Pleasurable Terrors – Why Horror Games Are Invigorating

I sat myself down next to my elder brother, who excitedly held up something in front of me. My eyes focused on the rectangular shape that read “Amnesia: The Dark Descent.” “It’s a horror game I got. Let’s see who backs out first,” he challenged. Unsure of myself, I complained that I was too tired, to which he taunted, “You’re scared you’ll lose.” I accepted with an ironic stubbornness to prove that I wasn’t so conceited.

With a controller in hand and my brother sitting next to me, we began the game. I felt that familiar sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach. I was nervous. My brother knew I didn’t like being scared. Throughout my childhood I had always been terrified by the sudden twists and turns and the ominous music of horror movies. I was never much of a gamer. In fact, I hadn’t touched a console for over a year.

A few minutes into the game and my heart was already racing. I began to talk as I usually do when I am anxious in order to distract myself from what is in front of me. I was petrified by the menacing soundtrack and the eerily realistic visual effects. However, I was surprised to find that I actually enjoyed the game as it progressed. I still experienced the cheap jump scares and thrilling moments of apprehension that frightened me in the first place, but I wanted more. Admittedly, I was also a bit too stubborn to stop and allow my brother to prevail.

He finally gave up after nearly three hours, and I was triumphant. I continued to play throughout the day with short breaks in between. It was all just too exciting. All the interest I had lost in gaming suddenly came back to me.

I was surprised to find myself engaged in the two things that I usually never liked – horror and gaming. I reasoned that it was simply the adrenaline rush; however, in retrospect, I realized that I was facing my fears in a safe environment. The quick pace, the excitement, and the competitive fervor, all in a familiar setting, made it so engrossing that I had no time to feel scared. I still encountered the faceless monster that scared me as a child, but I was doing it knowing that I wasn’t going to be harmed and that it could be over at any moment of my choosing. The respite from my fears, however temporary, made it liberating.

Indeed, it is hard to simply let go of fear, especially when we are surrounded by so much uncertainty and doubt. The fear that I had now fascinates me because it demonstrated that the worst fear of all is the time and energy that is spent in the anticipation of the event. Not the event itself.

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