[Originally posted to Facebook, 26 May 2008.]
It’s been a long time since I’ve been genuinely frightened by a piece of media—The Raw Shark Texts had its moments; Bioshock was pretty tense; I had a hard time sleeping after The Orphanage—but I think the dry spell is over.
You see, today I played Penumbra: Overture for the first time.
In the past couple of years, I’ve thought about what sorts of things I find scary, what my triggers are, what buttons I have to be pushed. This game pushes most of them until its fingers are bloody. And then its fingers get chewed off by fucking zombie dogs. If I made a scary game, it would probably look exactly like this, only maybe with more psychotic VCRs.
But seriously, though. I played for maybe half an hour, and most of that was creeping as slowly as possible through the dark and trying to figure out the incredibly irritating game mechanics. And then I found myself in a sub-sub-sub-basement—
Wait. Let me backtrack.
So I’m poking around this abandoned lead-mine-cum-military-base, in the freaking dark, with a flashlight that gobbles batteries like no one’s business and I’m afraid to use it anyway in case something finds me, and I find a big old wooden crate. From under this crate, the game helpfully tells me, comes a draft. Well! Let’s move it, then, see what that’s about. Whoop, there are some big heavy rocks in the crate. We’ll just set those aside. Okay, rocks out, move the big ol’ crate—hey! A trap door! Go figure. Open it up… huh. There used to be a ladder here. Looks like it was… sawed off.
Anyway, hop on down into the basement, and oh, cool, I can hear something fucking moving in the dark. There are tunnels down here, and I’m really not feeling like poking around too much except I don’t really have a way out and—oh, good, the ladder. Just lying on the floor of the tunnel. A good fifty feet—anyway, I’ll just drag it back to the trap door, aware the entire time that I can’t see what’s behind me, prop it just so, climb up, okay, we’re good, let’s just shut that ol’ trap door right up and—
And what, Simon? Maybe put a box over it? Maybe weigh down the box with some heavy rocks? Maybe all that shit was there for a reason in the first place?
So that’s the story of how I stopped playing the game and turned on my bedroom light and started dicking around on Facebook instead. Because I’m a great big baby.
(Yes, I’m a little afraid of VCRs.)