*I want to preface this that I am NOT shitting on any games or anything! I adore both of these games; I’m just studying them from a psychological perspective. I should also say that this post contains spoilers for both Amnesia: the Dark Descent and Amnesia: Justine.*
So I was thinking about an argument I had with my friends’ husband about Amnesia: the Dark Descent and it’s quiet additional storyline, Amnesia: Justine. He didn’t think that Justine was really scary, like, at all. Justine terrified me on a much more visceral level than DD.
I actually ruminated over it for a few weeks, on and off, wondering why it affected me so much. It’s not just “what scares me doesn’t scare you,” or a matter of fear thresholds (I’m an easy scare and I know it!), but I think I’ve finally pinpointed about why Justine’s brand of horror feels different.
Why? Because it’s personal and gender-specific.
In Dark Descent, you play Daniel - an archaeologist of sorts who finds a mystical orb in the deserts of Africa (I think; it’s been awhile). You end up taking the orb back, and the guardian spirit of this object is pissed - your friends start dropping dead. Desperate to find a way to free yourself of the curse, you accept the invitation of a man named Alexander, the Lord of Brennenburg Castle in what was then Prussia (I think? Or…Austria? Something). Long story short, Alexander makes you start torturing people to extract their “vitae” which he claims will free you. He ditches you last minute and cloisters himself in the deepest part of the castle, leaving you to die by the hands of the faceless, bloody guardian.
As you venture to the Inner Sanctum to acquaint your fist with Alexander’s face, you’ll run into these grotesque creatures - two kinds, “Grunts and Brutes” - who have been ordered by Alexander to kill you. They’re hideous and monstrous, and the game only skims across their origin story: they were either tradesmen who stole “tainted” wine from Alexander’s reserves, or they were war deserters who got caught by other monsters and made into new ones.
Either way, Daniel has no weapons with which to defend himself, so when a monster strolls by, he has to hide or go into a new loading area. The creatures, whoever they once were, don’t hate you - they’re just doing their job.
Now, Justine - In Justine, you play as a young woman with no memory of how you wound up locked in a dungeon in some creepy-ass castle. There are phonographs that you wind up, with recordings from a woman claiming to be doing one giant experiment on humanity, if you have a conscious, etc. In each area, there are people who are imprisoned and tortured, and you can choose to either save them or walk away.
During your time in the castle, there are three creatures that will actively pursue you should they hear you. I say hear because they don’t have eyes…because they’ve been forcibly removed. It was these creatures that just made the game for me; the single reason why Justine frightened me in ways that DD just couldn’t.
You know the creatures. They were three of your suitors, because you are Justine Florabell.
The first one is still madly obsessed with you, and coos at you even though he’ll kill you should he find you. The second one is violent and angry, and spits and curses that he’ll “kill you once I find you, you CUNT!” The third one is a brilliant and insane [former] violinist who Justine took an odd interest in.
They knew you. These three men , to some degree, and in some way, loved you. There is that intrinsic fear; the societal fear that women are taught from day 1 - rape culture. You know: “Don’t go out at night alone or else you’ll get raped,” ” don’t drink too much or wear short skirts or else you’ll get raped,” and the list goes on. We are taught, as women, to fear men.
There was this interesting study I saw where they were talking about fear comparison between men and women. Men said that their biggest fear is that a woman won’t sleep with them or they’ll ridicule them. The women said their biggest fear was that a man would kill them.
So these horrifying creatures have an emotional attatchment to the first-person view of the character you play as (even if you were the one who turned them into…that):
But these things-that-were-men know you. They know who you are; they have an emotional investment in you, whether that be love, lust or fury. That intrinsic emotional attatchment makes the suitors that much scarier.
I mean, imagine you were in a zombie movie. If the zombies were just brainless, shambling creatures, you grab a shotgun, scope out a good rooftop and crack open a cold one.
Now imagine that those zombies were not only smart, but knew who you were; your most private and personal memories. An army of your murderous exes, if you will. And every single one both loves you and hates you, and if they catch you, will violently rape you and relish in your slow and agonizing death.
Amnesia: Justine, everybody!
I know my argument turned a bit weak towards the end; I’m quite tired and I’m sure I rambled on, but it’s not like I’m turning this in or something.
I might do a few more of these; I dunno. I do love the science and psychology of horror games!