(Ethan Gates)– I was eating at Val last Friday night when a couple of my friends casually mentioned a computer game they thought I might like to play, some kind of puzzle-solving adventure called “Amnesia.” They had just downloaded (cough, ahem, um, I mean, completely legally paid for) a copy and wanted me to try it out later that night. Not thinking anything of it, I said sure. Instantly I realized that I had fallen into some sort of trap, as my friends started cackling with glee and exclaiming that I HAD to do it now, I had totally agreed to do it, NO GOING BACK. Uh oh.
Later that night, once properly buzzed, my friends demanded that it was time for the game to begin. As I sat down at the keyboard, they insisted that I have a glass of whiskey on hand “for emergency purposes” (warning bells). They then proceeded to turn off every light in the room and give me noise-canceling headphones so that I would be “completely immersed” in the game (I’m starting to suspect that I’m actually being brainwashed). Finally I load up the game and realize that its full title is actually “Amnesia: The Dark Descent” (well, shit).
I’ve never been a particular fan of horror games and/or films, mostly because the vast majority of entries in this genre are not truly horrifying, straying either toward the merely shocking (as in, focused too much on the element of surprise) or the straight-up disgusting, i.e. “Saw,” “Hostel,” “The Hills Have Eyes,” “The Human Centipede” and every other torture porn franchise of the past decade. And no matter how realistic video game graphics get, there’s always a certain level of detachment on-screen monstrosities from being all THAT scary, really.
Maybe it was the alcohol that made “Amnesia” different; maybe the atmosphere of dread cultivated by my friends, or just the incredible design of the game, but after about five minutes of playing I was (metaphorically speaking) shitting my pants. For an hour I essentially did nothing but wander around a few rooms in an abandoned castle, but when you’re being stalked through that castle by some sort of mysterious shadow monster and you’re quickly losing sanity (resulting in auditory hallucinations like children crying and frightened women calling out to you by name), an hour can last a lifetime. By the time I managed to complete one objective and quit the game, I was visibly shaking, and I had trouble sleeping that night. I never want to play that goddamn game again. It was possibly the most frightening experience of my life.
The main reason “Amnesia” was so mercilessly effective was that I never actually saw the terrifying shadow monster that was hunting me. Doors mysteriously opened without a sound, amorphous figures darted just out of the corner of my eye, and the incessant sound of heavy footsteps followed right behind me wherever I went. But the exact nature of the danger was completely in my head. It’s an odd thing if you think about it, but left to speculate, our imaginations almost always automatically leap to the worst, most terrifying conclusions.
So all of this is basically an extended anecdote for the point that I’m really trying to make here. Bunnies made a particularly senior-ific post back on Saturday that I can certainly identify with – for many of us, the choice of what to do next year (and the year after that, and the year after that, and the year after that….) is so difficult because the future is so horribly, frighteningly unknown. We can’t see what it looks like, and so it looms larger and larger in our minds until it becomes a giant ravenous shadow monster that is totally about to devour our innards. Sometimes the only way to get by is to forget about it and move about your life at Amherst like it’s just any other year, a temporary form of amnesia (you see what I did there? man, i’m clever) that keeps you sane but has the unfortunate effect of completely screwing you over regarding, you know, actually getting a plan together for post-graduation.
In the end, the only way I got anywhere in that game (I had a tendency to simply dive into and cower inside every single cupboard/closet available to me) was because one of my friends eventually simply cheated and started looking up what I was supposed to do online. It was these little words of advice that kept me going, making me willing to brave dark corridors and dank dungeons in return for hitting some sort of sanity-improving checkpoint. And if I do survive this year, it’ll be thanks to the same thing: the comforting words of friends, family and professors that provide bright spots in the vague and bleary future.
Now please excuse me while I go listen to Sweet Thing’s “Change of Seasons” about 50 times.