Games to Get Your Fright On

October 31, 2016

In honor of the end of the Halloween season and the horror spirit in general I’ve put together a list of recommended horror video games to play whenever you’re in the mood for something scary. This is a personal recommendation list so I’m only including titles I’ve had a chance to play. This means there are some noticeable absences. The most prominent being any of the Resident Evil titles. I’ve only played a little of Resident Evil 5 and from what I’ve played I wouldn’t recommend it. There also no stealth or escape horror games like Outlast as I generally don’t play a lot of those kinds of horror games. This list isn’t meant to be a best of the best or the be all end all or even an exhaustive list of every horror game I’ve played, it is simply meant to be a recommendation for some of the horror games I found enjoyable. Others are welcome to chip in the horror games they found the most enjoyable. The list starts off with horror adventure games and progresses towards more action oriented horror titles.

Sanitarium

Sanitarium is bit of an older title but still highly playable. The game starts with “Max” waking up from a coma after a car accident. You start the game with no memory of who you were or what happened but you slowly regain your memories as the game progress. Themes of family, loss, obsession, and greed are at the core of what is driving the events of the game. You drift between reality and imagination as Max tries to figure out what is happening and why. The artwork and scenery in this game are beautiful and really convey the horror and strangeness Max is going through.

Scratches

Scratches is a slow burn of a game that builds up the atmosphere and tension and leaves you there. You play a writer who has taken up residence in a secluded home with a dark and mysterious past. You’re supposed to be utilizing the seclusion to focus on your work but become distracted by the scratching in the walls. Finding out what is causing the scratching and exploring the house’s history consumes your time. The sounds and visuals do a really great job of setting the atmosphere making for an eerie experience.

The Cat Lady/Downfall (Remake)

The Cat Lady and Downfall, developed by Harvester Games, overlap a lot in terms of themes, visual style, and plot so I’ve included them both here in one entry. And both are fantastic and both should be played.

You play as Susan Ashworth in The Cat Lady, a woman who just committed suicide. She is brought back to life by the Queen of Maggots and tasked with killing five people, five parasites. Along the way you befriend a woman named Mitzi, who has cancer. She is hunting someone known as the “Eye of Adam” who convinces people to commit suicide. Together in your hunt for the Eye of Adam you face off against the twisted individuals you are supposed to kill and their horrors.

In Downfall you play Joe who takes your wife, Ivy, on a getaway in an attempt to salvage your marriage. Waking up after your first night in the hotel you find your wife missing prompting a hunt for her. Along the way you are confronted with plenty of horror and emotions regarding your feelings about your wife.

The plots of both games are largely independent of each other but there is some overlap. Joe and Ivy make an appearance in The Cat Lady. While Susan and Mitzi play a major role in the final scenes of Downfall.

Both games are presented with beautiful artwork and scenery that emphasizes the grotesque horror that is presented to the player. The music and sound effects in both games are also really fantastic. The sound effects bring the uneasiness of some scenes to a whole new level. And the rock tracks peppered through both games helps set the mood for some of the more intense moments. Both games are filled with supernatural horror but it is all grounded in real issues and emotions concerning depression, suicide, anger, revenge, grief, guilt, lust, love, and self-loathing that makes the horror all the more real and personal.

Murdered Soul Suspect

Murdered Soul Suspect is more of a gothic horror compared to the other entries on this list. You’re a detective who is killed while investigating a series of murders in Salem. You come back as a ghost in order to investigate your own murder and to ultimately catch the killer responsible for the other murders. The game is short and there isn’t any replay value. The combat against demons is also simplistic. The gothic feel, investigation mechanics, and ghost mechanics provide an interesting change to your normal gaming experience. So, if you’re in the mode for something a little more gothic and a little less chest pounding terror inducing I’d definitely say check this game out. Though due to the shortness of the game and lack of reply value it’s best to get it on sale.

Fatal Frame 2: Crimson Butterfly

Fatal Frame 2 does a pretty good job at scaring the ever-living shit out of you. The game should at least unnerve everyone a little bit. You play as an adolescent girl who has lost her sister and must explore an abandoned village in order to find her. The village is filled with ghosts that will either help or try to kill you. The only weapon you have to defend yourself with is a camera. And the better the shot, the more damage you do to the ghost. Fights are rarely fast and are often tense and slow as ghosts slowly work their way towards you. The ghost designs are really terrific providing some nightmarish imagery. Everything in this game’s design works to create a sense of dread and fear and that stays with you through the whole experience.

Silent Hill 2

Silent Hill 2, the game that introduced me to horror video games. What can I say that hasn’t already been said? Simply put if you haven’t played this game go play it. The story is one of love and grief fueled by guilt. Most of the monsters are a reflection of the main character’s own demons. The creative use of technical and design limitations of the time along with Lynchian moments and broken characters help to create a truly freighting experience. The controls and graphics may be dated but I would argue that game still holds up as one of the best horror gaming experiences out there.

Alan Wake

Alan Wake puts you in the role of an acclaimed author who is suffering from writer’s block. In an attempt to relax and maybe break through the block Alan and his wife get a cabin on a lake. But something is trapped in the lake and tries to use Alan as a way of freeing itself. The game has an interesting combat mechanic that requires the player to use light in order to successfully damage the enemies. The episodic format of the game provides a nice pace to the narrative of the game. The soundtrack for this game is really nice and the game contains one of my favorite fight scenes in a game.

Condemned: Criminal Origins

Condemned is a brutal game that places you in the role of Ethan who is investigating a murder. You are shortly framed for the murder of two officers. In your hunt for the true killer you confront and learn more about the madness that is gripping the city. The highlight of the game is the visceral combat system that leads to adrenaline filled desperate fights against vagrants and other horrors. Condemned is another game that has some interesting investigation mechanics. This is a game that will keep your adrenaline pumping as you wade through its darkness.

The Suffering

The Suffering is a great horror title that despite the amount of action and giving you a physically strong character to play, manages to keep the same feeling of horror that survival horror games often do. It accomplishes this through good atmospheric level design, monster designs that draw on the horror of capital punishments, and tying a lot of the themes and elements in the narrative to real life horrors such as domestic violence, torture, abuse, and cruel executions

Mirror Image Review

October 30, 2016

There is a new review up for the book Mirror Image.

Bloody Mary

January 24, 2016

You’re young. You’re at a sleepover and the party has moved into the middle of the night. It’s that time of the night when the urge to tell a scary story begins to rise. A story or two is told then someone says, “Have you guys heard about Bloody Mary?” Among the giggles and looks everyone agrees to give it a try. Everyone gathers in the bathroom, huddled together in your pajamas. Starring into the mirror someone turns the lights out. After a moment of hesitation someone starts saying “Bloody Mary, Bloody Mary, Bloody Mary.” Nothing happens. But someone twitches. Someone screams they see something. Now everyone is screaming and frantically trying to open the door. It opens, everyone runs out. The screaming stops once everyone is out. In the end everyone laughs it off.

Bloody Mary is an urban legend that has been around for at least forty years. The above narrative is a typical narrative of those that try to act out the Bloody Mary ritual. I was really young when I was exposed to this urban legend. The version I knew said that if you stood in a dark bathroom, in front of the mirror, and said “Bloody Mary” three times her bloodied face would appear in the mirror.

I don’t know where I originally heard it from. I was that odd kid who liked scary stories and spooked out others with them. There were a couple of times the kids at my daycare went into the bathroom and tried it out. When I was a little older I found myself in the bathroom with some friends, we were looking at a glow in the dark puzzle. One of the older ones started saying “Bloody Mary.” I was the one closest to the mirror. They bolted out of the bathroom and held the door shut, leaving me in a panic. I don’t know if I saw anything, I tried my best to not look in the direction of the mirror.

The common elements of the legend are that you stand in front of a mirror in the dark and perform some sort of ritual. Once the ritual is performed the apparition known as Bloody Mary is supposed to appear. There are many variations of these core elements.

In some versions the ritual can only be performed at certain times otherwise she does not appear. You can either do it alone or in a group. The ritual itself is also varied. Sometimes it is performed with candles. There are a varying amount of times you should say “Bloody Mary,” sometimes you say something different such as Mary Worth which is a popular alternative. And what appears and happens also varies. In some versions you will only see a bloodied face in others she is supposed to lunge out of the mirror and try to harm you.

So where did this urban legend come from and who is Mary? In some versions she remains nameless. She has also been linked to historical figures like Queen Mary, Mary Queen of Scots, the Virgin Mary, or Mary Magdalene. She has also been said to have been a burned witch or a child killer. Among the many many versions of the legend that is passed around by teenagers there are many more explanations of who Mary is supposed to be.

The origins of the Bloody Marry legend are hard to trace. One of the earliest academic recordings of the myth comes from 1976. In this version the name that is chanted is “Mary Worth” which should be chanted forty-seven times. When she appears she is supposed to appear with a wart on her nose and a knife in her hand. When this version was recorded Bloody Mary was already an urban legend being passed among school children. Some of the versions of the Bloody Mary legend do have some overlap with other folklore such as banshees or some versions of the disappearing passenger legend. These overlaps though do not make it any easier to find where what we know of as the Bloody Mary legend started.

It should be noted that the mirror element of the legend has links to divination. Using reflective surfaces such as mirrors or pools of water has long been a method of summoning/communing or foretelling the future in folklore and occult traditions.

Does the Bloody Mary legend mean anything? Is it a reflection of subconscious fears we carry in our youth? Dundes argues that the Bloody Mary myth is a reflection of pre-pubescent girls’ fears about womanhood and menstruation. He basses this conclusion on the blood imagery that often appears in the legend and the fact that the ritual is more often performed by pre-pubescent girls at parties or sleepovers. He also draws upon certain versions of the myth such as one where blood is actually drawn from the participants during the ritual. And another one where instead of looking at the mirror you should look at the water in the toilet or some versions that suggest flushing the toilet as a way of banishing Mary. He suggests this focus on the toilet parallels the flushing away of menstruation.

Norder offers alternative meanings behind the legend. He suggests that the legend might be an attempt to scare children away from occult practices by religious leaders or to warn people away from calling upon the Virgin Mary outside of proper ritual. He also suggests it could be a reaction from Protestant leaders to scare people away from calling on Mary instead of Jesus.

There is another interpretation of the Bloody Mary legend. It could just be a good scary story that kids tell each other. It is a scary story that has the participants act it out, adding to the tension. While it is true that ritual is often performed by pre-pubescent girls it is also sometimes performed by boys or those well into their teens. Given the age of the legend this disproportion can be explained others ways. At the time that this legend started to bud gatherings of boys or girls would have had different expectations.

It would have been normal for girls to have sleep overs and easy access to a bathroom in order to perform the ritual. Coupled with the generalization girls or young women travel to bathroom in herds no one would question the gathering for the ritual. Boys would have had different gatherings such as camping trips where they would have had their own stories to better suite the setting. A gathering of boys for a ritual around the bathroom might have raised some eyebrows.

Another explanation for the ritual being mostly performed by girls is it might have some continuity with another folklore tradition that was performed by young women. A woman was supposed to walk backwards up a flight of stairs while holding a candle in one hand and a mirror in the other. While gazing into the mirror they were supposed to glimpse the face of the future husband. But they could also see a skull which meant they were going to die before getting to marry. If parts of the Bloody Mary legend did grow out of this piece of folklore it might help explain why it exists predominantly among girls and young women.

Scary stories often contain bloody imagery so it is not out of the ordinary. A bloodied face is probably also a close description of what people might actually see as their mind plays tricks on them as they stare into the mirror. There is also another explanation for the toilet elements within some versions of the legend. As I already mentioned, pools of water were also used to commune with spirits. The toilet contains its own pool of water to summon Bloody Mary. Flowing water is also associated with banishing negative or evil spirits. Flushing the toilet in a way creates a source of flowing water in order to banish Bloody Mary.

Bloody Mary is not an obscure legend. It continues to be passed to each new generation. It has entered into entertainment. It has inspired several movies, episodes of The X-Files, Supernatural, Charmed, and Ghost Whisperer. It has been mentioned on Warehouse 13 and parodied in an episode of South Park. The legend has even spawned a horror comedy web series called The Bloody Mary show. The urban legend is thriving and its haunting apparition is going nowhere soon. Bloody Mary will be waiting to grab us from our mirrors for generations to come.


Works Consulted

Doctor Who Series 9 Review

December 13, 2015

There is a new review up for Doctor Who Series 9.

Studying History

October 18, 2015

Personally I feel like everyone should study history. It is one of those topics that is taken for granted. Many people disregard history but don’t realize how much history shapes and defines the world we live. Many conflicts are based on certain interpretations of history and many cultures define their identity on a certain view of history. But what goes into studying history? What difficulties do we face when we construct our historical narratives?

The Sources

Unfortunately we do not have a perfect recording of the past. We have to piece together a picture from what little scraps history has decided to leave us. We have to reconstruct the kind of world our ancestors lived in and we have to grasp at the motivations and thoughts of those long gone.

There are many sources we rely on to reconstruct the past from excavated villages or cities to written works. All sources are up to certain amount of interpretation and several often have to be used in conjunction with each other.

The trouble with certain sources such as written ones is how much scrutiny are we supposed to treat them with? Often we have sources that talk about one period of time but were written much latter. The gospels were written 30-50 years after the estimated death of Jesus. Are certain elements of the gospels reflective of the time of Jesus or the time they were written? The war involving Troy mentioned in the Iliad was thought to be a myth but then archaeological evidence showed that there might be a grain of truth to the story. But how much of the Iliad could actually be trusted as a historical source?

Even if we decide to trust a certain source we have to take into account biases or misinformation present in the source. How much of the descriptions about the Germanic people can we trust from the Romans or from Christian missionaries? Or descriptions of the Native populations from early European colonizers to the Americas?

Archaeological evidence can also be difficult to work with especially if you have no other sources to work with it. Collaboration is important when it comes to reconstructing the past. Using several sources together can help create a clearer picture of a certain moment in the past while helping us to see what biases might exist in certain sources. With the use of several sources we can piece together a picture that is rarely ever completed.

The Many vs The Individual

One question that arises from studying history is the question of whether the social-political currents of a time or the individual is of greater influence. Would have the Reformation still have taken place without Martin Luther? Would the Second World War still have happened without Hitler? Both the Reformation and World War 2 are intimately tied with these individuals but they were riding on social-political currents that had been bubbling to a point for a while.

During Luther’s time the populace was fed up with the Catholic Church and its abuses. Some individuals tried to break away but such movements often failed. There was outcry for reform. Was Luther simply the first one to pop that bubble or was there something about his character or place in society to push for what became the Reformation? Luther’s actions led to the formation of other denominations that were able to survive and reforms within the Catholic Church. Some have argued that if Luther did not start the Reformation others would have simply filled his role; the social-political climate was there it just needed someone, anyone to pop that bubble.

Europe was still tense after the end of the First World War. Germany resented its treatment under the Treaty of Versailles. Economically it was in shambles. And the efforts of those in power to maintain a stable Germany was failing. Some debate has been had on what a Europe without Hitler would have looked like. Some have argued, due to other factors in Europe, war would have broken out. But that this war would have been a vastly different war than what we ended up with. Others have argued that it was Hitler’s charisma and ambition that drove Europe to war, that without him Germany might have still have flexed some military muscle but it would have been on a much smaller scale.

One of the issues with examining what is more of driving force in history is it always makes us play the what if game. In the end all we have is what have. History played out the way it did. By trying to figure out what might have happened if certain factors were different we toe the line of speculative fiction. What is likely is that some moments are driven more by a con-flux of factors and other times are driven by individuals.

What does history mean to us?

Everyone has their own history. This becomes apparent when history enters public discourse and we see how everyone uses history to craft a part of their identity. In the 1990s the Smithsonian tried to create a display to remember the bombing of Hiroshima. There was a proposed 300 page script that was supposed to go along with this display. Those that crafted it tried to be balanced and unbiased but when it was revealed there was a backlash. Some felt the script sympathized with the Japanese too much and that the valor and courage of U.S. soldiers wasn’t explored enough. Those that crafted the narrative for the display were accused of rewriting history and trying to make it more politically correct. In the end the original exhibit that was envisioned was done away and replaced with a smaller more low key exhibit.

More recently there was debate over changes the Texas State Board of Education wanted to make to its text book standards. There was a lot of argument of what elements of American History should be focused on and how should somethings be presented. Why should country music be talked about but not hip-hop? How do we handle unsavory topics of American History such as the abuse of Native American cultures and slavery? There is a certain interpretation of history that is the correct American view. To interpret it a different way is to rewrite it and to dishonor our heritage.

People tend to think that their view of history is the only correct view before realizing it can be perceived differently by different people. A white man will perceive the history of slavery differently than a black man. Even if the white man understands and is disgusted by that history and views it as an atrocity he will not have to live under its shadow like the black man. The black man has to struggle against the effects that slavery and its attitudes have left behind.

History also tends to age. As we move further away from a certain point in history our concept of that time becomes distorted. People are remembered differently. The founding fathers become idolized versions of what they really were. Golden ages that never existed are remembered. People long for the 1950s that never existed. Wars and battles become myth. The war that involved Troy becomes immortalized in the Iliad.

History can help us to avoid repeating the same mistakes. But this rarely is the case. The human race continues to play out its depravity in war, subjugation, political, social and economic abuses. But we should continue to study history in case we are able to avoid those horrors again. We also need it. There is a need in the human spirit to try and understand were we came from and to try to place ourselves in the fabric of human history. But we must be careful to not tie ourselves down too much with one interpretation of history. If we can learn to see history from different perspective we might be able to better understand other people, other cultures better. We can become a more unified people through history and maybe one day avoid the horrors that we continue to repeat over and over again.