As part of this new blog, I want to get more involved in community posts as I’ve really enjoyed writing them in the past. The always awesome Kim at Later Levels has a monthly community question contest and I’ve decided to give it a go.
This month’s question is; what video game scared you the most? A fitting question for October and this is an easy one for me to answer….
I’m not really a big fan of horror and I can’t say I’ve played any survival horror games so my answer to this question isn’t a stereotypical ‘jump’ scare. Instead, it’s something that creeped me out at the time I played it. It’s something that still wigs me out to this day.
I got Batman: Arkham Asylum on release date in 2009. I’m not a huge comic book fan, but I love Batman. Back when I used to work in public libraries during University, I used to lend out the comic books so I could read them on my lunch break. I love the in-depth worlds of comic book characters; their origins, their setting and of course, their rogue gallery. I read some good stuff in those years (Sandman and V for Vendetta come to mind) but my favourite was Batman. I loved the dark tone of the comics and the amazing array of enemies that Batman faced.
The Batman comics I read were from the darker comic revival of Batman, from the eighties onwards. These comic were a return to form after the campier comics of the sixties and seventies*. Compendiums like The Killing Joke and Knightfall fascinated me…and scared me a little bit too. I’m not someone who is scared by gore, but implied violence scares me as my imagination goes into overdrive. Plus, if there is an explanation or reason behind the violence, then that gets me thinking about it and that’s what scares me.
One of my favourite Batman villains is Scarecrow. For those not familiar with Scarecrow, he’s a psychology professor obsessed with fear and the effects of fear upon humans. His main weapon is a fear toxin, that makes it’s victims experience hallucinations of their phobias. It’s this weapon that freaked me out during Batman: Arkham Asylum…See, Arkham Asylum starts off as a fairly normal third person adventure game. Then you encounter Scarecrow and his fear toxin and things start to go wrong.
These sections of the game are known as Scarecrow’s Nightmare sections and believe me, they are not a walk in the park. Batman, exposed to Scarecrow’s fear toxin, is forced to undertake a hellish platforming section. There are three of these sections in the game and I think one of the reasons they unnerved me is because of the drastic change in Arkham Asylum’s gameplay. Batman, who is usually stronger, quicker and has the advantage of all his gadgets and weapons, is reduced to a tiny, helpless figure running from a giant Scarecrow amidst a collapsing landscape. The difference between the 3D action segments and these 2.5D platforming segments is night and day. There is no warning the first time this happens either…you are simply thrown into the platforming section after witnessing the hallucinations from Scarecrow’s fear gas.
‘Witness’ is probably the wrong word in my case. I was stressed out by all three of the hallucinations. The first two play off Batman’s origin story, the murder of Bruce Wayne’s parents. I find the idea of a child seeing his parents murdered as heartbreaking and distressing, so this aspect of the hallucinations got right under my skin. The first hallucination, with Bruce’s parents in body bags and asking for help was creepy enough. The second hallucination, where Batman is forced to re-live his parents’ murder, stunned me. I went through a mixture of emotions… confusion as the game built up to the hallucination, dread as I slowly realized what was happening, anger at the thought of being made to go through this event and then a sort of terrified awe. I was scared and yet impressed at the programmers’ ability to bring out these emotions; they had played on my fears perfectly by making me helplessly go through a traumatic situation. I think the way Batman transforms into young Bruce Wayne at the end of this is symbolic of what I felt the game had done to me – at the end of that hallucination, I felt belittled and insignificant.
The third hallucination is the icing on the cake. The game gives the impression that it’s crashed and is replaying the intro sequence, which frustrated me…until I noticed that The Joker had swapped places with Batman! As Batman is helplessly shot by The Joker in Arkham Asylum, the game plays along with the hallucination, making you go through a Retry screen and telling you that you should of dodged The Joker’s bullet! If the other two hallucinations made me feel scared, then this one had me questioning my sanity. As someone who used to stay up very late to play games, this final hallucination had me wondering if I what I was seeing was due to sleep deprivation!
Thankfully, I beat Arkham Asylum and gave Scarecrow and The Joker what they deserved. However, I’ve never forgotten those Scarecrow sections. In fact, whenever anyone mentions Arkham Asylum, they are the first thing I bring up….nearly a decade on, they still bother me. I watched them again to write this post and the second hallucination still hits me hard….
(*Any comic book experts – feel free to correct me on the above information re comics. I read them fourteen years ago and a lot has happened since!)