Metacognition: Unexpected Feelings

We’re back with our “thinking about thinking” series! If you’re interested in our previous deep thoughts, check out the Metacognition series.  Join us for some deep thoughts (and maybe the occasional not-so-deep thought) about gaming. If you find one you’d like to answer, you can either comment below or write a post and share the link so we can all read your fantastic thoughts!

What is the most unexpected visceral reaction you’ve ever had to a game?

My immediate thought was my reaction to RiME, because, while I would imagine many people had a reaction to realizing what was actually going on, I have a particular soft spot in my heart for child-father relationships in media, especially when it comes to that particular type of event. So that was a tough one. I also played the first few hours of Horizon: Zero Dawn (before Year of the RPG!) and… well, there’s a particular scene between Rost and Aloy when Rost saves her and… yeah I wasn’t expecting that, either, and had to take a moment to collect myself.

Oh, and I wasn’t expecting to cry buckets over a certain drell

But one thing that these all have in common is that they all, in some way, relate back to sadness, which is an emotion I’ve also felt at the hands of books and movies, so while in the moment it was unexpected, it wasn’t really an unexpected reaction to a piece of media.

No. No, that traumatizing trophy goes to Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice.

All joking aside, now. I was raised Catholic, and every week we went to Church and were greeted by an image of Jesus hanging on a cross.

Image result for icon of jesus on a cross

Just so you know, we’re about to get graphic so… be warned.

I saw it so often that I was completely desensitized to what that cross really was in an historical context, until a priest (years and one parish switch later) made the following comment: “Imagine if your friend asked you to go to his place of worship, and you went, and there at the front of the building was an electric chair.” A dark murmur went through the church. “Yeah, you’d wonder where he had taken you, right?”

(For anyone interested, the point he was trying to make was that the Catholic faith (or, I suppose, the entire Christian faith) isn’t about the death of Jesus (symbolized by the crucifix image we all know), but rather his resurrection/conquering of death. It wasn’t so special that he died, but that he rose from the dead. Which, if you really look at the religion, makes sense).

At any rate, it was the first time I thought about crucifixion as what it really was: a method of horrendous torture and execution, designed to torment people for days on end until they finally died of thirst and exposure while tied naked to a few planks of wood. I had heard the idea that the fact that the Romans had nailed Jesus to the cross had actually been merciful, as he would have bled out in a few hours, rather than die over a few days, crushed under his own weight as his muscles weakened and he was no longer strong enough to draw breath. The thought turned my stomach, to say the least.

And, to be candid, as someone with asthma, the thought of not being able to breathe is a terrifying one.

Enter Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice.

Hellblade_ Senua's Sacrifice™_20171013173319.jpg

Yes, I took a picture. I was so horrified that I wanted to be able to desensitize myself to it. I haven’t reached that point, but I realized that maybe I don’t want to.

Maybe I should maintain that sense of sudden, awful revulsion at the knowledge of what these people – had they been real – would have gone through. The revulsion that someone else was okay with treating another human like that.  And the fact that it wasn’t the familiar, “friendly” image of a man nailed to a cross (no, I can’t believe I just typed those words, either) made it that much worse. This was not an image of a god in quiet repose despite the horror of his manner of execution. No, this was an image of two people, bloody, tortured, and dead, left to hang as an example.

What struck me was that I’ve seen slasher films – I don’t particularly like them because I find the blood and gore gratuitous – but I don’t usually react with such stomach-turning revulsion. I roll my eyes, maybe feel a little sick, and move on. But there was something about this image that just stuck with me.

It just disturbed me in ways I was not expecting. When I played through the game again, I carefully avoided exploring in this area, and used a walkthrough for the remaining runes so I’d have warning in case I was going to be traveling to another room like this.

I’ve never been so disturbed by an image.

It’s fascinating, really, what disturbs us. It makes me wonder if there are certain archetypes that are universally appalling, or if each of us is repulsed by things that  trigger us individually in specific ways.

What do you think? Are there certain archetypes that bother all of humanity, or are we taught by our culture what to dislike? Or are we driven by our own experiences and fears? Have you ever played a game that unexpectedly evoked unpleasant feelings? Did you keep playing the game? Let me know in the comments!

Thanks for stopping by, and I’ll see you soon!

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  1. As a Christian myself, I definitely understand not being shocked by a crucifixion as much as maybe I ought to be – it’s easy to get desensitized to exactly how brutal and awful the act is. That electric chair comparison is a really good point; the church could probably afford to work on its branding. 😅
    This happened to me playing the demo for Octopath Traveler on the Switch. There are two characters you can try out and I played through the knight’s path with no issues. However, the second character is a young female dancer who works at a tavern. In her interactions with her boss, he makes a comment about “treating her right later” or some similar BS implying that she’s been having to sleep with him in exchange for living there…some of my clients at work have been sexually trafficked and I just couldn’t bring myself to deal with that during a time I was supposed to be relaxing and distancing myself from work. I shut the game off and have no intention of buying the full version. I was very shocked when it happened because I’ve never had a strong negative emotional reaction to a video game until that point.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. It really is easy to get desensitized, you’re right, especially when it starts at such a young age and the whole group of grown-ups around you is just *okay* with it!

      Wow, that’s… wow. Part of me wants to know if that’s part of the story arc, but part of me also is being cynical and thinking that was put in the game because some folks just… wouldn’t see that in the same light, to put it nicely. I don’t blame you for getting so upset! Ugh.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I feel like it probably is a plot point in the game, but ultimately it was one that I wasn’t – and am still not – prepared to deal with.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I’ll keep playing a game as long as it’s entertaining, but I’ve had several times where I wanted to stop because of how the game made me feel. One particular time I had trouble was in Grand Theft Auto V, when Trevor (and consequently, the player) is forced to torture someone for information, despite suspecting the torture victim is innocent and ignorant of the information sought. It’s a callous scene, much like the one depicted in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2’s “No Russian” mission, which is saying something for a game which allows the player to go on rampages throughout a major metropolitan area.

    It reminds me also of the scene from CoD: Modern Warfare (the first one) where a nuclear device is detonated as your unit is being evacuated. I don’t know why, but the feeling of dread took over. The implications being that everyone in the area, friend and foe, and innocents alike, were all annihilated. Then there’s the consideration that the SEAL team sent to disarm the device would’ve been instantly killed (it’s hinted over the radio that they’re on-site).

    There’s really very little that affects me in that way, but those specific instances in gaming have stuck with me to this day.

    I feel like we learn a large portion of our fears from the culture around us, and even if we’re desensitized to a specific example of horror, as you’ve stated from your own experience, it’s possible to break free of that once you realize the context. For instance, the true consequences of scenes of mass death in video games is generally considered to be horrifying from a moral perspective, but they can either be written off as set-piece moments (see Call of Duty) or simply part of the gameplay (Grand Theft Auto). It’s when the context of what is happening is considered that the real dread sets in.

    As far as cultural fears go, I’ll refer to a specific video from the channel Rare Earth to help illustrate my feelings about fears (

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Hm. I’ve heard about that scene, and it’s one of the reasons I haven’t played GTAV yet. Rightly or wrongly, I’m not a fan of gratuitous violence like that. What is the point of making someone uncomfortable if it’s just for the sake of “shocking” them? If you’re going to force a player to do something, there should be an overarching context that takes it to someplace meaningful, in my opinion.

      The Modern Warfare example is another one that I’ve heard of. I saw a clip on YouTube, and I can’t imagine being the player behind the controller, to be honest.

      You’re probably right that it’s a combination of things, and I definitely agree that with enough thought and self-awareness a person can break out of whatever it is that they’ve been taught or led to believe. I’ll check out the video!


  3. I understand where you’re coming from Athena – had a similar upbringing, so when you stop to really consider the image of the crucifixion it is difficult. I can only imagine what stumbling across this in Hellblade would have been like!

    For me, there are a couple of games that stand out as giving me a visceral reaction. Don’t want to get spoiler-y, but if you’ve played through Shadow of the Colossus and Braid you’ll know what it feels like when you realize the truth.

    For a truly visceral reaction, I couldn’t look at the launch trailer for “Scorn”, it’s this first-person horror/shooter that’s either out or is coming out. It’s a horror effort where the graphical style is like HR Giger meets an anatomy textbook – everything’s skinned and bloody, and the trailer video was just completely stomach churning for me. It wasn’t that it was scary or horrific, just that the aesthetic was so completely unpleasant that I couldn’t watch more than a few seconds. Resident Evil 4 will remain the only horror game I’ve completed!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. It was pretty memorable, let me tell you…

      Yes to Shadow of the Colossus.. that was an interesting one. And.. I spoiled myself with Braid, even though I haven’t played it. I was intellectually intrigued, but you’re right that those unexpected twists can throw one for a loop!!

      HR Giger meets an anatomy book?? I’m not much for horror on a good day, and Scorn sounds like it’s not happening on a good day….yikes!


  4. That is a really interesting observation about crucifixion and Christians. I cannot speak for other denominations, but yeah, being raised as a Catholic means you either become desensitised to or resignify images of torture and martyrdom (not to mention relics!).

    As for the questions, I am going to go with both. I think there are fears that can only occur in a particular culture, but there are some shared values in most cultures that might result in common fears. What I have a harder time understanding are…um, personal fears? I suppose it is much more complicated than personal experience -> personal significance of [x] -> personal fear of [y,z,…], but I honestly do not know where to begin thinking about that.

    Speaking of personal experiences, the one game that really made my stomach revolt and my hands all clammy was the first in the Tomb Raider reboot. Without spoiling much, there is a part where a wounded Lara is forced to wade through subterranean canals filled with corpses. And honestly, I do not know if I was more shocked by the corpses or grossed out by the idea of an infection caused by *that*. There have been other games that have shocked me or made me feel disgust, but since I stopped playing immediately after the fact, I do not count them (ex: Rogue’s Choice; I Have No Mouth…; that Dragon Age: Origins DLC where you play as darskpawn).

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Yeah… although, as a side-note, I wasn’t aware that so many Catholics read this blog. Or maybe they’re the ones who commented 😉

      Yikes, that sounds… highly unpleasant. There’s a part in Hellblade that reminds me of that, too. Ugh. Such well-done games preying on our mortal fears… I Have No Mouth…. is one that I saw a let’s play of, and it was another one I decided that I couldn’t play. Something about the folks in the cages just got me, even just as a viewer.

      You didn’t like Darkspawn Chronicles?? Yeah, me neither. I… couldn’t go after the people on the roof, especially one particular red-haired Orlesian. I turned on my fellow darkspawn and started swinging at them, but… yeah that was pretty terrible. I mean, well done on the game for putting the player into that position after the main game was over, but ouch, my heart…

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Haha. Maybe it is the cross talk that made us Catholics/former Catholics pop up.

        I think I know what part of Hellblade you mean. They are very similar games at times. I wonder if I didn’t have a more powerful reaction to that particular horror in Hellblade because I had already played through a similar scenario before.

        Yeah. I Have No Mouth… was too much for me. That game is a whole lot of nope.

        It is not that I didn’t like Darkspawn Chronicles, I just couldn’t play it. I don’t remember which member of the Warden’s party I was supposed to kill, either Oghren or Wynne, and I couldn’t. I didn’t even make it to the roof. Although I did watch a LP of it and it broke my heart. 😦

        Just so my comment isn’t all doom and gloom, I just remembered a game that caused a positive visceral reaction: Unravel. I mean, I cried a lot, but for a good reason.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. I think, for me, I hate being nasty in games because it goes against my morals and it puts me off the game if I’m forced to do something mean, sometimes I just won’t do it and will stop playing if I find it too disturbing (I was at my wit’s end when I played Life is Strange knowing that all these horrible consequences could come about because of me, the bit with Kate in particular). On the other hand just seeing gruesome stuff in games though, while it can creep me out I can handle it as long as I am not the perpetrator, but I am way more likely to have a visceral reaction when watching movies/TV shows because they look too real and graphic images from that tend to stick in my mind so much more.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I agree. I’m no good with “evil” playthroughs and will only complete them just to either finish the story or say that I did it, but you’re right. It’s not as much fun to be a real degenerate and hurt innocent people, is it? I haven’t played Life is Strange, but it’s on my list so I guess I have that to look forward to…


  6. Oh yeah… a lot of things disturbed me in Hellblade, but I was expecting to be disturbed, which made the disturbing things disturb me less. Sorry long day, haha.

    Uh, in recent memory, the part where you find something in the Collector Base in ME2 got to me A LOT. Even though I was horrified, I kept going to make those damn Reapers pay! Also, the ending areas of the Last of Us also made me a wreck for a few days 😦

    A really strange one is a level in Donkey Kong 64 called Fungi Forest. When I played it as a kid, something about the music and the environment just triggered me to get really sad for no real reason, and I couldn’t finish it. It was the typical whimsical music and a relatively cheery environment, so it’s a big I dunno! It’s possible I was dealing with personal problems or something at the time. I can’t remember how it felt exactly and it doesn’t bother adult me at all so… *shrugs*

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Makes sense. And there is plenty to be creeped out about in the Collector Base……….

      I don’t think I ever go to that level (oops). I know the Forest Temple in OoT got me, too, and to this day I’m not sure why… I love the music, and it’s one of my favorite temples, but when I was a kid it just creeped me out!!

      Liked by 1 person

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