Games like these are the things of nightmares. I can't imagine playing Amnesia: The Dark Descent as a child, and that's coming from someone who watched films like A Nightmare On Elm Street and Candyman when I was very, very young. This is because there's something video games offer that films, haunted houses, and ghost stories don't. They bring you closer to the horror than any other medium can.
A few years back, a team of scientists came together in London to do something I do on a weekly basis. They had a horror movie marathon. Their reasons for watching a slew of horror flicks differed from my own, as their goal was to study them and come up with a formula for rating a film's scares so they could decide on what the perfect horror film was. They eventually decided on Stanley Kubrick's The Shining—a good choice, in this author's opinion—and posted their formula and their findings online for the world to discuss.
The actual formula is more than a little complex, but the basic elements of each horror film they studied boil down to the suspense, realism, environment, gore, and its stereotypes. Video games are substantially different from their silver screen siblings, but they follow many of the same rules. Ideally, the "perfect" horror game would be the cause of the most nightmares in its players.
Amnesia would score highly in the suspense and environment categories, because both were tailored to keep you on edge for the duration of the game. When it comes to gore, the game really doesn't rely on that too heavily, so I imagine a high score there as well. It's not terribly realistic, as you're being hunted by creatures that look like they're out of one of H.R. Giger's worst nightmares. Sadly, the hugely overused "main character with a bad case of amnesia" plot tool also makes an unwelcome appearance, lowering the game's score in stereotypes as well.
Amnesia: The Dark Descent might not be the "perfect" horror game, but it's arguably the one that's come the closest to offering players the purest pants-wetting terror, more so than any game before it.
So what exactly causes a game to give you nightmares? That's relative to you, the player, and how you experience your games. I've noticed that people like me who really immerse ourselves in the media we enjoy are more prone to being affected by a game or film long after we've experienced it. Then there are players who enjoy their games—some even play them more often than those in the former group—but they don't immerse themselves in the character they control or the world they explore. They aren't necessarily doing anything wrong—you can play your games however you like—but it almost certainly makes you less susceptible to having them linger in your mind and your dreams afterward.
Date: July 3, 2012
*The views expressed within this article are solely the opinion of the author and do not express the views held by Cheat Code Central. This week's is also purely a work of fiction*