It’s nearly Halloween, the time of year devoted to spooky stories, scary movies, horror games, and changing your Twitter handle from ‘Gary Watkins’ to ‘Scary Bat Skins’ and then forgetting to change it back until at least mid-November. Come on, Gary. Get your shit together.
Come, won’t you, and join the writers of PC Gamer as we sit around our virtual campfire, where with flashlights (activated by pressing the F key) pointed at our avatar’s faces, we take turns telling our spookiest PC gaming stories. Some involve horror games, some don’t. Some took place on a screen, some in real life. All involve games, in some way.
And all involve… terror. (scarylaugh_6.wav)
James Davenport: GTA Fright City
As most teens do, my friend and I abandoned every responsibility in favor of playing GTA: Vice City on its release day until we could no longer stay awake or drink anymore sugar water. We were at his house, a log home on the edge of a small town in western Montana. It was late fall, which meant snow, and it was coming down in droves that particular night. We cozied up inside and smashed cars into walls for a good while. It was a great time, but I started feeling unnerved for no obvious reason. We kept playing, the nervousness peaked and dissipated without issue.
Three or so hours later, around 2 a.m., the feeling came back. This time, my friend and I made knowing eye contact. ‘You feel like we’re being watched?’ he asked. I nodded. We looked around the room, out the living room window, and the glass pane door behind us. We didn’t expect to see anything, considering the tall fence surrounding the backyard was locked. Nothing but the snow coming down in heavy flakes effused by a dim porch light. We returned to the game, but only for twenty or so minutes this time. The feeling came back, more intense than before. My survival instincts were kicking in. Again, we made eye contact and began to scan the room. Framed in the glass pane doorway was a woman in a cream colored nightgown. She looked gaunt and pale, her hair was red and wet. She took another step towards the door. No shoes. We didn’t move and just looked at one another for a moment.
She began to scramble with the door handle. We didn’t tend to lock our doors in Deer Lodge, so she was able to open it and start her way inside. My friend stood up and threw himself against the door, pushing her out and locking it. As he ran to get his dad, she took off around the corner. The man of the house emerged from upstairs in whitey-tighties cradling a shotgun. We looked for her outside, but she was nowhere to be found. The snow had already covered her footprints, as wet and heavy as it was. We all came down from the adrenaline and considered what had actually happened. So it probably wasn’t a ghost, but someone who’d locked themselves out in the neighborhood. But who locks their doors here? How and why did she get through the fence to the backyard before ringing the doorbell up front? I still have no idea. But now whenever I stay up late playing a game, I check the windows instinctively every hour or so just in case.
Wes Fenlon: In the woods, everyone can hear you scream
In the winter of 2011, two of my best friends and I took a trip out of town to spend a weekend at my family’s lake house in rural Georgia. It was a freezing cold February, so we weren’t going for the swimming. We were there for the big TV, the surround sound system, and three days of isolation to play Dead Space 2.
To get in the spirit of things, we decided to play Dead Space 2 from dusk late into the night. Since it was winter, the sun was down by late afternoon, and we took turns guiding Isaac through the necromorphs infesting the seriously messed up space station called The Sprawl. Dead Space 2 was spooky, but veered more towards action than the slower-paced original. We were all on edge: the amazing surround sound design meant we had necromorphs moaning and roaring all around us. It gets really dark in a lake house in the woods in February. After a couple nights of playing, we’d made it through most of the game. And then we got to the eye surgery scene.
The more cavalier of my two friends was in control, and he kept the needle perfectly positioned over Isaac’s iris…until the last second when it jerked out of position. The entire needle armature came hurtling down, crushing Isaac’s eye socket in a fountain of blood. He laid there writhing on the table with a giant needle jammed clear through his skull. Two days of tension exploded in that moment. The other friend jumped off the couch, howled “What the fuck!” and couldn’t stop alternating between nervous laughter and revulsion. It took us a good five minutes to recompose ourselves enough to try the scene again. Thank god I made it through the second try without crushing Isaac’s eye. I honestly don’t think we could’ve taken the violence of that scene a second time.
Tim Clark: Peter Molyboo
The earliest I can recall being, well, not so much spooked, but weirded out by a game, was playing Rambo on the Commodore 64. (Which should enable you to brutally pinpoint my age.) I was playing it with my best pal, and it had been a marathon session thanks to some hilariously hands-off parenting. Through bleary eyes, one of us noticed Rambo had developed a doppelganger. Blinking out from behind the bushes was another, greener, Rambo, otherwise going about the same foreigner-killing business. Ghost Hulk Rambo can only have been on screen for a few seconds, but we became with obsessed with him, and spent many hours fruitlessly trying to re-summon him. These days it’d barely make for a cool YouTube glitch video, but back then, with no internet to explain otherwise, it felt like some sort of eerie proto-Easter Egg the meaning of which we were compelled to decipher.
My other semi-spooky story is actually purloined from James Davenport, who reminded me about a morbid piece of audio from Black & White that also weirded me out. Whenever a villager died in the fun-but-flawed god game (hey, it was a Peter Molyneux joint), a spectral voice would whisper ‘deeeeeeeeeath’. Perhaps because it was barely loud enough to pick out over the regular FX, the sound wormed its way into my brain like the Ceti eel larva which Khan dunked into Chekov’s ear (I’m going for peak nerd here). The more I played, the more I started hearing ‘deeeeeeeeath’ elsewhere. In supermarkets. At school. On the shrink’s couch.
Well, not quite. But it was creepy. And potentially even creepier, because the game would also, very occasionally, also whisper the player’s name, provided it was common enough to be in the selection of audio samples. Quite how it knew what you were called was hotly debated, with this thread suggesting it was actually based off your Windows registration. Haunting stuff, eh Jaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaames?
Samuel Roberts: Star jumps…from hell!
One of my stranger habits in life—and it’s a decent talking point if I’m stuck for conversation with someone I don’t like—is that my preferred form of exercise during the evenings is going into my spider-infested garage and doing 400 star jumps (or jumping jacks, as they’re also known) before returning to my flat, hopefully without my neighbours noticing. The garage contains nothing except the discarded box of a Lego Batman Tumbler and, for some reason, a copy of Utilitarianism by John Stuart Mill (long story, but I ended up with that because of BioShock 2 and now it lives in my garage while I read books about Batman instead). One night I’d been playing chapter three of The Evil Within, a chapter where you stalk around a horror sandbox in this dark, foggy village, looking for a way to open the gate to progress.
It’s not that scary as horror games go, but there was this big bastard chained up in a barn who, once you shoot the chains that free him, chases you around with a chainsaw until you can find a way to kill him. It was touch and go: I made a run for it around the village, avoiding death frequently while dodging the chainsaw swipes. I emptied all my explosive crossbow bolts into the guy, and eventually lured him into a trap where I pulled a trigger and killed him with spikes shooting downwards from the ceiling. Dead! Good job. End of chapter. I saved the game and switched it off, ready to go outside to do my evening routine of star jumps. In the dead of night. In my garage. Outside the safety of my flat.
I creep into my garage and silently shut the door. I turn around and there’s a guy there all chained up! Not really, but I do check the cracked walls for spiders before I start to jump. I’m about 20 jumps in when I hear someone walk past my garage door. Very closely, by the sounds of it. I pause jumping, wait for the person to go, then carry on jumping.
About 30 seconds later…FOX MATING SCREECH! “NOPE” I think to myself, running out of the garage and back inside where I watch a disc of The Simpsons to calm down. The Evil Within isn’t that scary, but there’s just enough grim, real world imagery for my brain to make the connection between it and real life. Enough for me to stop exercising like a complete idiot, anyway.
Tom Marks: We don’t go to Ravenholm
I was 13 when I first played Half-Life 2, and I didn’t like scary things. I didn’t watch horror movies or play scary games, so when I got to Ravenholm I was just as apprehensive as Alyx was. It was a tense experience the whole way through—checking every corner twice, saving all the bullets I could. I couldn’t find joy in activating traps or slicing zombies in half with a saw blade because my heart was pounding so loud I could pretty much hear it over the game.
About half way through the town, I finally began to relax a little. I started to understand what was coming and could prepare myself for it. Until, that is, I found myself on top of a building and a drain pipe began to shake. Fast zombies. As they started surrounding me on a Ravenholm rooftop, my conservative attitude towards ammo quickly flew out the window and I started shooting at anything that twitched. Predictably, I ran dry fast.
Everything was dead, my guns were empty, and I was breathing heavy…and then I heard another pipe shake. I grabbed a nearby gas tank and ran into the small room on roof, crouching as I huddled myself into the corner furthest from the door. The pipe continued to shake, before it was replaced with an eerie silence. I had my Gravity Gun trained square on the entrance, and finally a fast zombie burst through the door and made a b-line straight for me. I screamed, jumped, and shot the propane tank at him, which promptly exploded. I had a brief moment of pride, thinking my plan had worked, before a burning zombie emerged from the flames and and continued its pursuit. I pretty much lost my shit and probably died, but I honestly don’t remember much after that moment. This was the first moment I was truly terrified in a video game and honestly, I’d rather not remember it all so clear.
Chris Livingston: Dead but not deleted
I was playing The Graveyard. Despite the title, it’s not a horror game, it’s an experimental art game by Tale of Tales. In it, you slowly escort an elderly woman through a cemetery. You listen to a strange little song, and then the woman sits down for a rest on a bench. That’s essentially it, at least in the free version. In the paid version, there’s a chance that while the old woman is sitting on the bench, she’ll die. My morbid curiosity led me to buy the game, and there I was, watching her rest on the bench for several long, uneventful minutes.
At one point my cat jumped onto my desk, and as he was a large and boisterous cat, this led to him knocking a bunch of things over. After a moment spent straightening up, I looked back at the screen. The old woman was dead. I’m not a deep thinker, but this still lead to a few moments of somber reflection on how minor distractions can cause you to miss the most important events in life, and how our lives are fleeting and someday we’ll all be passing away on that same metaphorical bench, perhaps while someone important to us is busy attending to something else.
A few weeks later, my morbid curiosity surfaced again. I’d gotten something out of The Graveyard, those few thoughtful moments, but I hadn’t actually witnessed that old woman die. I started the game again, determined to see it actually happen. When the game loaded, instead of it beginning with the walk through the cemetery, it simply started at the bench where that old woman WAS STILL SITTING THERE DEAD.
I was completely shocked and aghast. I freaked out. I think I actually got out of my chair and left the room. I mean, yikes and gross and eww and nope. I had no reflective thoughts on how once we die we’re dead for all eternity, or anything like that. Just the thought that there’s been an old dead woman on my computer for the past several weeks, just sitting there, dead and alone and dead while I was playing other games. I immediately uninstalled it, and the double-checked to make sure all the files were completely gone. It was just too damn creepy to know she was there, her lifeless virtual body haunting my PC.