I’m not an expert on horror games or anything, so I can only guess the origin of persistent horror is from Slender: The Eight Pages (or maybe, arguably, Ao Oni?). I can’t actually handle persistent antagonists either, especially in first person. I’ve never finished Slender, but I’ve played it a bit, sorta just to face my fears. I gotta force myself to play most horror games. Maybe I just feel a lot, maybe I’m gullible; I just get really invested and really scared. The point is to get scared, but I don’t know. It’s not exactly pleasant.
A persistent antagonist (usually randomly) spawns in and chases the player. It may chase permanently, or it may despawn after a certain point. Commonality here is how it fosters an intense vulnerability. Control and tempo of play isn’t dictated by what the player necessarily wants, it’s a matter of being in constant avoidance. Rhythm is determined by whatever chases; a player must cede control over the space, in a way that other genres or styles rarely, if ever, require someone to do.
I like losing control. I like when games direct me, break their rules, limit my time, distort their space. A persistent horror game directs the player and limits their time by keeping them in a constant chase. I think for many, after successive avoidance, they start to become more courageous, confident in how to avoid and survive, and the pressure of persistent horror has a weakness in both how lengthy and coherent its set design is. If you get the hang of it, then it’s like going through a script, and the initial power is lost.
Unfortunately for me, each successive chase escalates the discomfort I feel. It’s probably parallel to real world fears, or well, it just hits way too close to home. I have a certain threshold of tolerance and then I just can’t play the game anymore. Which is why I haven’t finished many of these kinds of games. It is kind of satisfying, to me personally, if I ever do finish one, because the stakes and stress are immense. Though it’s probably not worth it, and I know that at least unconsciously, because I stay away from intense defenseless horror games.
Horror is semiotics. A measure of good horror is said to be a fear of the unknown, but I think horror operates in known quantities. Think of a dark room. Is it scary because the contents of the room are unknown? I don’t think so. I don’t think so precisely because the contents of every room is unknown, before they’re known. The dark room is scary because of what we’re pretty sure is there, but can’t confirm (which okay is maybe a pedantic correction to what people mean by unknown, but uh, stay with me). A horror game builds up threats and coerces vulnerabilities and these things are made known. I’m scared of a dark room because I’m close to knowing there’s going to be something scary inside of it, because I know what the game has done and is trying to do. I have to know a great deal in order to be scared.
It’s funny, though I’m cognizant of typical horror semiotic weakness (fear of the non-normative, fear at consequences of structural neglect, it can be problematic), it still scares the pants off of me. I think it is because I know that’s how I’m meant to feel, so I readily convince myself. It’s like a placebo fueled by collectivity. Like a disconnect can’t happen, because what we’re fantastically scared of has a language itself. It’s cultured, assumed into. I get scared because I’m invested in that knowledge and feel like I have stake in it. Fear might be an absurd exercise in reaffirming one’s humanity and tropes are a shortcut into that sort of contract.
The only persistent horror game I’ve finished is Reality and, probably not coincidentally, it doesn’t have a conventional horror aesthetic. It’s an abstract approach to a horror game, as stated by its devs. Which is more or less accurate given the lack of spatiality and objective in the game (though I’d describe its art style as minimalist). Reality’s world really is inexplicable. Despite its name, there’s not much real about it, and no horror tropes are in play, besides having a persistent antagonist. The fear I felt from this game was something oddly bone deep and existential.
Geometry, textures, they’re pure black. This void would be indistinguishable, if not for a pulsating echo-location-like effect that follows the player. Pulses speed up while moving and they move with you, as long as you’re moving forward. This creates a floating sensation that I struggle to describe – it’s like I’m subsumed with the waves. I feel a sublimation of agency and identity. More apart of the game than playing with it, I glide across space as if I’m an extension or a manifestation of this place.
There’s no death in Reality. Contact with horror teleports the player instead. I still desperately don’t want it to happen. In this case the persistent antagonist, the chaser, feels more like a disrupter than a threat. They try to remove me from my sublime state, from my harmonious disposition. Movement give a feeling of wholeness; if I stop moving, if I get displaced when I don’t know what I’m being. This isn’t horror predicated on a threat to life, it’s a destabilizer. This aims to ruin something ideal, instead of flat winning or losing.
It’s the nature of a persistent antagonist to feel like an infiltrator and a despoiler. Whatever harmony, whatever synchronization Reality is apt to portray, it’s punctured by an existential targeting. I can’t fully accept any merging of states by nature of it feeling temporal. As I glide over with definite and specific feeling, with each corner I turn, and every circling maneuver I’m forced to do, there’s a knowing that my very purpose is under attack. It’s not that I fear I’ll lose—as videogames and horror games are normally constructed. It is even just a brief intrusion, but the slightness harmonizes with something real, it solidifies the metaphor. It feels incredibly similar to outside forces that spur my anxiety, that callously insure I’ll never find peace with myself.
What little dialogue there is empowers the metaphor. It seems the player is a carrier or host for something. A sudden symbiotic relationship is implied as I begin a contract with the game, an equal symbiosis. It’s unfortunate that I spend most of the game pressing switches and carrying around blocks. None of these puzzles relate to moving, or existing, or to the established conflict; they’re chores, obligations, a way to move and progress because there has to be one. It’s ironic that a game can feel so vibrant and considered in a way that stylistic contemporaries aren’t even cognizant of, and use that to facilitate pointlessness. There’s something funny in that, there’s maybe something artistic, but I can’t shake my disappointment with another videogame that had sublime confidence, with yet no apparent understanding of how incredible it is and could’ve been.
check out reality… if you know what i mean
also check out reality