I’ve had a strange realization over the past few weeks, and I’ll be curious to see if any of you agree with me. For compiling my list of five movie moments that actually scared me, I had to reach all the way back to Jurassic Park to even find a fifth one, and that was because I was like seven at the time.
Furthermore, these moments only scared me when I was at a theater in pitch blackness with a giant screen. Any movie I’ve seen on DVD hasn’t actually frightened me at all. But what has? Video games.
That’s right, it seems that horror video games are replacing horror movies as the primary way to scare grown men. This got its start way back when Silent Hill and Resident Evil were new series, but now it’s progressed to titles like Dead Space, Amnesia and the below Nightmare House mod for Half-Life 2. There are countless videos of players on the internet screaming in terror as a result of these games, despite being on a half sized screen smaller than a movie theater or a TV.
Why is this the case? Because with video games, you ARE that person. Especially in titles like Amnesia or Nightmare House, it’s a first person view where YOU’RE the one holding the flashlight or beating zombies to death with an axe. The effect of jump moments is way more profound if you’re the one controlling the character, and a nice pair of headphones and a dark room amplify the effect so much that some people literally can’t even play these games as they’re so stressful.
I think this speaks to a larger picture of how video games can actually be a more impactful form of media than movies. Another example moving out of the horror genre would be that of the action film. I can watch any number of war movies full of gunfire and explosions, but outside of a select few, the experience will pale in comparison to something like Modern Warfare, where I watch a nuke detonate in front of me and make my character crawl out of the wreckage of a helicopter only to die of radiation. Or in the sequel, where I witnessed, and actually participated in a massive terrorist assault on an airport, gunning down pleading civilians as part of an undercover operation. These kind of moments stay with you, and I haven’t been able to say the same for many movies recently.
I’ll take one last step even further. Love stories. I can watch a number of romantic films, comedy or otherwise, and even enjoy a few of them. I may appreciate the relationship between Tom and Summer during their 500 day or the duo from Once, but always I’m enjoying OTHER people’s relationships.
But take a game like Mass Effect, where the love story focuses on YOU. Granted character depth generally isn’t quite at the level of movies yet as relationship paths are limited to a handful of conversations, but I’ll be damned if there weren’t some emotional moments found in those games, getting to know crewmates like Ashley and Liara, and later expanding to Miranda, Tali or Jack in the later game and pursuing an actual relationship with them amidst the apocalypse. You’re not watching a romance from the outside, here, Shepard is YOU, and you feel far closer to the story than you would otherwise.
Maybe this is just me, and I’m a huge dork able to get lost in these video game worlds on occasion, but I really have to say I’ve had more memorable game moments than movie moments in the last few years, and I think the medium is really moving ahead by leaps and bounds to become the best form of escapism out there.