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Embrace The Dark: Gamma Screen Gratitude

Late to the party as usual, I've been giving Amnesia a brief spin this week. I'm afraid I can't tough out the acting much longer (I must refer again to my recent rantette on such matters) but, y'know, good stuff in general.

What I definitely appreciate it for is a tiny little thing, just one single screen. It's something I've always loved about any scary game worth its salt - that pre-play settings/advice screen that firmly suggets the ideal conditions for it to become suitably fearful. "For the best experience..." Yes, yes! I want that. Tell me more.

You're probably familiar with messages like these:

"Adjust your screen so the square on the left is barely visible."
"For best results listen using headphones."
"Draw the curtains, turn off the lights, turn off anything else that makes a noise."

Sir, yessir! I do it gladly, and painstakingly, every single time I'm asked. My gamma is anyone's. My headphones yearn to be told what to do.

Give me this:

Not this:

Sure, it's a little contrived, it's always variations upon a theme, and it's obvious fear/immersion factors rather than any great insight into this game or human psychology, but whenever I see it I feel like the game-makers care just that little bit more about their game. They don't just want you to blast through to end then buy the DLC. They want you to experience something particular. They want to get into your head. They want you to play the game as they intended it to be played.

It's base-level auteurdom, very much creator-knows-best, but it always works on me, even for lousy games. It's not just tinkering with gamma settings: it's a clear statement that "you are about to have an experience."

It couldn't be more different than tweaking settings yourself - mucking around with anisotropic filtering and shadow quality and whatnot is tailoring the game to what you think it should be, rather than to suit the stentorian omniscience of THIS IS HOW IT SHOULD BE that a brightness and sound adjustment pre-game screen presents.

I know many games have done it, but my useless memory's come up short. AvP? Thief 3? Doom 3? Reminisce about those you know of below, please. Ah yes, there's Call of Cthulu: Dark Corners of the Earth (thanks Schtee):

I suppose many people must just ignored such a plea, perhaps because they don't care, they can't really see the difference between those two grey squares, because they just want to get the hell to the game already, or they're massive wimps who really are afraid of the dark. They're missing out. It's the gaming equivalent of buying popcorn and putting your feet up on the back of the chair in front of you. Settling in, creating the conditions necessary to full give yourself to this thing.

I earnestly wish more games did it, and that those that did set out their preferred conditions in greater detail. Tell me how you think I'm going to most enjoy this, a little more sense of how you thought and felt while you created it, rather than leaving me to the mercy of my own uncouth Settings whims.

I want suggested smells, a recommended wine, what colour room it's best played in, what music I should listen to first... I won't pretend I'll necessary prefer it all to my own such choices, but I'd love to at least try the intended context.

Here's the liner notes from Gil Scott Heron's excellent 2010 record I'm New Here (on Spotify here for EU types), which are pretty much exactly what I'm on about:

Everything that rings or beeps or rattles or whistles.
Even her or him.
Think about what you got.

Gil knows what he's talking about. It's not demanding anything unusual, it's not being aggressively precious: it's just making it clear that he would very much like your full attention as you consume his creation.

Turn that phone off. Sign out of Messenger. Shut the cat out.
Darken your screen. Put your headphones on.

Do what you're bloody told, yeah? It's worth it.

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Alec Meer avatar

Alec Meer


Ancient co-founder of RPS. Long gone. Now mostly writes for rather than about video games.