This week, Calum Marsh wrote about the totally meta “Sanity Effects” gimmick in Eternal Darkness, a horror game on the Nintendo GameCube. Calum was interested in the similarities between the technique employed there and those of B-movie auteur William Castle. needlehacksaw recalled attending a great Castle retrospective and offered some thoughts on the subject:
I’m lucky enough to be able to annually attend what most surely must be one of the loveliest film festivals on the planet, the Neuchâtel International Fantastic Film Festival (NIFFF for short). Among the many virtues of this festival are its retrospectives: I was got to see projections of proto 3D-classics like It Came From Outer Space and Revenge Of The Shogun Women there. (Being attacked by a flying murder braid never felt so real!) One year, they went all out with a William Castle retrospective, including rubber props, strategically placed actors, and fake screams that all helped transcend the boundary between audience and screen.
It’s actually kind of funny. I pretty much abhor being forced to watch blockbusters that were not even shot in 3D in bad projections for ridiculous prices. And I genuinely am saddened by the thought that movie theaters seriously think about having to add even more gimmicks (4D!) to survive. (After all, Castle did his “enhanced experience” to lure people who would have gone to the movie theater anyway. Struggling to lure people into the theater to begin with is a rather more desperate affair.) But in the atmosphere of the festival, I laughed and screamed along with everybody else when the existential horror of a rubber Tingler was being thrown at me. The important thing, of course, is that everybody was in on the joke. It was a kind of second-order laughter, a campy pleasure.
To be honest, I wonder if it was ever anything else. People sometimes think that moviegoers were more naive “back in the day,” that they really were afraid of the train on the screen or genuinely shocked by Castle’s ploys. If I remember correctly, though, there are scholars arguing that it was always more a case of suspension of disbelief and playing along rather than sheer ignorance.
What does this say about games? For one, it probably says that patenting the Sanity Meter was a strange move, because as a gimmick, its effect is destined to fall under the law of diminishing returns. Once it becomes a regular thing, its utility has run its course. Secondly, I wonder how many of the stories about people switching off their consoles in confusion and anger are actually part of a “meta-game” Eternal Darkness willfully sets up. (Gimmicks are always fabricated to be a talking point, after all.) So it would not so much be that players were actually tricked by the game, but more that they fell in love with a game courageous enough to play such a trick (and maybe the idea that other people are dumber than them, dumb enough to fall for it). It obviously worked: Eternal Darkness has very much become a cult game, well-known to people who have never actually experienced the Sanity Meter, much less fallen for its illusions. Then again, I can’t bring myself to see a cynical move in all that. After all, becoming a sort of urban legend is all too fitting a destiny for a horror game.
And before we get away from it, I want to share this promotional poster for The Tingler, because it’s fantastic. Do you have the guts to sit in THIS CHAIR?
Elsewhere, thesmokeylife wrote about another odd intersection between Eternal Darkness and film:
More Eternal Darkness trivia: To promote the game, Nintendo held a contest for ideas for short films that were grounded in the psychological horror theme of Eternal Darkness but didn’t feature any of the characters. The ten finalists were each given $2,000 to make their short films. The creator of the winning film received a grand prize of $20,000.
The contest winner, Patrick Daughters, later went on to direct the music video for “1234” by Feist, as well as clips for Grizzly Bear, Muse, and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs.
You can watch Unloved, Daughters’ winning film, here:
It’s been 12 years since Nintendo first published Eternal Darkness, and other than an ill-fated attempt at a spiritual sequel from some of the original developers, mum has been the word when it comes to a follow-up. As Wolfman Jew noted, Nintendo has been diligently extending the Eternal Darkness trademark, but the company is running out of time and either has to announce something related to the name in the next couple of years or give it up. (An HD remake seems like a no brainer amid the current horror game resurgence and something I would readily embrace.) Buttersnap imagined a mobile tie-in for the game, tossing it out as a joke before realizing it would actually be pretty cool:
Two-and-a-half years isn’t much time for a full sequel, but plenty of time for a half-assed mobile game!
Actually, the environment of a mobile phone is extremely ripe for new sanity effects. It could pretend it’s posting your entire photo library to Facebook or try to convince you that you’ve bought a few hundred microtransactions. Or…call your mom against your will.
Pgoodso took things even further:
That would be pretty cool, though, especially considering the kind of data that gets tracked as a matter of course on phones and tablets—who you call/message the most, when you’re most active. Hell, it could start putting up false events and alarms in your calendar. You’d have to have settings that put some very clear limits on what the game has access to or when it could screw with you. It could even make a call to a family member and prevent you from speaking to them while it sends its own audio. That would be FUCKED UP.
Samantha Nelson and Tasha Robinson treated us to their annual smattering of board game previews straight from Gen Con, America’s largest tabletop-game convention. One of the games in this year’s lineup was an expansion for the Pandemic, a popular cooperative game about squelching a spreading super plague. Digruntled Goat took to the comments to air some grievances about Pandemic and co-op board games:
That “whizzing” sound that you hear is all the love that Pandemic gets flying straight over my head. I don’t get the game’s popularity, at all. I tried playing it a few times, and it felt like homework. My problem with the game (and many co-op games) is that is mostly feels like the game is playing you, rather than the other way around. Especially in Pandemic, there is pretty much always a “correct” decision to make on your turn, which removes the element of making interesting choices and seeing if your strategy pans out—something I find most fun in games.
Pandemic has none of that: You have to do the thing you have to do, and if you don’t, you’ll lose the game. And even if you DO the thing you have to do, the game is ridiculously random and you’re probably going to lose by the turn of a card anyway. It’s pretty much the same reason I can’t stand Arkham Horror, except that game is even worse because it has 832 different decks of cards, takes an entire weekend to play, and you’re still just going to lose to some random bullshit.
CNightwing mostly agreed but also defended Arkham Horror:
There’s definitely a difficulty with cooperative games to make them feel like you’re all acting as individuals, rather than just cogs in a group-decision machine. If you’re playing with inexperienced or less apt people, it’s no fun for you if they can’t work out sensible moves, and no fun for them if you advise them. So it’s no fun for anyone really. Provided you’re playing with a group of people of similar ability, it can be fun to sit and discuss tactics and to decide when to hedge your bets. Then the game becomes a puzzle for you all to solve.
Arkham Horror is amazing, though, because often you have the most fun if you lose. Yes, it takes forever to set up, but it’s really much more about the experience of playing it than the outcome. There are stronger hints of individuality too, when a particular character achieves something you get attached to them and want them to survive. Plus with one expansion you can turn against the other players and help the Great Old One triumph. It’s best played with only two or three or maybe four people, though, to keep things moving.
…tell everyone about Gameological fight club! I was happy to see readers trading 3DS friend codes in the comments below my Super Smash Bros. For Nintendo 3DS review. If you’re getting the game and would like to bolster your friends list with some Gameological beatdown buddies, GaryX has started collecting and posting friend codes on a special page at the reader-run A.V. Club Awards website. He also made a handy submission form so you can easily submit your friend code for the list. Thanks, Gary! And by the way, my code is 0774-5606-3655. I’ll see you on “Battlefield” (or “Final Destination”)!
And with that, our Gameological week comes to a close. Thanks for reading and commenting, everyone. We’ll see you next week!