This has been sitting in my drafts for months now. I want to talk about why.
“Fear of the unknown” is incredibly common in humans. Most of us would rather know something is going to go horribly than not be sure how it will go. Most of us would rather walk through a well-lit room full of hornets than a dark room full of hornets, if those are our only options.
When I think about this, because I’m me, I think about video games. It reminds me of the tension in my chest during Resident Evil when you just KNOW that mutant shark Neptune’s gonna hit the glass and try to kill you, but you don’t know WHEN.
It reminds me of Silent Hill, where you have to keep trudging on even though fuckin’ anything could be beyond that fog.
It reminds me of that moment of denial in The Walking Dead, when you fool yourself into thinking maybe the cop’s just dead even though you know damn well you bought a zombie game.
All of this — the denial, the uncertainty, the hope that it would just be overwith already — is what I’ve been grappling with for a while now. It doesn’t just make my stomach feel hollow — it makes it feel like a black hole that I’m going to disappear through and be crushed by one of these days. I can never relax, because the question is always on my mind, making me doubt my every move and every emotion. I’d much rather have an answer, any answer, than this uncertainty.
I’m sure, for many people, questioning their identity is a freeing and fun process, and I’ve certainly felt that way once or twice. But mostly, it’s Amnesia:The Dark Descent levels of terrifying.
And that fear isn’t helped by a certain attitude that is prevalent online, especially in the supposedly queer-friendly space that is Tumblr. On the one hand, people are far more aware of the phenomenon of non-queer people appropriating queer culture, especially queer POC culture (e.g. “yas queen”, androgynous fashion, etc.). This is a real problem that needs addressing. On the other hand, some of those same people also say that you cannot claim your identity until you are 100% sure it fits you, and then you must use that label forever, otherwise you are nothing but an appropriating cishet trying to infiltrate the queer community and destroy it from the inside out.
So not only are questioning folks already dealing with the internal fear that comes with doubting the very fabric of who they are, but they’re also dealing with the external pressure to either hurry up and pick a label or else stay the hell away from anything queer, ON TOP of all the hate they’re getting from our larger cisnormative, heteronormative society for daring to deviate from that norm.
Yeah. So that’s a touch stressful.
But speaking of Amnesia: The Dark Descent, there’s another video game that I try to think about during this process. A game that happens to be a mod of Amnesia.
Quick summary, for those who are unaware: In Gone Home, you play as Katie, a college student who has just returned home after studying abroad for a while, to find the house dark and her parents and sister missing. Your goal is to figure out where the hell everyone is.
There’s a lot of queer stuff in the story itself, but that’s not what I want to talk about, at least not here. I want to talk about the (here’s a fancy word) ludonarrative, aka the story the gameplay tells.
Before it got the reputation it had, many people only knew Gone Home as a game that was a mod of…well, this.
The gifs don’t tell the full story, but it’s a horror game that relies a lot on suspense, with supernatural monsters as the main scary focus. With Gone Home’s spooky house, mysterious disappearances, and introduction of a tragic backstory for Katie’s sister, Sam, whose first note begs Katie not to try and figure out what happened here, it’s pretty easy to draw some scary conclusions.
Walking through the dark house is tense, at first. Turning on every light sets your heart pounding, making you wonder what’s going to pop out at you, when you’ll finally see a body.
But then something happens.
As you explore, that stops. Things that seem like they might be hiding dark secrets turn out to be hiding goofy books, cute stories from your sister, and Lisa Frank folders. Dark, ominous rooms become home offices and bathrooms. The scariest thing you find is this —
But then you pick up the bottle that’s right there and it’s like —
And then you get a little story about Sam helping her…um, “friend” touch up her roots. The few spooky objects that do exist in the game, like this —
— are revealed to be just the antics of two teenage girls trying to scare themselves silly at a sleepover.
It’s easy to forget, as a player, but as the game goes on, you’re reminded that, to the character you’re inhabiting, and therefore to you, this isn’t some spooky haunted house. This is YOUR house. Has been for years. It looks a bit different, things have changed here and there since you’ve been away, but nothing’s completely unfamiliar. Once the lights are on, it’s actually quite cozy, and everything makes much more sense.
It might seem strange for Katie to not know the layout of her own house right away, but that’s what happens when you shut yourself away for a while. Sometimes you have to fumble a bit, or stop and think for a second, before you remember where everything is. No one should be able to call you stupid for not being able to find a light switch when you can’t even see your own hand in the darkness.
Maybe, once all the lights are on, you’ll find the place looks completely different. Or maybe it looks exactly the same. But you can’t know that for sure until you search through every room and open every door, and to do that, you need to be willing to turn some lights on. You might get freaked out by new things you find. You might come to the wrong conclusions. But at the end of the day, it’s your house, and you know what goes where better than anyone else.
That’s the way I’m trying to think of this questioning point in my life. I’m not venturing into the fog. I’m not waiting for a shark to break out and eat me if I make the wrong move. I’m not slowly inching towards something that may or may not be a monster.
I’m just trying to turn the lights on in my own home, and see what there is to see.