- Dead by Daylight (RATED 18+, CONTENT WARNING)
An asymmetrical survival horror game, DbD tosses you onto the stage of a real-time horror movie, either as one of four survivors, or as the killer out to get them. Players load into a large area full of obstacles, wide-open spaces, and two locked gates that are powered by five generators. Killers use their unique abilities to track down the survivors before they can repair the five generators, power the exits, and escape to win the game. It’s a simple premise, but every game is different based on how the five players handle their tasks.
Anyone who knows me at all knows I’m a horror WIMP. I can barely handle psychological thrillers, and I have legitimately cried playing Five Nights at Freddy’s games. (For those who don’t know, picture Chuck E. Cheese, but the mouse animatronic is trying to jump out and eat you.) So why the draw to Dead by Daylight?
Basically, it’s about control. Sure, I got scared the first month or so I played. I got so scared I couldn’t play well! But then I acclimated to the fear, and I realized I didn’t need to be so afraid. Exposure therapy. Now, I still feel my heart pounding in a tricky situation against a killer, but I’ve handled it well in the past and I know I can handle it again. I like being good at things, and I like the slow feeling of progressing toward mastery of something.
- Subnautica (RATED 10+)
Anyone who knows a lick of Latin can tell what this game is about—“sub” meaning “under” and “nautical” meaning “ocean.” Subnautica opens in a science-fiction world where the player was on board a giant spaceship, with “was” being the operative word. The spaceship is crashing, and you barely manage to escape in a life pod. One of few survivors, the player has to swim around a giant map collecting supplies and trying to find the other survivors. As the game goes on, you find no survivors, and no signs of human life anywhere except the wreckage of your spaceship.
Subnautica is beautiful on the surface. The ocean is full of glowing plants and animals, some of which you eat and some of which you swim away from if you want to survive. The deeper you go, the eerier the atmosphere becomes. This is a lonely game. There are no relationships, and there’s no one coming to save you. You have to swim down deep to get the resources you need, and you have to overcome your fear of what lurks in the depths.
I still haven’t fully overcome my fear of this game: it’s called thalassophobia, and lots of people experience it. I’ve only gone a few hundred meters deep, and I think the ocean can go all the way down to 1,000 meters. Still, I’ll slowly play through… It’s just the giant sea monsters that scare me. And trust me, they’re there, and they want to eat you.
- Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild (RATED 10+)
The singular relaxing game on this list (though Subnautica can be relaxing, if you never go into deeper water). Breath of the Wild is a gorgeous open-world adventure where you play as Link in post-apocalyptic Hyrule. One hundred years earlier, you died in combat and were revived in a magic shrine, and it’s your duty to become strong enough to defeat Ganon, who waits at Hyrule Castle.
Another gorgeous game for the list, and the least scary overall. Enemies are recognizable and don’t jump out at you in a scary way. The stakes are clear, and missions have easy-to-follow directions about 75% of the time. The music is also beautiful, and long-time Zelda fans who have played other games will recognize familiar themes throughout the soundtrack. I’ve played this game through three times now, all on different systems, and it’s been a blast all three times.
Plenty of people have gone through lifestyle changes since the beginning of the pandemic in March 2020. I went through a few, and they changed my escapist tack in different ways. Living alone since April fed into my old habits; my favorite method has been video games since I was a teenager playing Sims 4 at 5AM on my cousin’s desktop. Also, Pirates of the Caribbean Online on another cousin’s desktop at 4am as a child. I’m predictable.
All of these wonderfully escapist games have common threads running through: Open-world, or at least a lot of space to run around. The graphics are both beautiful and chilling. Players sometimes work as a team, but spend most time accomplishing goals alone. And I play as someone else, someone very different from who I am in reality. Bottom line? Survival. I play survival games to escape, because surviving in that world, on that screen, is a little more exciting than surviving here.
Next week, I’ll touch on a few of the hundreds of artistic methods of escapism. Even drawing only from my college years, there’s a lot of things I could cover, but you’ll hear about painting (my old roommate was amazing at recreating memes) and poetry, among other things.