Gaming lets us experience a number of different worlds and settings totally inaccessible to us in real life. Sometimes those worlds are pleasant escapes. Sometimes they’re oppressive, threatening hellscapes. In this, the spookiest of months, it’s the latter that’s our focus—the gnarliest, nastiest (and also our favorite) settings and premises that we nonetheless think we can survive. For this month’s roundtable we’re nominating a few horror settings we might be able to sneak and trick our way through—and how we’re going to accomplish that—and our patrons (which can include you for just $5 per month!) will be voting on who, if any of us, will be surviving our journey.
As a certified giant weenie, I can’t play most horror games. As much as I enjoy watching others play atmospheric titles like Alien: Isolation, Layers of Fear, and Alan Wake, I can’t manage the stress of trying to stay hidden, fight off enemies, or just survive jump scares. A game I have played with a setting I know for sure I would survive is Until Dawn, because I simply would not return to the site of a friend’s suspicious death for any reason. A lifetime of systemic oppression and also watching horror movies has instilled too much self-preservation in me for that.
But surviving a horror premise by noping out feels like cheating, so my nomination is Scorn and its biomechanical alien landscape. Would I be disturbed to find myself suddenly surrounded by strange pods and orifices and mangled beings? Of course! But I’m also disabled, so I’m used to my body moving and functioning in uncomfortable, painful, and often gross ways—and as long as the biggest obstacles to navigation are puzzles, not enemies, I feel confident in my ability to survive the world (for as much as that means on a dead planet). I would feel bad destroying my only companion, so if we end up just hanging out until the end of the world, that’s fine too.
— Zainabb Hull
I have to be honest: I think Sweden might be the only horror game setting I think I can survive.
— Melissa Brinks
(Spoilers for The Quarry within!)
OK, to give slightly less of a cop-out answer, I think I could make it through the werewolf-infested summer camp of The Quarry (full disclosure: I haven’t actually finished the game yet, so I could be extremely wrong about this).
Points in my favor:
- I am well-versed in werewolf lore.
- I grew up around rural folk (I am, in fact, rural folk now living in suburbia) and am not put off by gruff mannerisms, hunters, or people trying to do me a solid but not knowing how to express that.
- I was extremely shy in high school and would not have been caught dead (or alive) kissing, pining after, or confessing my love for anybody.
- I may be a skeptic by day, but by night I become extremely fearful, so if someone told me something ~spooky~ was going on in a setting as inherently spooky as summer camp, I would believe them immediately and would do whatever it took to get away from or protect myself from it, no matter how ridiculous I look. Cover me in garlic bulbs and silver, I simply do not care.
- I also know a bit about tarot cards and their meanings.
I am, therefore, uniquely suited to this setting and conflict.
Points against me:
- I absolutely would not be leaving the lodge for any goddamn reason, and would likely be eaten/killed/taken captive because I would be there stubbornly sitting by myself and therefore be easy pickings.
— Melissa Brinks
As the only horror game I have made any measurable headway in, I’ll hedge my bets against the ghosts in Fatal Frame. Sure, I’ll jump and screech the moment any phantom starts drifting my way, but I’ll get it done.
These ghosties don’t tend to be the fling-you-across-the-room types, so I feel confident that I can keep my glasses on. My hearing and peripheral vision are excellent, and I tend to be hyper-vigilant due to anxiety. The main, and only, weapon in the game is the Camera Obscura—a lucky break for me, since I have a photography hobby. While paranormal forces may keep doors closed, you better believe I will take a hatchet to those sliding panels. I will be cursing and stomping all around the damn manor, louder than any of the banshee screams thrown my way.
One of my main concerns will be keeping up my stamina up—the estate is huge. Also, since the ghosts can move in any direction, I may get jittery and drop the camera or trip. And, of course, the big issue will be escaping or closing up the hellmouth that caused the horror in the first place. In this scenario, unlike the main characters, I don’t have anyone trapped there that I’m trying to rescue. It’s possible I’ll be allowed to slip out. Otherwise, I’ll have to figure out the curse as I go and try to charm some ghoulish gals.
Luigi’s Mansion 3
Like Luigi, I’m a weenie, but I’m very good at vacuuming.
In Dredge, you take a job as a fisherman in the village of Greater Marrow. Day in and day out, you putter around in your little fishing boat, catching fish and dredging up materials that will help you improve your boat. Sure, no one will tell you exactly why the previous fisherman needed replacing, and it’s only natural that every now and then you hook an aberrant fish that the encyclopedia describes as “tattered” or “grotesque” or “lumpy.” Shouldn’t I be concerned, you ask, about the Lovecraftian nature of these beasts? With the fact that some wish to eat them? With the cultish gatherings at other islands? To this I say: that is simply none of my business. I am here to catch fish, sell fish, and mind my own beeswax.
Dredge does admittedly present a malicious world, but I have faith in my will to survive. As the nights wear on, the player also has to contend with a mysterious red fog and a darkness that seems to be always watching, as well as a panic meter that increasingly warps your surroundings, to which I say: I have one of those in real life, called “my brain,” and I am doing just fine, thanks!
— Maddi Butler
Melissa Brinks is Sidequest’s editor in chief, co-creator of the Fake Geek Girls podcast, author of The Compendium of Magical Beasts, and an aspiring beekeeper. She once won an argument on the internet, and tweets at @MelissaBrinks.