Running Away from Resident Evil

What it's like to be drawn, irresistibly, to something that stresses you the hell out.

I’ve spent a lot of time over the last week trying to avoid playing Resident Evil 7.

Whenever night struck, I said to myself ‘you don’t have the constitution to play this alone in the dark’. Reaching a new save point was enough of a victory to stop for a while. On the Friday of last week, I went around to a friend’s house, and did not bother going home until Sunday. I stayed home for two hours, thinking about turning on the PS4, before going out again to watch xXx: The Return of Xander Cage instead.

Any excuse would do.

I’ve also been thinking back on my relationship with the Resident Evil series. I remember reading a review of Resident Evil 2 on PlayStation and marveling at how different it sounded from anything I had played. I was a Nintendo kid, and the game’s eventual N64 release was very hard to find here in Australia, so I never got to play it. I eventually played the GameCube remake of the original, but ended my one and only attempted run locked in a safe room, with several zombies on the other side, thinking to myself ‘I’ve got three bullets left. There’s no way Jill wouldn’t just put the gun to her own head and pull the trigger here, right?’

This was, of course, a case of me underestimating Jill Valentine. Jill would absolutely open that door and deal with the situation. But this is a thought process I’ve deployed a few times while gaming: in the Dark Souls games, for instance, I generally sit down at the first or second bonfire and think, ‘why would I ever leave this perfectly safe spot?’

As a teenager, I liked to read play guides for horror games that I had no intention of playing. I got a good sense of what Silent Hill 2 was like well before I struggled through part of the underwhelming HD remaster years later. I read a guide for the rest of Resident Evil, since my Jill never left that room, and marveled at how it all fit together. These days Let’s Play videos fill a similar void, but I’ve always preferred the methodical journey of a good walkthrough.

Now, in 2017, I’d like nothing more than to ditch Resident Evil 7 and read a guide telling me everything that happens.

The original pitch for this article was that I would, as a guy who doesn’t have the constitution for first-person horror games, try my luck with Resident Evil 7 and report back on whether or not it was worth the effort of overcoming my fears. I assumed it would be, and after the first half hour of play I was sure that that the article would end with me recommending the game to other players of a nervous disposition. This was not the case.

From what I’ve played – which equates to about three hours – Resident Evil 7 is fantastic. The mansion is an incredible setting, the Baker family is terrifying, and the combat is tense and exciting. It’s great, and fun, a solid mix of cheese and horror, but I’m too anxious to actually deal with it.

I’ve always been an anxious, nervy person, and it’s gotten in the way of a lot of things that I’d like to do in life. I struggle to form relationships, and I’m terrified of personal conflict. I’m a licensed driver who has a very hard time getting behind the wheel of a car – I have nightmares about losing control on the road often. I am afraid not just of failure, but that all my failures will be cataclysmic, and because of that I struggle with long-term projects and goals. I have issues I don’t want to talk about here that all link back to this central anxiety that I’m not properly capable of handling fairly mundane stuff.

And hell, it might seem less important than that other stuff, but I’d really like to play Resident Evil 7 some more, but each door I open makes me nervous. When I die, I’m not keen to go back and face the thing that killed me again. I focus too much on what the next jolt will do to me when something makes me jump, and how I’ll handle it.  The fear and dread that the game world is evoking is actually more than I want to deal with. I’m good with horror films, but put me in control of a person’s fate like this and I can’t understand how they keep walking forward when I know that I would give up in the same situation.

Resident Evil 7 is such an effective horror game that it’s making me confront the fact that I might have an anxiety problem that I actually need to deal with, because the thought of playing it has really been stressing me out. The game is probably more stressful than scary, actually – the fatigue of knowing that something awful could be around each corner makes it hard for me to carry on, even though the potential for awful stuff being around the next corner is, fundamentally, a big part of life.

I’m glad I tried to play Resident Evil 7, just so that I could recognize something about myself from failing. It’s a bloody impressive game, a strong piece of design that brilliantly melds the disparate elements of the franchise, and I’d love to see it through. Now I’ll have something to come back to, a simple touch stone, if I take the steps necessary to deal with my anxiety.