Friday, April 13, 2018

Let's Get Stressed: The Most Nerve-Racking Things In Games

A phobia is defined as "an extreme or irrational fear or aversion to something." Even though we may not readily recognize it, I believe we all have something in our lives that the very thought of causes us to have a mini panic attack. For me, it is heights. While it may be one of the more common phobias, that doesn't settle my nerves one iota. Seeing a picture of someone at the top of a building with or without a safety harness is cause enough to make my heart to skip a single beat.

I'm also not a fan of wooded areas during the nighttime. This is mainly caused by my utmost certainty that every serial killer in the United States is currently waiting in those woods to turn my skin into a mask at that very moment. That's not irrational. That's fact.

But the same could be said of me and video games. Certain scenarios and situations raise my heart rate a dangerous degree. The typical jump scares found in survival horror games are the easy whipping boy for an article such as this, but this is supposed to be about irrational fears, and I have a few.


I'm not a particularly big fan of swimming in large bodies of water; I've always preferred swimming in pools. The reason for this is simple: God put all of the monsters in the ocean. Ever heard of Leviathan? Sea monster. The Kraken? Also a sea monster. Jason Voorhees? They should play The Toadie's "I Come From the Water" when he shows up. Have you ever seen all of the crazy things that wash up on shore after a tsunami? It's like staring directly into the Underworld.

Being forced to go underwater in a game is probably the absolute most stressful thing that it could make me do. I skipped several missions in The Witcher 3 because it wanted me to dive underwater. I don't care if I need that treasure to complete a mission, whatever it is in isn't worth the gray hair it's going to give me.

Even less serious fare like fighting Kingfin in Super Mario Galaxy is enough for me to question if I truly love that game as much as I think I do.

I've often wondered why I've had this aversion to video game water, and the best conclusion I can come up with is that usually swimming is such a minor portion of the game but still requires you to learn a new control scheme that never feels immediately intuitive. I constantly feel like I'm wrestling with the controls, even in games that I've played several times.

Water also makes you move slower, causing me to live my recurring nightmare of trying to escape from something but unable to move at full speed.

Conclusion: Ecco the Dolphin is scarier than Dead Space.


One of the most diabolical things someone can do is make a short level in Super Mario Maker with a 005 time limit. They give you just enough time to beat the level with no room for error. Many games will give you a limited time frame to beat a section or boss, only exacerbating the tension of the battle. The Resident Evil team was particularly bad about this. All three of the PSone trilogy games had a countdown during the climactic battle; it practically became a staple of the series. Evil corporation? Check. Zombies? Check. Time limit to beat the final boss? You better believe it.

What's even more frustrating is when games place hidden collectibles or treasures in sections like these, and while you usually are given more than enough time to find what you're looking for and still escape/proceed, the simple addition of a ticking clock can add a whole new dimension of panic.

For me, however, I could be given ten minutes to run fifty feet with no enemies between me and the goal, and I'll run straight for the exit. Take no chances, I say. The most notable experience I've had with this is with the finale of The Secret Armory of General Knoxx DLC from the original Borderlands. You've already defeated the big bad and gained access to his titular secret armory, so why limit my looting? Just let me grab all the guns and I'll be on my way. This was hectic because you aren't given enough time to open the insane amount of loot chests available, and you're frantically scurrying to try and open another one in hopes of finding new and better gear.

Timers are a pointless gaming device. Not once have they ever added to the enjoyment of a game's overall experience.

Escort Missions

No one likes escort missions. Literally no one. If you say you do, I will call you a liar to your face and then pray for you because you're a sinner. I hate the cult classic, Ico, because that's all the game is. However, let me contradict myself by saying that Resident Evil 4 is in my top 3 all-time games, which also relies heavily on escorting another character. What's the difference, you ask? Nothing really, I'm just being a bit of a hypocrite on this one. At the very least, RE4 allows you to stuff Ashley into a dumpster during major encounters, negating the need to protect her.

While typically only found in action or survival horror games, one of the greatest offender in this category is Yoshi's Island. For the completionist, Yoshi's Island can be one of the most frustrating games you can play. One hit causes Baby Mario to drift away from you, making you go on the chase. It doesn't sound that bad on paper, but that one hit has the potential to ruin your perfect run of a level, requiring a restart.

The only games that do the escort mission right are games like Bioshock Infinite and the 2008 Prince of Persia, where the person you're "escorting" is incapable of being hurt, which, at that point, prevents it from being an escort mission in the traditional sense.

Choices With No Good Outcome

I remember watching a movie called Escape From Sobibor in junior high school. It's based on the true story of a group of Jewish refugees who stage an escape from the titular concentration camp. There's a scene where a group of Jews are about to be executed and forced to choose another person to be executed alongside them. If they refused, the Nazis overseeing the camp would kill even more people. That movie--and that scene specifically--have stayed with me for twenty years now.

I'm certainly not trying to equate meaningless video game decisions to the real life horrors that took place during World War II, but whenever a game forces me into a decision with no possibility of a positive outcome, I always think about that scene.

Story-heavy games like Until Dawn, Heavy Rain, Mass Effect, and the various Telltale adventure titles often force you into making decisions you're not particularly fond of. Do I want to kill this deplorable member of my team, or do I want to kill this other utterly reprehensible person? Flip a coin, I guess.

I'm not crying. You're crying!

Not all decisions are of the life-or-death variety, though. Sometimes, death is an inevitability. Take the final decision in Telltale's The Walking Dead Season One for example. Lee is going to die regardless of what you choose, your only real choice is if he comes back to life as part of the undead. In hindsight, the decision doesn't matter, and in a real-life scenario, the smarter decision would be to just walk away. One bullet could be the difference between life and death in this world, and a loud gunshot could attract a horde to shamble your direction. But after how much I had grown to love Lee and the relationship between he and Clementine, I simply couldn't allow such a good man to turn into one of those things. Lee had been absolved of his past crimes in my eyes, and deserved peace in the next life.

The Worst of the Worst

Despite its shortcomings, I really love Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty. I enjoy about 98% of that game from a strictly gameplay perspective. The other 2% is an underwater escort mission with a timer. That covers three of the four scenarios I discussed.

Again, the swimming controls are mangled, and I've never been able to nail them down in over a dozen playthroughs. Now combine that with Raiden's O2 meter, which acts as a de facto timer. Lastly, rescue Otacon's annoying little sister, who can't walk because of an injection given to her by the enemy, now swim back with Emma Emmerich holding on to you. Oh, by the way, her O2 meter is half as long as Raiden's, so have fun with that.

In my eyes, Hideo Kojima is a genius, and I like to look at MGS2 as the greatest trolling in video game history. You think this tanker section with Solid Snake is amazing? Well, screw you, now you're a pretty boy with an annoying girlfriend! 

I've forgiven Mr. Kojima because he gave us MGS3 a few years later, and while I applaud the ballsy-ness of it all, this ten minute section of Sons of Liberty will serve as a reminder that those you love the most are the ones that have the ability to hurt you the worst.

Thanks for reading, here's other stuff I do:

Error Machine Podcast
Error Machine YouTube Channel
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