Confessions of a scaredy-cat gamer

Dear ex-babysitter: Describing 1996’s Resident Evil as “a cool game where you play as a secret agent and fight snakes and stuff” to a 10-year-old kid was kind of fucked up. Especially when said 10-year-old a) loves video games, and b) is particularly sensitive to scary things. Laugh all you want at that live-action intro nowadays, but back then, that thing was the stuff of nightmares. By which I mean I didn’t sleep for two weeks thanks to the T-Rex noises those animatronic dogs made as Alpha Team ran to take refuge in a totally-not-creepy mansion.

It’s not that I don’t like scary games, I just have a hard time handling them. I see a virtual zombie munching on a dead guy, and something in my brain goes “NOPE.” I get the chills. I start sweating. At the age of 12, I refused to leave the safe room in Resident Evil 2’s Raccoon City Police Department. I was smart enough to know that whatever was waiting for me on the other side of the door would be as real as the couch I was sitting on once I dozed off to dreamland.

I dialed into the Internets on my dad’s computer and looked up cheat codes, thinking a rocket launcher, shotgun, unlimited ammo, and a badass alternate costume would be enough to fill me with courage. And yet, I still couldn’t open the door. The distant moans of zombies; the chilling musical score; that goddamn animation that happens when you exit one room and enter another. All of it had me on the verge of panic. And it’s not even that I was nervous about dying–I had more guns on my person than all of my redneck uncles have sitting on their kitchen tables combined (sorry Uncle Larry, Mike, Tony, Duane, Eric, and Jeremy–you’re all swell dudes!). That’s just what scary shit does to me. The only way I could make any progress was by begging my younger brother to sit on the couch next to me while I played; he agreed, in exchange for my share of our nightly dessert.

For real, I’d really like to know what happens at the end of FEAR, but the second Alma came crawling through that air duct The Grudge-style, I fainted and fell out of my computer chair (yes, I’ve seen The Grudge, and some of my closest friends continue to leave me voicemails with that god-forsaken uhhhhhhhhh sound just for the hell of it). I was totally fine with the shooting of militarized clones and whatever, but every time she showed up, I was paralyzed by unbridled terror. I don’t think little kids are inherently creepy, but the second they start bending their joints backwards to crawl like a spider, I’m out. Ain’t no one got time for that.

And look, I know ya’ll think Slender isn’t that scary, but the pile of mush floating around in my skull would like to disagree. During GR’s annual 24-hour livestream last year, all I did was watch Sophia play that game and I nearly lost it. Walking around an unsettling forest in the dead of night, finding little post-it notes that say things like “DON’T LOOK OR IT TAKES YOU,” was bad enough, but knowing an otherworldly stalker was somewhere nearby was straight up unbearable. When the screen got all staticy–meaning Slender Man was close–Sophia and I became synchronized screamers. She just didn’t know it because she was in a different room.

You know what’s really fun? Having to park your car three blocks away from your apartment at 3 a.m. after a night of playing (er, watching someone play) Slender.

But for as much as these types of games freak me out, I’m always drawn to them like I’m some sort of masochist. I mean, I know nothing but excruciating fear is in store the second I load up Amnesia: The Dark Descent or Outlast, but there’s a kind of euphoric high that that fear creates. It’s unlike anything else, an entirely different feeling compared to thrill of playing a competitive game like League of Legends, or the calm sense of wonder I get when exploring an interesting world like that of Journey.

Building the courage to tackle my fears head on, even when they’re just virtual ones, is oddly empowering. Sure, I may weep uncontrollably, or soil my favorite pair of sweatpants, or fall out of my chair in such a way that I accidentally shatter my femur, but nothing gets my heart pumping like staring straight into the face of terror–even if I need my younger brother to sit on the couch next to me from time to time.

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