[Obligatory “I’ve played games for a long time” opening paragraph]
In that time, there have been a lot of spooky things that have haunted me. Things that scared me so tragically that it ended up affecting my preferences and genre choices for the many years that followed. Some are pretty predictable, others are likely strange to the average person. This is a post where I chronicle the various moments in my gaming history that range from generally creepy to downright traumatic, with extra emphasis on sequences not generally perceived as scary.
Originally, I planned to make this a Top 10 post, but I don’t remember enough to make this a completely comprehensive list that I can gauge appropriately. Due to that, this will just be a general piece—think of it as a stream of consciousness—that runs down the corners of my memory for things that my brain probably doesn’t like being there.
To begin, I would like to speak upon the things that didn’t really scare me as much as implanted a nervous feeling no matter how often I replay (if ever) the certain scenario. These are things that make me feel uneasy, things that caused me to anticipate “that part” no matter where I was within a game.
Druggies Steal Your Board – Tony Hawk’s Underground
Starting off with one that doesn’t seem at all scary, this occurs near the beginning of the game’s solo campaign, where drug dealers steal the main character’s skateboard because they’re dicks. The player is then tasked with retrieving the board without alerting any little groups of drug dealers littered around the neighborhood. Again, doesn’t seem that scary with just this, but what makes it unsettling is the atmosphere during this mission.
The entire world turns dark, the sound of rain (I think) acting as white noise in the background. One wrong move and the game will alert you, in big red text, that the druggies have spotted you, and to run! An eerie little jingle plays all throughout the mission, which never plays again throughout the campaign. The combination of all of this for me, playing around the age of 12 or so, did enough to make me shudder a little bit. The mission can be completed (so long as one knows what they’re doing) within a minute, but that first time will always be with me.
The Sewers – Metal Slug X
It’s pretty apparent in the picture, but I’ll go ahead and provide a little context. In one of the later missions in Metal Slug X, the player runs into a decrepit sewer in order to advance. Inside, they come across wall-crawling mutants that slowly turn bright red, exploding on contact. While that in and of itself is pretty non-calming, once again, it’s the atmosphere that gets me.
Aesthetically, not much really happens for me, but it’s the track. The music for this specific sequence in the game is incredibly unnerving to me. Like with the sequence talked on before this, it’s practically nothing, with just an eerie jingle serving as white noise throughout. However, this has more of a foreboding tone to it, which better suits the actual setting of an abandoned sewer crawling with deadly creatures. It also probably helps that I played this at a much younger age than I did Tony Hawk’s Underground.
Here is the part of the post where I detail the moments in gaming that genuinely scared me playing through them for the first time, but didn’t strangle me so much that it affected my desire to play the game. These are moments that, again, may seem strange to some, but offer some insight into what it takes to make my skin crawl.
SA-X – Metroid Fusion
Metroid Fusion is such a great example of what makes a game scary, and it remains, in my opinion, the most horrific game in the Metroid library. The SA-X is the primary reason.
What do humans naturally fear the most? Death. Death is a very scary thing and most people, even subconsciously, see death as the absolute one thing to avoid at all costs. What can a game do to effectively trigger that survival instinct and use it against the player? Have an enemy that can kill you without even trying. The SA-X is a clone of the titular hero, Samus, with her fully-powered suit and all of her inherent abilities, while Samus struggles to collect the devices capable of fighting against the dangers of her environment. All throughout the game, the story nods to the idea that the SA-X is tracking you—hunting you into a corner where you cannot escape. Facing it is instant death, and Samus’s navigation system even advises her to run if spotted.
Seeing the face up close (pictured above) was a very eerie recollection of my memory playing it for the first time. The beauty is that it doesn’t linger too long, showing what needs to be shown and then moving on, much like the pace of the game’s narrative. As Samus grows stronger, her contact with SA-X becomes more prevalent, with the game forcing the player into more perilous situations involving it as the stakes get higher. It’s such a well-executed cat-and-mouse chase that has yet to be replicated in any other Metroid game. It’s beautiful and scary all the same.
And its theme… oh, that sends shivers down the spine every time.
Regeneradores – Resident Evil 4
Apparently it’s “Regeneradores” and not “Regenerators” like I thought it was for the last fifteen years or so. Interesting.
Anyway, I hate these things. One thing that will inevitably become a theme of this post is the accompanying music. The theme of the regenerador is probably the most bone-chilling theme I’ve heard for any scary thing in any game, and the creature itself has some pretty creepy sounds itself. A little fun fact, however: I’ve never actually played against a regenerador. I’ve never even played Resident Evil 4 past the first area. Even so, watching my brother, who has played this game many times over, was more than enough to have me experience the many horrors of the game, this being the absolute tipping point.
As for the thing itself, it can, as its name implies, regenerate. Shooting at it a hundred times won’t do much, as it’ll just keep coming for more and more. My perfectly rational brain is completely equipped to not freak out and keep trying anyway, at least it would had I actually experienced it firsthand. If that wasn’t enough, it can tear you apart with its giant mouth if you get too close. This thing is really checking every box for how terrifying it can be.
T-Rex Fishing – Big Ol’ Bass 2
As an adult, this is fucking awesome. As a small child, this is absolutely petrifying.
As a kid, I hardly played this game at all. Strangely enough, my mother, who can count the number of video games she’s played in her life on both hands, played this quite often. She enjoyed her time going around the world fishing for quirky things like bass with American flag colors and cursed mummy fish. When she got to the infamous (in this universe) “Lost Lake,” her primary target became the long-since extinct Tyrannosaurus Rex.
Prior to catching it, the screen would flash red as “E M E R G E N C Y” came across the screen, the music would turn drastic and serious, and my seven-year-old mind could not handle it. I would literally run into the other room until my mother told me it had been caught, having me revel in her victory upon its capture. For some time, I would never be able to catch one of my own, but I liked catching the bluegill so huge that it literally cut off from the edges of the screen. Just don’t ask me to try for something that looks at all immediately threatening.
Game Over Screens – Metroid Prime & Donkey Kong Country 3
Two different games, but both had a certain psychological effect on me due to the content of their game over screens. What’s more interesting is that these two occurred at drastically different ages, with Metroid Prime occurring when I was nine and Donkey Kong Country 3 from before I could even remember. No matter what, my greatest enemy here is the strength of my empathy.
Y’see Samus up there? She’s fucking dead. That’s life support. She’s dead. Dead. And I did it. I let her die because I wasn’t good enough. After seeing that, I made it my goal to never see that screen again. I would not let my favorite game character die. The guilt that this conclusion caused made me fear my own inadequacy, and I would actually turn off the game before ever getting close to 0 HP.
This is the same mindset with the game over screen for Donkey Kong Country 3, except a lot more twisted. When one gets a game over in DKC3, it shows the characters Dixie and Kiddy Kong sitting in a baby crib as a somber (and horribly creepy if you ask me) jingle plays before a door in the background has the screen fade to black. In my young mind, I interpreted this as Dixie and Kiddy being locked in a pitch-black room to sit in a cage for the rest of their lives. Wouldn’t you know, I was also deathly afraid of the dark up until my adulthood. Again, the guilt gnawed at me and made me supremely cautious whenever playing through the game, going for any and all extra lives I could find. This is a type of psychological warfare that made for some very stressful gaming sessions.
Finally, these are the moments that made me give in to my fears and not even attempt to combat them. These are the things that scared me so badly that, in most cases, I didn’t even touch the game again until well after my mind could mentally prepare itself for it. Some are silly in hindsight, but for whatever reason, each turned me into the most aversive human being on the planet for some time—and one is still ongoing.
The First Deku Link Transformation Sequence – The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask
Y’know how I know this is a good spot for this memory? Because I only played Majora’s Mask once as a kid, and that one time lasted about a few minutes—until this sequence played.
Running around the now-deceased Toys ‘R’ Us store (RIP), a little lad came upon a demo for Majora’s Mask in the electronics section. “This looks cool!” thought the child before grasping the provided controller with his sweaty palms. All the child recalls is happening upon the Skull Kid, who says some wicked stuff (the kid can’t read), and then something weird starts happening. Link is in a dark place and there are a bunch of bouncing things with big orange eyes overpowering him. The screen shows Link running while a giant form of said bouncing things overtakes the screen as it fades to black. The kid had seen enough, immediately running away and never looking back. The kid would not play the game again until he was nearly out of his teenage years.
Something about that sequence as a very young child completely destroyed me. I wanted nothing to do with the game from that point on, and would avoid it at all costs. Every reminder of the game made my heart beat just a little bit faster. The image of Majora’s Mask peered into my soul, laughing as it played that image of the Deku charging at the screen over and over again. Didn’t wanna deal with it, so I didn’t. For many years, I didn’t. I’ve still never completed the game (something of a tradition with Zelda games, admittedly). Not the most fun memory at Toys ‘R’ Us.
Big Squid – The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker
Something about Zelda games. They really know how to scare me.
This is the “Big Squid,” which I have dubbed it as I think it suits it and I’m too lazy to search for any official name. Cruising along in my talking boat in this big, expansive ocean, I was lazily heading to my next destination. In a split-second, the sky turned stormy and I was caught in a whirlpool, and out came Big Squid. For those aware of how to defeat it, I had no boomerang at the time, so I was essentially fucked.
No escape. No method of attack. The incoming fear of death and the guilt of having Link die from my hands came swirling to a head, causing me to turn the game off right then and there. Seems pretty much like a memory from the “Scary” portion of this post, right? Well, here’s the funniest part: Right after turning it off, I turned it back on… and promptly deleted my save data. I was to never face that squid again, and to make matters worse, I had a nightmare about facing that squid the following night. Like with Majora’s Mask, I would not play this game again for years. While I delighted in seeing my siblings play it, I would never do it for myself. I didn’t want to experience that again.
Even now, with a complete playthrough of Wind Waker HD under my belt, I think of those damn squids. Every time I want to play the game again, I have to look up a map online of where every squid is, so that I’m 120% sure that I don’t encounter one until I’m prepared. Those damn squids.
Fuck You, Jumpscare – Mortal Kombat 9
Fuck you, jumpscare. Fuck you. Fuckyoufuckyoufuckyoufuckyoufuckyoufuckyoufuc—
The #1 thing I hate in any horror/scary-themed thing ever in the existence of time is jumpscares, mostly because they get me every god damn time. Knowing this, the developers of Mortal Kombat 9 decided to have the potential for a jumpscare occur at any point during a visit to “The Krypt,” which is the game’s shopping hub. Of course, I want stuff, so shopping in this place is vital in acquiring everything I need to play the game at its fullest. The only issue is that this stupid miserable thing will pop up and scream at any point at complete random so long as one is walking around the Krypt!
No shit, I would mute the TV and look slightly down so that only my peripheral vision showed me what I was doing, just so the jumpscare wouldn’t give me a heart attack. When I got everything I possibly could out of the Krypt, I never went back. I’ve thought about replaying this game from scratch on multiple occasions since I beat it… but there’s always that lingering thought of “…but then I’d have to go back to the Krypt…” which has always managed to sway me. I hate jumpscares that much. 0% potential and we’re dandy.
Fun fact: I was 17 when this game was released.
The Whole Fucking Game – Amnesia: The Dark Descent
That’s really it. Just Amnesia: The Dark Descent. That’s the scary part. All of it.
Fun fact: I have never played this game. Fun fact: I refuse to play this game. I am 25-years-old and have conquered many fears I had in the past, but not this one. This one’s special.
I have seen everything this game has to offer because I watched my brother play through the entire game. I have never touched it myself (and likely never will) and still it ended up as the scariest thing to ever enter my memory banks. Why? I thought you’d never ask.
1. Darkness. At this point in my life, I still feared the dark. This game is played about 95% of the time in the dark. Didn’t help.
2. Helplessness. The player has zero means of defending themselves in this game. There are enemies in this game that you, in many cases, cannot see coming, as well as scripted events where you’re required to think quickly and escape. Fear of death times infinity.
3. Score. Generally pretty creepy, horribly unsettling and mind-numbing when and if an enemy sees you, causing heartrate to skyrocket. Even worse, it’s pretty minimalistic, causing the immersive effect to grow stronger.
4. First-person. With other games, you can imagine “Oh, well at least it’s not me being chased and massacred. It’s this dude I’m playing.” Amnesia is in first-person, making it much easier to supplant oneself into the experience and pretend (even subconsciously) that you are the one being chased and massacred. Fear of death. Didn’t help.
5. This game made me more afraid of the dark. Seeing those gatherer enemies (pictured in the first image of this post) coming out of a shadowy place, having the piercing music start up as it comes for you, made me incredibly fearful of any open space of complete darkness. For example, if I were to sleep in my room and the door was open to complete darkness, I would have to close it. I couldn’t not imagine something creeping its head in and killing me in the most brutal fashion.
Wrap it all together and you have the absolute perfect game to make me completely and totally mummified with fear. Doesn’t haunt me now nearly as much as it did back then, but I am still very hesitant at the prospect of playing it for myself.
What are some scary moments in video games that occurred during your life?