Memories of Simulator Sickness (or How I Almost Didn’t Play Silent Hill)

Arv BuenaventuraGames0 Comments

Many years ago, before I, my brother and my nephew got to own a Playstation, we would go outside to play video games that our game console at the time didn’t have. I would go to a nearby arcade to play Capcom’s “versus” tag fighting games and my brother and nephew probably would to PC rentals for Counter-Strike. Otherwise all of us went to Playstation rentals. They’d accompany me to the arcade sometimes but I only went to see them play Counter-Strike just once.

Counter-Strike seemed amazing but after mere seconds of watching them play, I felt an awful set of symptoms. My head hurt and was throbbing. My eyes feel like bursting out. My heart was racing and I feel like throwing up. Counter-Strike caused this terrible nausea. I have since swore to only watch them play Red Alert.

Some months passed and the three of us were able to pool our savings to get a Playstation. Though I was a bit disappointed by the removal of tag mechanics from Capcom’s three versus fighters, I loved the hell out of Resident Evil. I loved it so much I would do replays and try to beat the game faster than the previous playthrough. My nephew then said “You like Resident Evil, you are going to love Silent Hill.”

Silent Hill? Ah! A Konami game. We thought Metal Gear Solid was amazing. We surely can’t be disappointed by Silent Hill, right?

We borrowed a copy of the game from my brother’s best friend and my nephew piloted. A father and daughter pair is in a car driving on a road spiraling around a mountain. It is dark and they can only see what the headlights are shining on. Then a girl appears out of nowhere and they crash into something.

Harry (and the camera man) are stuck in an alley where people succumb to hypothermia, tetanus, hypovolemia or rabies.

My nephew starts the game. The father follows his daughter who disappears into the fog as it snows. He has to run after her. The third person camera was probably being held by a camera man who in turn has to run after the father. I then start to get dizzy. In the game, it gets dark and starts to rain.

The father (and the camera man who probably learned from The Blair Witch School of Video Taping) gets stuck in a winding alley with lots of rust and blood. He gets attacked by scary little midgets and dies. I think I did a little too. I had to collapse onto the sofa because those awful symptoms from when I saw Counter-Strike returned.

My nephew didn’t find time to finish the game. He was busy with Megaman X while my brother was with Siphon Filter. Silent Hill sat there among the other games waiting to be played. Heck the game was borrowed so that I specifically would play it but I was afraid of experiencing that awful headache again.

I described my awful symptoms to my brother and nephew and asked if they experience anything similar. My question was met with either a ‘huh?’ or an ‘uhh…yeah…sure!’. They probably thought I was making things up. My brother’s best friend tried to empathize though. He described Silent Hill, Counter-Strike and Medal of Honor (another PS1 game that does the same thing to me) as “masakit sa mata” which literally meant “painful to the eyes”. I didn’t think he got me either.

Silent Hill’s silver disc with Harry Mason’s face etched in red monochrome felt like the One Ring. It spoke on a psychological level like a red button saying c’mon you know you want to. The difference here is instead of turning invisible I have a chance of turning into a projectile vomiting machine. I tried to resist it saying “I know you are a great game that is far scarier and with harder puzzles than Resident Evil. If I beat you then all shall love me and despair… but alas: you make me sick.”

A few weeks passed and I gave up. I decided to brave Silent Hill. I developed a strategy to cope with the terrible motion sickness. I would play the game about an hour and a half each time and then follow that up with a three hour rest. It was a very very long process. I only got the bad ending during my first playthrough. Obviously, I had to do replays to get all endings including the UFO one. It took nearly a month to do this and was extremely hard. Not because the game was hard. It just made me so sick each time.

In the end, I was very very proud of having finished this incredible game that had an unfortunate side effect on me.

A few years later, when dial-up internet finally became a common thing in the Philippines, I decided to research on my symptoms. Apparently, what I experienced is ‘simulator sickness’. The theory goes that when our sense of motion and balance do not agree with what our eyes are seeing then our body concludes that we swallowed some kind of poison and therefore has to barf it out and then rest. It is like motion sickness where in instead of feeling but not seeing motion, we see but not feel it.

After reading some more about Simulator Sickness, about how it was discovered in the air force and how certain video games and films also cause this, I no longer felt ashamed of this disorder. I actually feel more accomplished because I finished a game with a very real layer of handicap on top.

Arv Buenaventura

Author: Arv Buenaventura

Arv likes cats.

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