You know what I hate? Audible character heartbeats in games. I can't deal with that. It's too stressful. I start breathing harder and I start to feel my own blood rushing as I start pondering the possibility that somehow—despite all logic—I'm about to suffer a heart attack. I mean, listen to my heart (which is now also audible!) go, feel that chest tighten! Ugh.
Okay. At that point I need to stop and regroup. Breathe, Patricia. You're not going to have a heart attack, idiot. Really. Usually, this retreat takes place outside of the game—I put my headphones down, close my eyes for a bit. I try to calm down and relax before I tackle the game again.
Usually, I don't think feeling like this is worth it and will just quit a game right then and there. But today I played the demo of Fibrillation, an experimental indie horror game, and things felt different. That's because the game has a mechanic that I'm surprised I haven't seen in a game before, especially a horror game: the ability to close your eyes. Yes, in-game.
Eventually I found myself clicking the "blink" button just so that it seemed like my character was blinking all the time, too.
Closing your eyes isn't the most ideal way to deal with a situation, but having it there added to the atmosphere. There was my character, trying to make out pathways in dark hallways and creepy rooms, suddenly there's this random apparition and you know what? Maybe that thing in the corner of my eyes wasn't actually there. Maybe my character needs a short break, or maybe this isn't real and I just need to close my eyes for a bit to realize that. Closing my eyes helped me feel like I was more in-tune with the character.
Eventually I found myself clicking the "blink" button just so that it seemed like my character was blinking all the time. There's no way he's breathing as hard as he is without having his eyes go a little erratic. But more importantly, having the option meant that I didn't have to pause the game and do it myself: I could close my eyes in-game and just take a breather that way.
The funny thing is, the more I did it, the more it felt like my character's heartbeat calmed down—even though it's entirely possible that the heartbeat audio didn't let up or become softer. What mitigates fear is often psychological like that.
I could see this working in other games. A lot of horror games like to use situations where you're managing something—like opening a lock or foraging your bag for supplies—while a threat looms. If you had to close your eyes so that your character could calm down before moving forward even though something was about to get you, now that'd be compelling. You'd have to be brave and keep collected even though you can't see what's happening around you: not an easy feat!
I didn't get far enough in Fibrillation to see if it pulled something like that. I got lost in this big warehouse and things got kind of claustrophobic in there. My cowardly, wussy self gave up. Those of you who are the courageous type can find the game here, if not vote for it on Steam Greenlight here.