Games that haunt you


#1

I’ve been trying to articulate a feeling I get off certain games. It’s not limited to games, but I get it a lot from games just because I do that a lot. It’s a feeling of being haunted by a game. I’ll try to explain what I mean…

Y’know when you are walking around in your day to day life and you can’t stop thinking about a game? And not just in a ‘I really want to be playing this game’ right now kind of way, but in a way where it completely inhabits your mood and projects itself onto everything else you see and do for a while. Like it’s a colour filter on your life, or like it has become a part of you for a while. D’ya know what I mean?

Sometimes it’s just the game itself doing what it does so effectively. I definitely got that way with NieR: Automata. That game haunted me hard, as did The Last Guardian (it’s been a good few months for hauntings).

Sometimes it needs a nudge. I didn’t think Persona 5 had whatever it takes, but some late game stuff in combination with some recent developments in UK Politics for whatever reason just intersected really well for me - and boom, suddenly my whole mood was Persona 5 flavoured for a few days.

You ever had a game affect you in that kind of way? What are your haunty games?


#2

The first big game that I was invested in was Chrono Trigger. The part where you are judged in front of a court room and all of the rummaging around in the level you usually do in JRPGs results in you getting put into jail. The cutscene will actually change depending on what you did.

“That sandwich you found and ate? That was some guys lunch that you just totally stole. When you bumped into that girl and she dropped her necklace, you picked up the necklace before you went to see if she was okay, that was kinda shitty.”

I was like 7 or 8 when I played that part for the first time and it’s always resonated with me. Some other ones are the Krogan genocide subplot of Mass Effect, as well as the hunter in Witcher 3 who had an affair with the baron’s son and was forced out of the village.


#3

When I beat Undertale I literally could not sleep for hours even though I had to get up at 7am the next day

I spent like two hours in bed just thinking about it

Before that it was… ME2 I think. I remember being in college classes and all I could think about was which loyalty mission I should do next.


#4

The Last of Us. It’s been a few years since I played it, and I’ll probably never play it again. But it was real, almost too real, to me. The emotions of the characters, particularly being lost in a world you think you know about, really sat in my thoughts. TO this day, when I’m feeling particularly dour, my thoughts turn to that game.


#5

Soma. Always Soma. That game burrowed its way into my brain and it’s there to stay.


#6

I split these feelings into two groups: games where I see the game in the real world, and games where they resonate with me deeper down and I can’t stop thinking about them.

The former is usually puzzle games for me, like Tetris, Portal and the Witness.

The latter is usually story-centric games. Final Fantasy X is a game that’s stayed with me since release and I think about often. FFX gives me a hopeful yet almost sinking feeling whenever I think of it (or Tidus whom I felt very close to as a child in terms of his wants, relationships and place in the world). Besaid Island is also my go-to happy place (music and all). Bioshock Infinite enveloped me for a good few weeks after release due to the ending (in the same way that LOST did).

There are, however, some games where the art direction keeps hold of me such as the Team ICO games or Enslaved: Odyssey to the West.


#7

Assassin’s Creed 2 has some really weird late game secrets that involve the simulation breaking down or something? It’s been a long time, but I spent enough time looking for things in that game that I remember it vaguely sticking with me after I stopped playing


#8

I experience this pretty frequently, from a couple of different angles.

Oftentimes, I’ll be so cognitively invested in a game that its systems, mechanics, and to a degree, its aesthetics will become a part of my subconscious. I find this happens most often in atmospheric puzzle games that combine abstract thought with psychological isolation — think Myst, The Room, and The Witness. For weeks while playing The Witness, I couldn’t go anywhere without noticing grid patterns in public and feeling that neural “tingle” — a sort of subconscious prompt that you’re encountering a familiar pattern, and a certain part of your brain needs to activate to try to understand it. I emphasize the aesthetic factor on this, because it only serves to amplify this effect. The deliberate quasi-steampunk styles of Myst and Riven have been hardwired into my mind, and any time I encounter complex, beautiful mechanical systems, I’m transformed back to those fond experiences of solving those puzzles, much like the effect of scent-memory when you smell a familiar aroma that’s tied to a past experience.

On another level, many games can be emotionally haunting, and I think that’s what @KestrelPi and @ChronoPunk are getting at here. Those narratives that not only tug at your heart strings, but get you invested in a way that forces you to think about how these characters’ experiences relate to your own. Horizon Zero Dawn did it most recently for me. The awe-inspiring world design — those moments where you come over a ridge and gasp at the sheer beauty and serenity of the landscape before you — drew me in and made me care about how truly human the characters felt. That level of investment stuck with me, making it so that even small emotional moments throughout the story could make me tear up, and coming across a familiar sight or concept in person filled me with a bittersweet fondness of HZD’s emotional arc.

Edit: Even more than HZD, the week I spent playing Life Is Strange was an emotional roller coaster. Every gut-punch and twist in those five episodes left me with a sense of overwhelming, profound numbness — in a good way. In a way that made me think, “Wow, these characters’ struggles are so much more real than any of the stuff I think is a problem for me.” I think, more than anything, the power of games that “haunt” you are that they create empathy in the player, and make us reconsider our perspectives from encountering emotionally taxing experiences through others’ eyes.


#9

In a sense, thinking a lot about the psychological aspect of Silent Hill 2 has stuck with me, where some nights were hard to sleep even after long stopped playing for the day

All because that feeling in the back of the mind of “had I done something that will manifest as a monster even though I don’t know it?” Subconscious hidden desires yadda yadda


#10

Sounds like we’re very much on the same page here!


#11

I felt that sort of cognitive haunting after finishing Breath of the Wild and trying to play other games. I was so used to being able to jump off cliffs and paraglide everywhere that I found the lack of freedom in most other games to be really disappointing. I also would dream about solving shrine puzzles and gliding down from snowy mountains into the deep Gerudo Desert. Hopefully it’ll wear off soon, 2017 has left me with many great games to play.


#12

This happened to me with LA Noire (of all games). I remember sitting in an American Government class my freshman year of college and going over the interrogation for the Golden Butterfly case (the one with the mind reading guy from Heroes). I ended up charging the non-Heroes guy, the guy with a history of stalking and pedophilia. But I was genuinely worried I charged the wrong guy for the murder and couldn’t get it out of my head. I kept going over the evidence and over all of their interrogation responses and I don’t think I ever fully reconciled my feelings on it. It was a unique feeling and I really can’t think of another game that gave me such a moral hang up.

Too bad none of it mattered since one of the many (horrible) twists in the game (and yes, I know it’s like classic Noir stories blah blah blah) is that neither of the guys were guilty. Despite that, I’ll never forget how torn I was after I made my charging decision. Very haunting.

This is definitely my most tangible example of a game haunting me. Others would be The Witness, Breath of the Wild (the most recent), The Last of Us, Persona 4, and any Souls game. These kinds of hauntings were less crunchy than the LA Noire one, but they definitely took over my life while I was playing them. Thought about them before falling asleep, while walking/driving anywhere, doing homework, in the back of my mind during every conversation I had with a real person, etc.


#13

Bioshock.

When I first picked it up I didn’t know a whole lot about it, but thought it looked neat and wanted a shooter. I got about halfway through and had to leave it for a few years …

… and picked it up again when my daughter was about a year old. When I caught my first little sister I hesitated - maybe I shouldn’t suck her precious Adam? So I “saved” her, which I had assumed would be something where I didn’t get a bonus, but just freed her and she would die.

Oh, no, she doesn’t just die. She became a real girl again. That the game never explicitly told me “you can actually save and actually help these girls” still kind of haunts me - that if I hadn’t just taken a second to think about my actions I could have gone through the game without helping those poor girls.

The rest of the plot was whatever but it was my goddamn mission to find every sister and help her escape. I didn’t give a whit about the rest of the story as it related to my character, I just cared about saving those girls. Needless to say, the “good” ending where you rescue the Little Sisters and find out you live out their days with them was rather touching.

But sometimes I think about diving back into Bioshock because I can’t stop thinking about the plight of the Little Sisters.


#14

I feel like this happens pretty frequently in my case but I very quickly forget which games do this for me. SOMA is one that I still end up thinking about from time to time for sure though


#15

I played the Japanese version of Persona 5 when it came out last fall and thought my obsession might die down by the time the game saw international release, but if anything it’s gotten worse. As someone with PTSD as the result of someone similar to the first boss, the catharsis I got from completing that dungeon was unlike any other media experience. The idea of causing someone without a conscience to fully experience guilt is a concept of revenge that I’ve never seen, and I think it might be the most satisfying form of it possible. I expect it will linger with me forever.

The complexities and tragedy of a certain antagonist in the game are another aspect of it that I can’t keep out of my mind. I don’t think I’ve ever come across a character that’s made me wrestle with my own emotions like this.


#16

So this might be pretty personal, but when i played Life Is Strange i was going through a bad break up/ separation or whatever you wanna call it. We had been dating for a couple months and taking it slow, and after a certain time, the person i was dating told me about her struggle with a mental illness and that she needed to start therapy right away. So selfcare was the most important thing at that point for her, and us dating didn´t fit into that. So we just…stopped.

[Spoilers for Life Is Strange]

After i started playing i saw a lot of character traits in Max Caulfield, that i also saw and valued in the partner i just lost. I don´t know how much i projected into that, and i don´t think it really matters anymore, but the whole plot of trying to make that relationship with Chloe work and failing at every step, because there are things you can´t control, even when you´re a timebending teenager, really hit hard. So when I had to let that go in the end, and that damn Foals song started playing, that was propably the last time i cried because of that lost love. The episodic nature of the game, gave me a pretty good idea about the 6 months i spent mourning that relationship. And in the end i felt a big relief and somewhat that it was time to move on. Things aren´t that simple of course, but Life Is Strange played a big part in how i processed everything that was happening. In a way that a game never had.


#17

Inside

Everything about that game is permanently ingrained in my head. Not on a totally personal level, but more in the way that it’s a beautiful and grotesque mystery that I felt closely connected to while playing. It made me feel legitimate fear and suspense and curiosity and intrigue in ways that games rarely (if ever) do. Everyone owes it to themselves to experience that game.


#18

Actually there’s one more I want to mention: Heavy Rain.

Say what you will about HR’s flaws, of which there are many. But when I played that game for the first time and had no idea how my choices would actually affect the story, every choice weighed extremely heavy with me (no pun intended, honest).

Specifically, the last trial Ethan has, where he’s told the only way he can save his son is by drinking a vial of poison that will eventually kill him. There’s no way to tell if the Origami Killer is bluffing - for all you know the poison could be fake, or there could be another way to find your son (and of course, it turns out both of those things are actually true, but there’s no way to know in the moment and I had no idea when I was playing). I remember when that scene happened, I literally paused the game for a good ten minutes and just thought about what I would do if I was in that situation. Even that morning I was still thinking about it.

I did it. And if it actually happened I’d do it.


#19

I played Brothers not long after it came out and can still feel the gut-punch of the moment in that game whenever its mentioned. To be honest its so rare that games can make me feel such a strong emotion that I hope I never forget it.


#20

While I didn’t play it myself bc I can’t run it… I gobbled up somebody else’s playthrough of Soma in about two sittings. I don’t think the story itself is masterful or anything but the questions/scenarios it presents about personhood and humanity are horrifying and difficult for me