By all rights, I should be terrified of video games. Not just the ones that are legitimately terrifying, but ordinary ones. To be specific: side-scrolling platformers, shooters, and badly-executed action-adventure titles. I don’t speak of Limbo, Call of Modern Splodey Stuff, or The Old Republic, but of older games. Games created in the 80’s and 90’s, when the industry was still largely under the impression that it was for kids. However, much like 80’s cartoons, certain video games held the power to terrorize young minds far beyond the intention of the developers. I’m sure some psychologist could be paid well enough to insist I developed a mild form of PTSD as a result of playing games as a kid. A very young kid. Seriously, I was playing video games before I could read, and I learned to read in kindergarten.
The first game to terrify me so ruthlessly was the original Metroid. I don’t remember when we got this game. Much like my parents and older brother, it simply exists in the earliest parts of my memory. Unlike my parents and older brother, however, I can’t think of it without feeling vaguely uneasy. This anxiety jumps a few pegs if I hear the original Norfair theme, which I am listening to at this very moment to supplement the authenticity of this post. It is quite literally making me sick to my stomach. If I close my eyes, I can still picture those horrid purple bubbles trapping me inside the endless maze. I can hear the sound of morph ball bombs dropping and detonating. I can taste the bitter tang of my own hopelessness.
Following in the footsteps of Gunpei Yokoi’s unintentional fearmongering is the first Jurassic Park title for the Super Nintendo. This one can’t be blamed on the barely-formed fine motor skills and suboptimal rational processing skills of a 5-year-old. No, I was probably 9 or 10 when I played this title, which both amuses and shames me. The same faint nausea steals back into my gullet when I think of exploring the Visitor’s Center or Raptor Pen, and the T-rex theme still puts me on edge. Judging from the YouTube comments on the videos, though, it seems I wasn’t the only kid to be simultaneously confused and terrified by this particular game.
The third and final installment in this triptych of terror is Star Wars: Dark Forces. Released in 1995, this is another title whose primal panic I should have well outgrown by the time I played it. Still, as I’ve confessed publically, I was a scaredy-cat as a kid. The third stage of this game (the one where you first meet the sewer monsters that EAT YOUR FACE while honking in their horrible DEMON GOOSE voices) frightened me so badly that I actually stopped playing the game for several months. I distinctly remember paging through the manual, wishing I could find my way through the sewer level and experience all the fun weapons and enemies promised in later stages. Over time, this longing steeled my resolve, and I was able to face down those writhing tentacle masses instead of tucking tail. The taste of victory was sweeter for it, perhaps, but the memory of that fear is still with me to this day.
Simply put, certain games provoked such a visceral and all-encompassing reaction in my pre-adolescent self that I should have been traumatized away from the medium in general. People have certainly given up childhood pastimes for far less. If a broken bone can stop a kid from playing soccer, months of nightmares would certainly qualify as an acceptable deterrent. Still, after digging up all the theme music, watching all the old footage, and reliving that same fear, I want nothing more than to play through all of those games again. Let those cool kids have their soccer; while they’re kicking a ball around, I will be taking my life into my hands and overcoming terrors they could not begin to fathom.
I love this hobby.