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March Madness – Mat Langford On The Effects Of Psychological Gaming

Video games have long been an escape from reality; a place where one can go to escape the world they live in and be someone else for a while. Players get generally invested in the characters they play, making the fictitious world around them seem all that more real.

This is usually a pleasurable experience when the character you’re playing as is a hero, someone who has super powers or some high powered weapon capable of mowing down an entire block of people at once. It’s great when you play as a protagonist who is constantly in control, with the knowledge that you’re going to win, or at least not get yourself into too much trouble along the way.

This sense of safety is a good thing. And that’s exactly what psychological horror games take away from you.

These games generally make you a weak, normal character who needs to simply survive. Instead of a mob boss or ruthless killer you’re a mild-mannered shop owner, or a person in the wrong place at the wrong time. No grand schemes, just perhaps a lost relative that needs to be found, or a trip to an old friend’s house that holds a secret. That’s it. Usually there’s no big gun or crazy powers, just you against whatever is out there. Levels are populated by severely limited ammo stashes (if you’re lucky enough to have a gun) and the only thing you can do is keep yourself alive.

Amnesia: The Dark Descent is a prime example. You play a character with amnesia (shocker!) who wakes up in a castle crawling with monsters and must explore it to find out what is going on. The twist? Not only are you going insane and hallucinating, you also can’t defend yourself. The only thing you can do is run and hide. So whenever you hear a monster coming, your only option is to hide and hope it passes you by. See the video below:

It’s not only a game of survival, you’re also questioning everything you see and hear. What is real? What isn’t? Alive is sometimes not the only thing you want to be, there’s also keeping your sanity.

Games such as Silent Hill 2 aren’t necessarily violent, but they play with your mind. Levels are dark and ominous, and yes, there is probably something around that corner you’re coming up to. But what sets Silent Hill 2 apart from the horror pack is that its enemies represent the main character’s flaws and insecurities. To quote toptenz.net, who put it perfectly, “The enemies are designed to reflect the main character’s fears and flaws: for example, deformed nurses with skimpy clothes and suggestive poses represent our hero’s sexual repression and objectification of women.” The enemies you face have a profound phychological impact on the main character, and the gamer as well.

These games often deal with extreme content as well, content that you wouldn’t find in most games. There was an old game called “I have no Mouth and Must Scream”, which dealt with an AI that forced the player to make decisions regarding  insanity, selfishness, rape, paranoia, and even genocide. With multiple outcomes derived from the decisions you made during game play, you can control the fate of the fictional world based on your personal flaws and choices.

There was even reports of a banned game that was so mind bending, it caused people to hallucinate in real life, with gamers reported seeing black dogs and bugs flying around them outside the game! Whether or not this is true remains a mystery, as searches for more information led me nowhere, but even the possibility of this is pretty freaky.

Bottom line – these games aren’t for everyone as they flirt with some pretty serious subject matter. But if you’re looking to be genuinely frightened and not just “scared”, then maybe you want to try some of them out!

Let us know if you do!

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About matylang

Mat Langford is a Toronto-based journalist, web/graphic designer and all-around geek. He managed the AMP Your Game National Gaming Tour in '08, has worked for both Playstation and Xbox, and is currently co-host of the Screaming Ego Podcast and The Recurring Bosscast at Splitkick.com.

Posted on March 8, 2012, in General, March Madness, mat langford, video games and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. there should honestly be an art installation somewhere that drops you in some creepy dark basement and doesn’t unlock the door until you beat Amnesia.

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