There’s nothing quite as enjoyable as watching or reading something disturbing, and letting it seep into your consciousness for it to haunt you at the most inconvenient moments. We all love a good Creepypasta, horror film or even video game. I think the cathartic enjoyment of being scared is an inherent aspect of the Human condition; the curse of having an imagination is that our fears are free to run wild, but at the same time, believing our fears to be imaginary allows us to take away its power. Whatever the reason, exploiting your fears and scaring you is big business for content creators.
But perhaps what’s even more effective, are the disturbing moments which sneak into otherwise normal media. The moments that leave us with an uneasy feeling, like when you stay at that off-road motel that has plenty of cars parked outside but no sign of any customers. Scaring people Paranormal Activity style is fairly easy. Maintaining a pervading sense of paranoid, creepiness is much harder. I’ve compiled the following list based on the following criteria: the chosen aspect has to be either outwardly disturbing or disturbing in concept, and it has to be from a game that’s otherwise not trying to establish a horror tone.
As with my previous lists, I’ve tried to avoid including too many obvious choices; in a bid to keep things interesting.
10. Lemmings Tackle Dead Giants
For a game where the central concept revolves around preventing the little critters from accidentally committing mass suicide, Lemmings is actually fun, challenging and surprisingly child-like. Like most devilishly addictive video games, the aim is extremely simple: your Lemmings will move in a single straight line and you have to help them reach their destination safely; all set to maddening FM sound synthesis. It may not sound like much, but Lemmings was the Angry Birds of 1991.
So, what’s so disturbing about Lemmings?
Lemmings had a lot of levels (numbering well over 100), all of which took place in a variety of innocuous environments like Egyptian tombs, tundra and ravines. The art style is about as technical as a doodle on a bar napkin; but like most 16-bit games, it retains a certain whimsical charm. Sure, there are a more than a few strange level designs – including Tricky Level 20, which looks like the Doom interpretation of hell – but the weirdness is usually restricted to M. C. Escher levels.
And then you get to Tricky Level 14 (Menacing!!).
Now I was a little young to have played Lemmings when it was first released, but this level creeped me out back in 1997. It’s pretty tame by modern definition, but the snakes coiling in and around the skull and the bloody goo dripping down from the ceiling are completely at odds with the rest of the game’s tone. The change in tone is equally reflected in the music, which shifts from charmingly offbeat, to heavy guitar chugging. And in the middle is the centrepiece of the madness: a gargantuan corpse and writhing mass of tentacles that looks like something out of a H.P. Lovecraft novel. It’s as though the Lemmings are causally cruising through Shub-Niggurath’s pad with careless disregard. Which, in turn, gets you thinking, “these Lemmings do not give a f**k.” Forget memes about sexually deviant sloths, Lemmings will burrow through straight the corpses of Great Old Ones.
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This article was first posted on May 10, 2013