Growing Up

(no spoilers)

Survival horror is dead. I killed it.

Not survival horror like “I want to be scared.” I do, really I do. I mean survival horror like “I want to limp down a hallway in danger status, knowing if I die that’s three hours of progress down the drain.” I’m over it. I think I am. I probably am. But my reptile brain still gives credence to the ceremony. It still believes that death and lost progress is what makes something tense.

I start the game and pause my cursor at the difficulty selection. I settled on hard.

I died a couple times. Learning the system, I rationalized. No big deal. The need for mastery lasted until I spent twenty minutes trying to clear a single ambush room. Restarting a dozen times, going through the scripted power shortage, and waiting in the dark for the enemies to two-shot me killed any desire I had for an experience fraught with peril. Too many game overs in the first hour. I scaled it back to normal. My finger hung stupidly over the button as the game asked, repeatedly, if I really wanted to do this. Did I really want to sacrifice meaningless gamer cred in order to have an easier time of things?

I paused. Twenty minutes of the first hour sitting in one room, planning step-by-step around every spawn. Shoot that guy, stun him, get ready for the second guy, then the flailing crawly guy comes out of the vents and takes me out. Repeat. The same ninety seconds. Twenty minutes of it. It’s only four guys! I can’t kill four guys? It’s already 10:30. Work tomorrow. A lot of time to spend on one videogame in which you make no progress. I’ve still got Amnesia sitting on my computer, mostly unplayed. Donkey Kong Country is sitting on the table in front of the TV. We still haven’t beat Kirby… and… and…

Gave in. Normal. Fine.

Some part of me will always gaze longingly at the Hardcore difficulty setting. With its high damage, limited resources, and maximum of three saves per playthrough. I’ll place my hand on the television screen as if there were a newborn puppy waiting for me on the other side. Hardcore: the difficulty made for the seventeen year old me. Even if he died six inches from the only kosher save in a Code Veronica speed run the seventeen year old me would come right back the next day with a new plan. Three saves for a twelve hour game? Seems generous. Let’s do it in two.

It’s about growing up. Your tolerance for bullshit diminishes. You want a game like Dead Space where even if you die there’s a save spot every second room, and an invisible checkpoint in every third. You lose two minutes, not two hours. I don’t like lost progress, and I don’t like repeating challenges I’ve already cleared. That’s part of being older. It’s part of being almost thirty. It’s part of having work, and a girlfriend, and forty other games you want to play, and social obligations, and TV shows, and bar trivia nights.

All the while Fatal Frame 4 gathers dust.

So maybe I killed survival horror. Maybe the Playstation generation did. It’s been fifteen years since we played Resident Evil. We all grew up. We don’t have the time or the patience. Dead Space 2 isn’t survival horror per se — It’s dumb and it’s not particularly scary — but it’s something close. It has moments when there’s no ammo and moments where there’s lots of monsters. At those times it feels intense the way Resident Evil games no longer do.

I miss survival horror, but maybe I miss it the way I miss eating Beefaroni for every meal, or waking up at four in the afternoon and going to a single college class and never having any money ever. Circle-strafing the nemesis, adapting to absurd control schemes, playing the same game six times in a row. I don’t know if that’s a part of my life anymore. At least this time, at least with Dead Space 2, I’ll content myself to window-gaze at Hardcore mode and convince myself that Normal wasn’t that bad.