Top 10 Disturbing Video Game Moments
The power of video games to immerse us in their respective stories and universes is well understood. The test of whether you’re gripped by a video game is pretty easy – the longer it takes you to remember to do the test, the more engaged you are.
But there are times where video games get a little too real, when you suddenly realise that you’re at the top of a really big drop on a roller coaster and you can’t get off. And though we laugh about it now, we remember those times where we were huddled in our chairs and genuinely hoping that someone would give us a hug before things got worse. Assembled here for your pleasure (and trauma), these are our top 10 disturbing moments in gaming that got a little too real for our liking.
Grand Theft Auto 5: “The Torture Scene”
Hope you brought your big-boy-pants to come and help the F.I.B. spies today, because it’s all about to get very “24.” Strapped for time and looking to assassinate a particular target they have no details on, the government enlists our wacky cast of misfits to extract the necessary information from some poor sod by any means necessary. And by that they mean several psychotic mini-games, involving a car battery, a dirty rag, a set of pliers, a tank of water, and a large, heavy wrench. All the dark comedy of the GTA series is suddenly dropped, and everything gets very disturbing, very fast, not least because your poor victim can actually die if you go too far.
Rockstar, this better not be in here just to drive up the sales through controversy. I don’t want a case of PTSD so you can all get new pool tables.
Wolfenstein: The New Order: “Deathshead’s Brain Extraction Device”
I like science as much as the next nerd, but this feels a little too far. Near the end of the excellent Wolfenstein: The New Order, we finally get a horrific glimpse of what B.J. Blazkowicz saw at the beginning of the story. Namely, one of his friends getting loaded into a large machine and (whilst perfectly conscious) having his brain removed from the back of his head with gut-wrenching detail and precision. But it’s not the robotic knives carving a hole in his skull that sticks with you, and it’s not the screaming pain of the victim either.
No, it’s that awful pressurised, sucking sound of Deathshead’s device vacuuming the amputated brain out through the open head wound, a very disturbing audio experience that would then go on to make me distrust airplane toilets every since.
Undertale: “Genocide Run”
Sometimes a video game being realistic doesn’t come from graphics or physics engines. Sometimes it just comes from that perfectly realised humanity, where you can feel the pain of the characters oozing from the pores of the story. Slaughtering everyone in Undertale’s “genocide run” will shock you more deeply than you’d probably like.
Bioshock Infinite: Burial at Sea Part 2: “The Trans-Orbital Lobotomy”
This won’t be the last entry on this list to feature stuff related to the eyes, but it’s just as disturbing either way. Creep through the underwater labyrinth of Rapture as the enigmatic Elizabeth, and before too long you’ll find yourself strapped to a chair and in the merciless hands of Atlas and his scavenged doctor’s equipment. You then have the pleasure of watching this psychopath torture you, in first-person, as he squeezes a sharpsteel pick between Elizabeth’s eye and the socket, and begins to strike it with a hammer, cracking the front of her skull and getting closer to her brain’s pre-frontal lobe. All the way through he’s describing the process in lavish detail, leaving most Bioshock players curling their toes in sheer, agonising horror. Atlas, would you kindly stop torturing the audience, please?
Alien: Isolation: “The Reveal of the Xenomorph”
There’s a lot in Creative Assembly’s action adventure video game to scare people, from the scuttling facehuggers to the trigger-happy humans. But nothing freaks people out more than Mister Big himself, the Xenomorph that appears all too suddenly and when you’re least expecting it. Dropping from the ceiling with no clue that he’s about to do so, the player is given an absolutely heart-stopping moment as Ripley Jr. dives under a table to hide, and the long, black tail slithers past you, to be followed by quick, padding footsteps as the alien moves – hopefully – in a different direction. Chompy the Skeletal Space-Prawn will get plenty more terrifying moments before Alien: Isolation is over, but nothing quite compares to that first shocking moment, as salivating, long-fingered death unfolds from a hatch above and everything suddenly ramps up to eleven.
Pokémon: Mystery Dungeon: “Farewell”
I know nobody else was expecting this, but the end of this game tore me up like a piece of paper, and I demand others acknowledge that agony.
Pokémon was never a fantastically written series (as Kanto’s young enthusiast for shorts will prove), but something about the way the first Mystery Dungeon game ended really got to me, and not just because I was operating on two hours of sleep at the time. Having been sent to the world of Pokémon and made lifelong friends, your character is finally forced to return home and have his memory wiped of these friends, now that his purpose is complete. You’re not dying exactly, you’re just… Ascending into heaven in a shine of golden light, never to return again and to the great sadness of everybody you knew.
Alright, you’re basically dying in all but name, and watching a variety of adorable little sprites from your childhood weep over your departure was surprisingly effecting to a jaded cynic like myself, probably because my real friends wouldn’t give two licks of mouldy sandwich to keep me around. Admittedly, the whole thing ends up beinga fake-out, and God sends you back to pootle around with your friends for a little longer, but until that happens there’s something awfully genuine about the emotion of it all. The dialogue wouldn’t have been out of place if everyone was gathered around a hospital bed, except that it’s even more depressing when Blastoise is saying it.
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2: “No Russian”
I always thought that CoD 4’s nuke scene had more impact, but this is disturbing moment that people seem to remember more. And honestly, I can’t say I don’t understand why. Following a team of psychopaths as they shoot up civilians in an international airport is a pretty harrowing experience, which is probably why the video game gives you the option to skip the mission at any time. I don’t blame you if you did, quite frankly. Not to mention that all this chaos leads to World War III, which I can’t help but wonder about in retrospect. Why is it that the undercover agent doesn’t feel the need to stop this attack? What priorities does he have that are bigger than stopping planetary conflict between America and Russia? “Gee, I wish I could do something about this enormous massacre that’ll start apocalyptic combat around the globe, but my boss says I have to find out the deets of a minor arms deal instead. Sorry Earth, you drew the short straw.”
Whatever the reason, I’m sure Burly the Spy feels like a right moron when he realises the villains have found him out and shoot him in the head afterwards. All that work for nothing. Or, in the player’s case, all those guilty, sleepless nights for nothing.
Dead Space 2: “Stick a Needle in Your Eye…”
Uurgh. This was a rough one, I’ll tell you that. I just re-watched this scene to remind me how bad it was, and the answer is pretty goddamn bad. Bleagh, I feel ill just thinking about.
You want context? Some way into Dead Space 2, protagonist Isaac Clarke must sit inside a large machine that needs to access his brain by driving a spike through his eye,so it’s like the Bioshock and Wolfenstein scenes mixed together. Except this time, you’re in control and you’re SUPPOSED to impale the eyeball yourself, aiming a foot-long needle for the black centre of Clarkey’s pupil as he sweats up a storm and tries not to move too much. Get it wrong, and Isaac gets his head drilled open in one of the goriest deaths ever put to gaming. Get it right, and you’re rewarded with an even nastier scene of the needle piercing our hero’s eyeball, as he grits his teeth and feels it mess with the inside of his head. And somehow this video game didn’t come with free bags for puking.
Spec Ops: The Line: “White Phosphorus”
You know these scenes in all the shooters where you use some overhead weapon to wipe out enemies, visualised as a handheld device with red dots on a screen that you seem simply to be turning off? Well, time to see what havoc you have wrought. Spec Ops tells you to commit this act of carnage – something shooters have done cheerfully for ages –but then forces you to walk through the area you just firebombed, with soldiers dying horribly all around and crying out for sweet release. Except, in one of the most gut-wrenching and utterly disturbing scenes in gaming, you turn a corner in this newly-formed wasteland and realise the awful truth: that those red dots weren’t all soldiers. It’s an expertly-crafted bit of gameplay that felt like a punch in the gut to go through, which I’m pretty sure is exactly what the games developers were aiming for. I suppose I should congratulate them for their ability to emotionally damage the audience.
Telltale’s: The Walking Dead Season 1: “Clementine Abandoned”
The first season of The Walking Dead interactive narrative is pretty tough going throughout, yet it’s at its most painful right at the end, when it gives up on meaty conflict, but only because it’s finished tunnelling through that meat and has finally gotten to the very vulnerable heart. Basically, it’s time for the endearing parental relationship between our two leading characters to be split open like a coconut and promptly trodden on. Watching Lee slowly pass away as one of the best-written child characters of all time desperately tries to do him proud is a touching moment that eclipses anything in the associated TV show or comic series. Of course, the payoff for this is that half the audience were bawling like infants afterwards, but it was worth it. Probably.
That was our list of most disturbing moments in video games where the impact hit so far home that we needed to call a maintenance crew for our very souls (which is an analogy for heavy drinking, in the author’s case).