Horror Games – Indulging the Wickedness

Today, I finished playing a game that was recommended to me by a friend a while ago, called The Cat Lady. I can’t say I particularly enjoyed this game. I realised pretty quickly that revenge is a pretty bad motivator for me, and the horrific images they showed seemed to neither shock nor repulse me. In fact, the only thing that drew me back was how strongly my friend had recommended it. But, I also kept in mind that my friend loves horror games, while generally I do not.

Now, I am glad I played through to the end. The overall narrative was interesting and didn’t twist in the way I expected (unlike another, more highly rated game I played recently). But it left me wondering about why this game felt uncomfortable to me, while my friend, for example, found it so engaging from the start. I started thinking about play as a way to work through, understand, or come to terms with unpleasant situations or concepts safely.

Recently, I came across this article from Psychology Today about Wicked Thoughts. In it, the pervasive nature of forbidden thoughts is discussed, as are ways to engage with them. Suppressing them won’t work, and instead recognising them as only thoughts rather than actions can help prevent the guilt and shame that may come as a result. For larger, darker, already-suppressed thoughts, however, psychologists Eric Wilson and Lee Baer are cited and recommend (under supervision, where appropriate) giving in to fantasy, mentally playing out our darkest fears or unwanted desires; the idea is that performing this type of self-exposure therapy until the thought is pulled out of the forbidden is both cathartic and normalising. Not “nomalising” in the sense that the thought itself seems like a normal thing to do, but that thinking a wicked thought becomes a normal activity, essentially de-fetishising it. It’s almost like Dr. Peter Levine’s Somatic Experiencing, but forwards in time (ie, mentally playing with the narrative of a projected future experience), rather than re-experiencing a past trauma in a way that is able to discharge “stuck” hyperarousal energy.

I rarely, if ever, have thoughts of murder or revenge. I used to like horror films and games, but don’t often feel drawn to them anymore. While I love murder mysteries, its the mystery I love, not the murder. Which begs a new question for my self-reflection: if I love puzzles so much, what do I love about them, and why? What payoff do I get that lures me in where someone else may find it boring? What fear, what situation am I training myself for?

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