Halloween is here!
And with Halloween comes spooky Halloween articles! Whilst the holiday rush continues its inexorable march towards us, tonight, we shall focus on the spooky holiday and some great examples of spookiness in gaming!
Now, one may ask, what makes something scary in a video game? Obviously, the answer to that will always be somewhat subjective. What one person may find terrifying may leave another completely unfazed. Lord knows that I’m a big baby when it comes to horror, which is why horror games and films and so on overall are not really my bag. In this article, I will focus on scary moments in video games that left an impact on me. If you have any examples I didn’t list that left an impact on you, feel free to drop them in the comments!
With all that in mind, let’s dive into it!
What Makes It Scary?
As I said in the beginning of this Halloween article, what constitutes “scary” is subjective; what elicits fear, one of our most primal emotions, will always differ from person to person. However, I have found that there are different types of creepiness that gets under your skin in different ways. For example, classic examples of scary moments in video games include both the Shadow Temple in THE LEGEND OF ZELDA: OCARINA OF TIME and Lavender Town/Pokemon Tower in POKEMON RED AND BLUE. However, both achieve their scariness in different ways. And both are obviously markedly different from a game such as SILENT HILL 2, whose scariness is its primary selling point.
Let us try and identify different examples of these varying forms of fear. Just in time for Halloween!
Unsettling: It Gets Under Your Skin
There are some examples of scary moments that are not scary in the “conventional” sense. For example, it doesn’t cause you to scream and jump out of your seat. However, it still scares you by unsettling you. It gets under your skin. It makes you uncomfortable. It’s not actively scary per se; it’s scary in a more passive sense.
A prime example of this can be seen in POKEMON: RED AND BLUE with Lavender Town. Ask any POKEMON fan what their creepiest moment in a POKEMON game was, chances are it’s going to be Lavender Town. Even back in Generation I it gave kids nightmares; it was arguably even scarier than in the remakes. A lot of it has to do with the music, which is very unsettling and creepy, in a melancholic sort of way. There’s also the fact that it’s basically a Pokemon graveyard. Hell, at the top of the tower you even fight the ghost of a Pokemon whom Team Rocket murdered.
It was unnerving as hell to me when I was 7. And even as I near 27, it still gets under my skin.
The Unknown: Nothing is Scarier than Nothing
People often say that the scariest thing of all is the unknown. After all, it’s one thing to be able to attach an image to your fear. Fear where you know nothing lets your imagination go haywire, coming up with all manners of horrifying possibilities that may or may not be worse than the real deal.
For an example, let’s look to the aforementioned Shadow Temple in THE LEGEND OF ZELDA: OCARINA OF TIME. As the game’s designated “scary” dungeon, it certainly does a fine job on that front. With false walls and floors everywhere, all manner of abominable enemies, arguably the scariest boss in ZELDA history, and distinct skeletons, corpses, and actual red blood strewn about (in a Nintendo game!), it’s definitely going to give kids bad dreams just at face value.
But I would argue that the Shadow Temple, while already plenty scary at first glance, gets even worse the more you think about it. It’s mentioned when you enter the accursed place that here lies “Hyrule’s bloody history of greed and hatred”. What does that mean? There all manner of medieval torture devices strewn around the temple. What ghastly acts were they used for? Near the end you have to take a boat through a “river of souls,” kind of reminiscent of the River Styx in Greek mythology. What the hell? And finally, what the hell is Bongo Bongo and why was he sealed in a village well of all places?
These questions are never answered in-game. And that makes the dungeon even scarier than it is at face value as your imagination runs wild.
Despair: The Fear of Oblivion and Hopelessness
You may think, based on the previous example, that the Shadow Temple was the pinnacle of horror in THE LEGEND OF ZELDA series. Not so. That offer would, without a doubt, have to go to OCARINA OF TIME’s successor, MAJORA’S MASK. From beginning to end, the game is a roller coaster of E-rated horror, and it achieves it though means both subtle and nuanced.
The premise is scary enough. You have three days before the moon falls and everyone dies, and you’re the only one who can stop it. And it only gets worse from there. Fear of the unknown also plays a part, as there are many mysteries (such as the origin of Majora, how the Mask Salesman got Majora’s Mask in the first place, and whatever the hell Stone Tower is meant to be) which are never explained in-game.
But for me, the scariest (and saddest) part of the game is the final hours before moonfall.
At the start of the final night, the once-bustling Clock Town is pretty much a ghost town as most people have fled. But it’s when the clock strikes midnight, six hours before the end of the world, that the horror really begins.
Death and Despair
This music starts playing. And it’s truly the bleakest, most depressing, subtly horrific music ever featured in a video game. It also overrides any other background music, reminding you that you’re out of time. All the while, the clock bells and earthquakes get louder and more frequent as the moon draws closer.
In the original N64 version, the sky would turn a depressingly peaceful pinkish color, as day breaks and the sun rises for the last time; in the 3DS remake, the sky is blood-red the entire night. I’m honestly not sure which is worse.
The final hours of MAJORA’S MASK encapsulate for me perhaps the most potent of all fears: the fear of despair and oblivion. Like all hope is lost, and that there’s nothing you can do to fix it. As someone who has struggled with depression for years, it honestly hits home. It’s that perfect mixture of fear, despair, and hopelessness, and I don’t think any video game since has achieved that feeling as well as MAJORA’S MASK.
And with that, we conclude our Very Scary PixelPop Halloween Special! I hope you enjoyed these scary moments in video games and that they get you in the Halloween spirit! And feel free to list your favorite scary gaming moments in the comments!
What will you be doing this Halloween? Playing LUIGI’S MANSION 3, which releases on Halloween? Or perhaps another game? Will you be going out trick or treating as your favorite video game character?
That’s all for this Halloween! Until next year!
(Featured Image Credit: KlausBoss)