Toby explains the mathematical formula for true scariness.
By Toby McCasker on July 10, 2013 at 2:03 pm
True story: I sautéed my pantaloons with jaundice water when I played System Shock for the first time. I might even be talking literally but you’ll never know. This game turned me into a screaming and diminutive female Basset Hound. At the time I sat there scoffing at imagined gameplay failings and telling myself it was a bad game and it was all okay: I was still an alpha teen with a bright future ahead of me (no one has ever accused me of being an oracle. Maybe an optimist).
I took System Shock back to the store and told the guy my lies and he gave me this look, like, “Mate are you forreal?” I was not. He had seen through that youthful smoke ‘n mirrors act instantly and laid bare an embarrassing reality: I was Toby McPissyPants over a video game.
I had since repressed this memory because of the great shame it brought upon my family name, but it bubbled up to the surface again recently. I’d just played The Last of Us (get a PS3 for this game alone. No just do it, god). While perturbing in parts, I didn’t do an involuntary wee. I’m desensitised as all get out nowadays – you should see the “Horror” section in my DVD war cabinet, I will be arrested one day – but I started to think: I’m always bitching about survival-horror being sucky. When was the last time I was really afraid? Playing System Shock.
Quick follow-up on that: What was I so afraid of? There is a mathematical formula for the “perfect” scary movie. It looks like this:
(es+u+cs+t) squared +s+ (tl+f)/2 + (a+dr+fs)/n + sin x – 1
What the crap does that mean?
es is escalating music; u is the unknown; cs is chase scenes; t is the sense of being trapped; a is the character being alone; dr is how dark the film is; fs is the film setting; tl stands for true life; f stands for fantasy; n is for number of people; sin is blood and guts and s is shock.
Most games these days are stupid assholes and mess this formula up pretty good, and pretty quickly. Dead Space 3 dispensed with a for alone and became blah. Resident Evil only boasts t in so far as when I play it now I feel trapped by a burning need to not play it anymore. Of the “name” horror-y franchises, Silent Hill remains the closest thing to uneasy, if not exactly scary. You could argue that its fs is so played out now it has neither the capacity to remain shocking and is most definitely not unknown. It’s like Wayne’s World: “Hi… I’m in… Silent Hill.”
“Helplessness” does not factor in as you might expect, but is instead the sum total of all of these things. I realised that System Shock is this formula, and that’s why I cried like a big baby with a stupid big baby head: Because of everything. In the end I just couldn’t hack feeling like I was going to die every second of every minute.
The math doesn’t lie: That’s true fear, and I can’t think of another game that has ever managed that complex equation so completely. It has all that, The Shining of video games. It was also made in 19-goddamn-94 and looks like butt circa now. Hey, gaming. You’re rebooting everything else, ain’tcha?