If I asked you to pick the scariest moment you’ve ever had in gaming, what would you pick? Some of you, I don’t doubt, would pick when the zombies burst through windows in Resident Evil. Perhaps you’d think of one of the times that burst of static and white noise indicated that Alma was nearby in F.E.A.R.
For some it, might even be that moment when the Slenderman suddenly creeps up on you in Slender: The Nine Pages.
The Scariest moment I ever had in a game came not from an FPS or an action game. IT came from a racer. More precisely it came from a Mod.
I was playing a mod for GTR 2 called North American Grand Prix. It’s a mod that recreates several seasons from the American Le Mans Series, one of the most prestigious endurance racing championships in the world. And I was playing a 24 hour race at Sebring.
Now, you need to bear in mind that GTR2 does not use time dilation as a matter of course. It’s a proper racing sim. You can save during races, but other than that its a relatively pure experience. This is one of the primary reasons for the moment of panic that coursed through my bloodstream as I drove.
The culprit of my fear was this:
What’s so special about that car, I hear you say? It’s just a car, albeit an odd looking one.
Well, that car is the Acura Arx-02a. It’s an LMP1 prototype. I was driving a GT1 class Aston Martin DB9R:
Now, that car is broadly based off a road car. It’s heavier than the LMP1. It’s also slower. Endurance racing is a multi-class competition, and whilst I was competing for second in my class, that Acura was challenging for the overall lead of the race.
And as I worked my way around Sebring, that Acura started to loom very largely in my mirrors as it came up to lap me.
There are rules to racing, of course. The onus in this situation was on the Acura to pass me safely. However, I was playing offline, and I’d set the AI level to be realistic, and on this game a crash could end your race. Full Stop.
And I was three hours in.
The moment of panic came as I approached Sebring’s final turn… and the Acura disappeared into my blind spot. Even with the reverse camera, I couldn’t see the prototype as it approached. I had no idea if it was on the inside of the corner or the outside, all I knew is that it was somewhere nearby.
I felt the adrenaline of panic pump through me.
And then it was past, sweeping through on the inside and away. I breathed once more, and focused on my own race.
So why, of all the moments in gaming, did this one scare me so much?
Well, as much as anything, it was the spontaneity of the moment. I could have played this game a thousand times and not been in that situation again. I had no way to predict that the Acura would move into my blind spot at that moment, and no way to know what action it would take next. All I knew was that three hours of racing was on the line.
And that’s the heart of it. Whatever I did next would have consequences that would last me for the rest of the game. So often these days we play games that don’t have consequences for failure. Even in such games as FTL, if you lose, you just restart. Sure, I could have done that in GTR2 – I don’t pretend otherwise. But… 3 hours of racing.
We feel closest to being alive when we’re living, and whilst I can’t claim to have been close to the consequences that claimed the life of Aston Martin driver Allan Simonsen at Le Mans this year, for a few heartbeats I felt like I knew what a driver would experience in that situation
I felt alive.