Everyone's got images in their mind they'd rather be rid of. Maybe you snuck downstairs for a forbidden late-night viewing of A Nightmare on Elm Street as a kid. Maybe you staggered home drunk one night, and misguidedly decided to see what all the 3 Guys 1 Hammer fuss was all about. Maybe Pennywise the Clown is the reason you obsessively avoided showers and ended up reeking of BO for most of your early adolescence. Or maybe you saw an elderly gentleman projectile vomit his false teeth onto the indifferent concrete outside McDonald's when you were ten, an image that regularly causes you to wake up in nauseated, thrashing night sweats.
We've all got them—images that lay dormant in the distracting light of day, but return when you're horizontal and staring at the back of your eyelids in complete darkness, tossing from side to side. The things that never leave you, lingering constantly in the back of your mind, always following you, and which you'll never forget. Ever.
As it turns out, video games have a healthy share of these moments. As the medium has become more sophisticated, developers have found increasingly inventive ways to repulse, sadden, terrify, and disturb the player. From the sickeningly brutal, to the psychologically petrifying, right down to eye-watering moments of profound sadness, here are a few of the video game moments I can't seem to shake from my broken mind.
Look, these are all games that have been out a while, but nevertheless, consider what follows to contain spoilers for Condemned: Criminal Origins, The Last of Us, Dead Space 2, Silent Hill 2, SOMA, Life Is Strange, Metal Gear Solid 4, and The Walking Dead.
GOING SHOPPING, 'CONDEMNED: CRIMINAL ORIGINS'
If you're anything like me, you're irrationally terrified of mannequins. Imagine going to the kitchen in the dead of night to investigate a scratching noise, and finding one sat there on your sofa. Worse yet, imagine being dragged to a derelict shopping center in Monolith Software's overlooked horror gem Condemned, swarming with lunatics, being told to LEAVE by means of blood scrawled on a mutilated body thrown down the escalators at you, and then finding that the dummies are alive as well. They're appearing in rows behind you, vacant grins, blue suits, preventing you from escaping.
It's not something to experience in the dark, I promise you faithfully.
JOEL'S LIE, 'THE LAST OF US'
In my opinion, the ending to The Last of Us is an absolute masterpiece. Just watching the conversation between Ellie and Joel again for the purposes of this piece, my hairs pricked up, and fuck, my eyes even watered up a bit. "Swear to me," Ellie interrupts. "Swear to me that everything you said about the Fireflies is true." Joel looks at her in disbelief. It's not. She knows. He swears. And her eyes dart around suspiciously, heart-breakingly, as Gustavo Santaolalla's melancholy Spanish guitars begin tingling in the background. "Okay," she whispers. Tears forming in her betrayed eyes. And yours. Mainly yours.
COME TO DADDY, 'SILENT HILL 2'
When it comes to that invasive sense of tumbling, feverish, psychological turmoil—the harrowing room possessions in Silent Hill 4, Heather's oral miscarriage in Silent Hill 3, the entirety of P.T.—Konami's flagship horror series is largely unrivaled. For me, the franchise's most lasting and damaging image comes in the form of the Abstract Daddy in Silent Hill 2—a twisted and nightmarish manifestation of a female character's abuse at the hands of her father.
I've never been successful in fully shaking the Abstract Daddy from my mind. I think about it regularly. The way it vaguely resembles a man, grasping greedily and appallingly underneath blood-soaked bed sheets. The way Angela nearly vomits on the floor at the prospect of being touched by a reassuring James. The room itself, a demented padded cell, abstract objects penetrating the perfect holes in the wall. In every possible sense, the Abstract Daddy is the stuff of nightmares. It embodies them, represents them, and eventually, when you're tucked up in your sad little bed at night, it becomes them.
STICK A NEEDLE IN YOUR EYE, 'DEAD SPACE 2'
Can someone help me to block all mentions and images of eyeball tattoos on the internet? I'm unbearably squeamish about eyeballs. Imagine that. Having your eyeballs, possibly the most sensitive, achy, valuable organ in the body, poked with minuscule needles.
In case you needed reminding, fellow ommetaphobes, Dead Space 2 has the most wince-inducing eye-maiming scene since Lucio Fulci's Zombie Flesh Eaters. The player-controlled Isaac is strapped into some ghastly dystopian contraption, his bulbous, juicy, quivering eyeballs darting around in a panic. Fail the sequence, and the machine collapses and he screams in a mess of blood and grue. Fine. Over the top and really not that bad. But succeed, however, and the needle gently penetrates his iris, producing a gentle splatter of eye fluid, extends into the back of his brain, and pops back out again, a tiny fleck of blood appearing around the organ. Somehow, that's worse. I can't watch it again, even to this day. I can't stop imaging how unbearable that would be. The blinding of Isaac, indeed.
Oh, and I salute anyone with the balls to get eyeball tattoos done. Just don't come anywhere near me.
KATE'S SUICIDE, 'LIFE IS STRANGE'
On a rainy day in Arcadia Bay, I failed to save Kate from jumping off the roof.
Life Is Strange has a deeply unsettling way of making the player feel responsible for this, depending on your actions in the first two chapters—rejecting or accepting her phone calls, stepping in to save her from the school's obnoxious bullies—and it all comes to head on the roof of Blackwell Academy, the rain pouring, Kate's bloodshot, tear-ravaged eyes staring back at you as you make life or death conversation choices against the clock.
I made the wrong ones, and Kate's tortured life came to a premature end in one of video gaming's most intelligent and devastating representations of bullying and suicide ever witnessed.
PING!, 'METAL GEAR SOLID 4: GUNS OF THE PATRIOTS'
With the cold steel of a loaded pistol against my head, I could probably be forced to choose MGS4's microwave hall as my favorite moment in the entire series.
In the title's most devastating sequence, Snake crawls agonizingly through a seeming never-ending corridor of radioactive torture inside Outer Haven, Otacon desperately begging him not to give up, to forget about the pain.
"Love Theme" plays beautifully during the course of this astonishing set piece, which, brilliantly, forces the player to tap buttons constantly during its five-minute run-time; a thumb and wrist-crushingly torturous experience which places the player's physical and mental running in direct parallel with that of Snake's. It's exactly the sort of brave, brilliant and unforgettable design only Hideo Kojima is truly capable of. And exactly the sort of scene you'll never forget.
THE TUNNEL OF NOPE, 'SOMA'
SOMA, my favorite game of last year, has one specific sequence which manages to combine three of humankind's most common and visceral fears: the fear of spiders, the fear of small spaces, and the fear of the dark.
Towards the end of the game, when you descend to the hellish bowels of the ocean, fighting off an impeccably realized and awe-inspiringly atmospheric underwater hurricane, the developers prod you down a tunnel. A dark tunnel. A very dark tunnel. A very, very dark tunnel. A very, very dark and cramped tunnel. A very, very, very dark, cramped tunnel at the bottom of the sea. A very, very, very dark, cramped tunnel at the bottom of the sea, filled with huge, disgusting spiders, clinging to the walls like hands, and which constantly threaten to jump off and attack you.
That's why I call it the Tunnel of Nope. I still have nightmares about it. I am 31 years old.
LEE'S DEATH, 'THE WALKING DEAD'
This is honestly true. Mug me off in the comments all you like. But I haven't cried like I did when The Walking Dead's Lee died since that evening, which must have been about three years ago. I was full on sobbing. Hot, pissy tears were streaming down my face. I couldn't control myself. Proper, full-on, convulsing, lurching sobs.
That scene, man.
Lee desperately trying to prepare the orphan Clem for the brutal realities of life without him. Choosing to shoot him and accepting the consequences. The constant tension of having to make your conversation decisions quickly. Lee fading away, Clem's tears and shattered innocence. The final gunshot.
That fucking scene.
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