The Top Ten Disturbing Events In Video Games

By James Hawkins in Lists!
Thursday, May 19, 2011 at 11:00 am
LisaTrevor (250 x 191).jpg
The emotional toll of a particularly touching video game may stay with us for a long time -- we may save a loved one or a particular populace from a grim fate, or lose something very dear within the confines of a game that will stick around our minds for a while. But really nothing is as as lasting as a truly mind-blindingly disturbing moment in a game. Those are the ones that really shake us.

They can range from straight up, unexpected wrongness to something that resonates within our most foundational parts in an inexplicable way. But no matter what the progenitor is, they all become parts of our gaming experience, and remain inside of our gaming minds for a long time. We've got the ten we think are most worthy. Enjoy 'em.

10. Pamela's Father

Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask
Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask is easily the most eerie game in the franchise's long and storied cannon -- it toys with death, fate, and the emotional fallout of loss in a very darkly charming way. And this is personified in the relationship between young Pamela and her mummified father that is locked in their basement. We learn that he was just an academic researching the supernatural, when a curse befell him, and he became a walking Gibdo.

But the startling culmination of this is when he slowly approaches Link in the basement of his home, where he has been locked in a trunk and hidden away by his daughter, Pamela. Seeing this caring father transformed into a lumbering mess, and watching how his daughter could be harmed by it, ranks it as one of the most heart-breaking, and ultimately horrifying moments in the Legend of Zelda series.

9. Department Store Abberations

The visceral violence of Condemned is among the most gruesome in all of video gaming, but it is the supernatural aspect of the game that truly takes a toll on the player. This is most vividly elucidated in the level called Department Store. It is a chilling, mesmerizing place, and the psychological impact it has on the player is intense.

The game's hero, Ethan, must search through an abandoned department store in the heart of his wretched city for a killer who is taunting and threatening him. As he makes his way through the many levels of the structure, clothing mannequins begin walking and threatening him. It is difficult to discern whether or not they are merely figments of an adulterated mind, or if they pose a very serious threat to the livelihood of the protagonist. It isn't directly terrifying, but instead its wrongness is so obvious, it leaves an imprint that is difficult to shake.

8. Psycho Mantis 

Metal Gear Solid
Anyone who has played Metal Gear Solid can tell you, without a doubt, that the Psycho Mantis boss fight is one of the most invasive moments in any video game. The game breaks the fourth wall and comes, almost literally, into the player's living room. Mantis may say "You like thrills... you like Castlevania, don't you?" Or something of that nature. The game scans your memory card to see what else you've explored, and calls you on it.  

If you haven't played it, it may not sound that creepy. But it is. Most assuredly. And if you couch that in with Psycho Mantis' gimp costume, his deformity-riddled form, and freakish mannerisms, and you've got a boss fight to put all others to shame. 

7. Break That Puppy's Neck

Without giving away one of the biggest plot twists in video game history, it can be said that the audiotape featuring Doctor Suchong and one of his test subjects is among the most stirring, wrenching moments of video game history. Anything that has to do with killing puppies and children under extreme emotional duress is about as low as it gets.

But this disturbing audiotape is microcosmic of a far larger, more nefarious scheme. Suchong's work has been enacted, and this youthful test subject is merely the beginning of something far more powerful and amazing. Sure, he can start with puppies, but how long until he takes a man's life? Or an empire?

6. Caught In The Act

Max Payne
There's a beauty in Max Payne's introductory sequence. It sets up an extremely compelling premise and adds immediate sympathy to the main character and his newfound situation. There is also a very sharp pain that accompanies it. For Rockstar to pseudo-simulate the experience of having a wife and child murdered is traumatic. Knowing that you, as you control your character, cannot do anything about it. That is downright cruel.

As Max reaches the top of the staircase to his home, and as the shrieks of his wife grow ever-dim, the fate of his livelihood is shifting very rapidly. We know what is occurring -- we don't know the exact degree -- but we know something awful is about to happen. And no matter how quickly we rush to aid, no help can be brought.

5. No Russian

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2
Anyone with a heart struggled through the No Russian level of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2. Being stuck as a complacent mole inside a terrorist cell as they unleash bullets on a crowded airport is a tough thing to grapple with. And the starkness and nakedness with which the scene is conveyed makes it a difficult one to stomach -- most gamers don't want to have to do that sort of thing ever again.

But the disturbing part actually resides within the execution of the scene itself. It is pretty obviously a bare attempt to spark volatile, high-profile controversy about the video game. It is wholly unnecessary to the overarching plot, and serves as only a small part of the plot structure. Rather than being a gripping exploration on violence, its repercussions, and how the gamer deals with being put in uncomfortable situations, Infinity Ward and Activision made something that would get people talking, and bring a whole lot of attention to their game. It's shocking yes. It's also shameless.

4. The Revelation of Lisa Trevor

Resident Evil: The Remake
Throughout the first Resident Evil game, we read only bits and pieces of Lisa Trevor's ill-fate. Small parts of anecdotes and case studies detail her grim fate, and it is assumed that she is the first victim of Type B virus, and one of many that meets an early doom to the experiments of the Spencer facility.

But that is only partially the case. By the time we meet her, shackled in a shed on the mansion's vast property, her fate is sealed. She's not dead -- not yet -- but any last remnants of humanity are concealed by a large, fleshy mask. She is truly one of the the most tragic, and honestly frightening, characters in game history. And that first time we meet her is totally, deeply disturbing.

3. Tranquility Lane

Fallout 3
You don't have to do crazy, fucked-up things in the Tranquility Lane portion of Fallout 3, but you are inclined to. The options embedded within the task are truly horrendous -- both physically and emotionally -- and the resultant plot twist puts the screws to the gamer, too. Without spoiling it, let's just say that how you manage to pull off the tests in this section will greatly inform how the rest of the game pans out.

But the disturbing parts lie inside Tranquility Lane's simple tasks. Make a child cry... you can harm him physically. You can tell him his parents are getting divorced. You can kill his parents. You need to kill a housewife. You can nix her the old fashioned way, with blunt force. You can rig her stove to explode. And those are really only some of the cruder objectives in this twisted meditation on violence and menace.

2. The Effects of Insanity

Eternal Darkness: Sanity's Requiem
The manipulation of the mind in Eternal Darkness is some of the most impressive in-game mechanics to date. The idea that the protagonists' psyches is totally unhinged, along with the violences that surround them, is played out in full form. From attacking demons, to the shadows of past evil, to bloody walls, the game really provides the gamer with a robust sense of uneasiness.

But, more importantly, it doesn't allow the player to get proper footing on the events occurring as the game's story unravels. Things are rarely as they seem, and, like the Psycho Mantis boss fight, the fourth wall is often broken. It is a highly irregular move for a game, but brilliant nonetheless.

1. Pyramid Head Rapes The Mannequins

Silent Hill 2
There are many instances of horrific imagery in the Silent Hill series, but the iconic love scene between Pyramid Head and what look to be decrepit white mannequins ranks higher than the rest. It has to. Literally every moment of the scene is wrong, from the existence of an overgrown, half-naked man with a torturous pyramid cage on his head, to the sexual violation of supernatural beings by his own doing. It is, in a word, fucked.

Encompassing the scene is the dirty, unpinned hell that permeates the whole Silent Hill town. The limbic monstrosities splayed across a grimy old table. Blackened, ashy walls surrounding Pyramid Head's thrusting pelvis. And, even more than that, this was in a time where grotesqueness of that nature was rarely seen on a video game screen. Since then, too, it is quite the rarity. 
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