely illuminate an entire auditorium, but several horror games involve smaller rooms or tight hallways where light absolutely would illuminate more than whatever the flashlight directly points at, even if only dimly.
For that matter, let’s add a step to this experiment. Leave the flashlight on and leave the room. Come back ten minutes later and gaze in awe as the flashlight is still on. Not only have the batteries in said flashlight not died yet, but they won’t die for a long time. I lost forty pounds not by exercising, but by realizing I didn’t have to lug around dozens of D batteries everywhere I went. Even if you’re a few hundred years behind the times and use lanterns, the same principle applies; those also last much longer than forty seconds with a gallon of lamp oil.
#2. How Running Works
Here’s a little story about the first time I went to a gym. The first thing I did was get on a treadmill and start jogging, my heart filled with dread and my pockets still filled with D batteries. As the timer hit eight seconds, something miraculous happened: I kept jogging. Somehow, some way, I didn’t immediately shut off the treadmill and collapse in a wheezing, sweaty mess. Contrary to what horror games led me to believe, being able to run for longer than it takes to recite the lyrics to the Cowboy Bebop theme isn’t a super power, which is what I assumed all those marathon runners had.
Something else occurred to me as I somehow managed to jog for eleven seconds in a row. Even though I was bouncing up and down with each stride, my head and eyes weren’t furiously thrashing up and down or side to side in a dizzying, vomit-inducing fit, nor did everything become blurry if I slightly turned my head. Apparently this is what doctors refer to as “normal.” Here I thought I was a genetic freak for not being the living embodiment of a camera in a Blair Witch movie playing at 240p, but it turns out people don’t do this. At all. Unless they’re in a horror game, that is.
#3. How Cars Work
What is an automobile, really? They have wheels on the inside and outside, require at least three different fluids to run properly and under the hood they look like those old 3D pipe screensavers. It’s no wonder that almost everyone I see drive a car in a horror game almost immediately crashes it, sometimes before the game even starts. Turn the wheel? How much? And I have to hit the gas pedal too? How hard? Which pedal is that? And you want me to look ahead while checking my mirrors regularly? Look, you’re asking me to do a lot of things at once and I don’t need this stress in my life. I did manage to learn how to drive “without endangering everyone around you” as an officer once told me, but how many teenagers out there with learner’s permits and a Steam library full of horror titles have these games as their main influence? I can envision them starting up a car, then immediately veering off the road, slamming into a tree and thinking they aced their driving test.
Something else that apparently isn’t true pertains to the automotive secret sauce called gasoline. Apparently there are places that specialize in selling gasoline which you can pump straight into a vehicle, as opposed to wandering aimlessly looking for cans or jugs of the stuff. What’s more, even when I found a container of it, touching my car didn’t cause the gas to teleport inside the tank. Pouring it on the hood of the car didn’t work either because there’s a specific place for the gasoline to be put in, I guess. Also, did you know you don’t have to have a completely full tank for the vehicle to start? I always assumed the phrase “running on empty” meant someone drove for ten minutes and the needle was about to dip below “F,” as in “Fill me with gas now!” Next someone will tell me cars need keys that don’t look like they’re supposed to open medieval dungeons.
#4. How Physics Works
Ever reach for something on top of the refrigerator, lose your balance and fall through the fridge, the floor, the ground and reality itself? I swore this happened to me twice a couple days ago, but it turns out I just listened to Weird Al’s “Everything You Know Is Wrong” the first time and played Mass Effect: Andromeda the second. Apparently those science courses that told me the planet had a crust, mantle, and outer and inner core were right, unlike the horror games where I kept slipping into a never-ending free fall after walking into a bookcase, or a window, or a door, a wall, a rock, a tree, nothing, etc.
Also, I could have sworn my grandpa once told me that everyone has one of those days where you bump into a cardboard box and it launches you thirty feet into the air. According to horror games, we don’t need space shuttles and rocket boosters to escape Earth’s gravitational pull. Just run into the corner of a wall at the right angle and you’ll be halfway to the moon before you can blink. All I got from trying this though was a bad bruise on my head and that cold, empty feeling from when you trust someone or something and it blatantly lies to you.
#5. The Difference between Scared and Startled
Do you want to know the most terrifying moment of my life? Realizing too late that the volume on my alarm clock was cranked all the way up. The only thing that comes close to that is when my friend tapped me on the shoulder while I was on my 3DS in a quiet hotel lobby. That is, until I looked in a dictionary and realized that what I experienced wasn’t fear. All this time I’d play horror games, get scared, not realize what I was feeling was fear, and go to the doctor thinking I needed a flu shot. Then I’d play other horror games, experience that minor shock which almost immediately wore off while otherwise making me feel nothing, and make a couple dozen YouTube videos about the new scariest game ever made. Kind of silly in retrospect.
Thankfully I learned this before the ol’ oprainfall team let me join as a reviewer. It’s one thing if a game has a solid atmosphere creating a sense of dread or foreboding, or has a legitimate threat that can’t be easily cheesed into oblivion. On the other hand, imagine being so over-reliant on startling the player that a game doesn’t have a volume or sound effects slider. I wouldn’t wish that kind of existence on any game.
That obviously isn’t everything I didn’t learn from horror games, so here are some honorable mentions. Emergency numbers like 911 exist. Any bullet or shell will not work in any gun and/or sword. Seeing someone’s YouTube channel or website plug in the middle of the game is a mood killer. Don’t animate the main antagonist/murderer/monster like a Garry’s Mod model. It’s not normal to have rooms of a lived-in house with no or almost no furniture. If you’re going to steal a random JPEG from Google image search, at least get rid of the white specs around the edges of it. And lastly, Google Translate is not a suitable localization tool. This obviously isn’t an all-inclusive list so I ask you, the reader, what did you not learn from playing horror games? Sound off below!