Challenging Games and Horror Movies

Horror movies don’t scare me. Horror games even less so.

I finally got around to watching The Orphanage (El Orfanato) the other night. It’s not a “horror” movie per-say, at least not the type of horror movie that’s been released lately. It shares a lot with Guillermo Del Toro’s films (rightfully so, since he produced The Orphanage), combining elements of The Devil’s Backbone and Pan’s Labyrinth.

There’s very little blood or gore. There are no monsters or psycho killers. But there were a couple of moments where I said to myself, “wow, this will haunt my nightmares.”

I really sat down and started to think about what scares me. I guess as you grow up, you are more scared by situations and ideas rather than things or people.

Then I thought about video games. And I thought about the failure of video games to capture those kinds of “scary” moments. I don’t really understand why I fail to have emotional moments in games. The truly “scary” movies are ones that make me confront a hard decision, or force me to imagine myself in a situation where I’m truly alone. Yet in games, I’m not “imagining” I’m in the game, I’m actually a part of the world. I’m controlling a character. Yet games continue to fail to engage me.

I think this really gets to the heart of gameplay vs. storytelling. Gameplay is extremely important. It is what defines a game. But why is it I have stacks and stacks of unplayed and unfinished games, but at the same time I can watch Tango and Cash 50 times and not get bored of it?

Maybe because Tango and Cash is under 2 hours long?

The last game that really engaged me on an emotional level was Bioshock. The opening scene was amazing. You’re plane crashes in the middle of the ocean, and by an amazing stroke of luck you find this bathysphere. I couldn’t get over how amazing the atmosphere was in that game—especially as you are descending into Rapture for first time, seeing this once beautiful city in the ocean.

The whole beginning of that game was amazing—the splicer trying to break into the bathysphere, the big daddy. All these wonderfully creepy people inhabiting this utopia gone awry. It was awesome.

Then it turned to shit. Or at least, I pretty much stopped playing. Because it’s fucking HOURS of doing the same shit over and over and over. We have these amazing moments, and then kill them by repetition.

Take any military-themed first person shooter. Take any game from the Call of Duty franchise. Look, these are awesome games, and a BLAST to play, but how ridiculous are the stories in these games? How many people can one man possibly kill? You listen to developers talk about their games, and they always talk about how they want to make games gritty and realistic. Then they make you a SUPER ARMY SOLDIER.

I’m kind of getting off course here.

Look, I know this sounds a little ridiculous coming from a guy who plays WoW. But there is a difference in playing a game like Bioshock or the Single Player campaign in Call of Duty 4 and playing competitive multiplayer games like WoW or TF2.

“Gamers” always complain and cry about length. If a game isn’t 40 hours of shit, they get pissed and think they are wasting their money. But gamers don’t know anything. I would much rather play a game that gives me 4-6 hours of awesome, engaging story with original gameplay than 40-60 hours of shit.

Movies and games are not the same. BUT, there are very few games that engage me on that level that really challenge my thinking. I’ve been sitting here all week, thinking about The Orphanage. It’s made me question a lot about myself, about the things I value, and about the things I fear. Does anyone remember the last time a video game challenged them in that way?

I play games for fun, but will we ever reach a point beyond that? Will games ever challenge us on a critical level? Or are they forever destined to just be about “killin’ stuff and having fun with my friends?”

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