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Immersion

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Zomboid

Just this afternoon, I was perusing /x/, looking for a creepypasta thread, when I found a certain ritual. It was a ritual that anyone could do, and the poster claimed that it could make any horror game experience more immersive.

I honestly thought it was a troll pasta at first, since the ritual itself sounded like it was written with a list of creepypasta clichés and a random number generator.

Since I don’t believe in the supernatural, I saw no harm in trying it out. I thought to myself, that if a placebo can have an effect on the user by making them expect it, then maybe this ritual will help me to get my head in the right space for a survival horror game.

For reasons that will be obvious later, I won’t tell you what the ritual was, but I did perform it later that night. When it didn’t send a chill down my spine or make me hear whispering or do anything else supernatural, I decided to get some real scares playing my favorite indie survival horror game; Project Zomboid.

I chose to play in sandbox mode. I picked “police officer” as my profession. I then took, “prone to illness,” and, “hearty appetite.” Those negative traits gave me enough points to take the positive trait; “strong.” As the game’s map and items loaded behind the scenes, I didn’t think anything of the opening text:

“THESE ARE THE END-TIMES.”

“THERE WAS NO HOPE OF SURVIVAL.”

“THIS IS HOW YOU DIED.”

This game started out like any other. I was in a generic two story house on the southeast side of Knox County. As I thoroughly searched the place, I found no weapons, enough food for about a week, and one bottle of anti-depressants. This wouldn’t do, I had to go search for a weapon. Without checking out the window, I opened the front door. I was met with the usual scare chord the game plays when the player gets startled, coming face to face with a zombie who was waiting outside.

Having played this game before, I had been in this exact situation several times, so I immediately shut the door and made my character take an anti-depressant to calm his nerves. It seemed like my imagination was playing tricks on me, but I thought the scare chord sounded louder than usual, and that one zombie took up more of my field of vision than he should have.

Due to the zombie, going outside stopped sounding like such a good idea, so I double-checked every cabinet in the house for any weapons. As my avatar became drowsy, I still couldn’t find so much as a hammer, so I went upstairs and went to sleep, hoping that the zombie would lose interest and go away. There was something off about the, “Would you like to go to sleep?” message, but I couldn’t put my finger on it.

When I woke up, this is the part where things started getting really weird. Due to my “hearty appetite” trait, I woke up hungry. My character would have to wait, since I just realized how hungry I was in real life. I was hoping to pause the game and get a snack, but that’s when I noticed what had been slightly strange when I tried to go to sleep. The game refused to pause. The pause button didn’t show up on the HUD, the game didn’t pause when I was getting ready to go to sleep the way it usually does, and clicking on where the button should be did nothing.

At this point, things were getting too weird: There was the ritual I performed, then the zombie jump-scare was actually frightening, then I got hungry in real life when my avatar got hungry, and now the game refuses to pause. As unsettling as these things are, there are reasonable explanations for each of them. The ritual had a placebo effect, which made me think the jump-scare was worse than it really was. I was hungry all along, but didn’t notice until the game mentioned food. And now, the game won’t pause, but then it is in pre-alpha, so there are bound to be bugs.

I was just getting tired and letting my mind play tricks on me. All I need to do is turn the game off, and go to sleep. But as I placed the mouse over the X, I wondered: If my worst case scenario is true, and I have to share a fate with my character, then what happens if I turn the game off?

By this point, I was shaking, so I minimized Project Zomboid, and started writing this document to calm myself down. It only helped a little.

After the first few paragraphs, I noticed something that had been nagging at the back of my mind the whole time: That zombie has been banging on my front door this whole time!

I checked the door’s health: 2/5! I rushed into the kitchen and stuffed my face, since I needed a full stomach for what I was planning. I then popped an anti-depressant and checked the door: 1/5! I had been in this situation and survived before. I knew what to do. The door broke down as three zombies stumbled into the house. I hugged one wall, trying to get them far to one side of the hall, and then I used the open space on the other side of the hall to dart out the front door.

On the sidewalk, I became panicked again as I saw about ten more of them to my right. They hadn’t noticed me, but I wasn’t going to wait for that. I rushed to the left. I ran all the way to the end of the block, looking for any place where I could hide. All the doors on all the houses were locked, as if the random number generator was toying with me.

As I continued to run, I was sweating, and even gasping. Zombies dotted the streets, reaching out to me as I charged through the sparsest parts of the crowds. My legs began to cramp as my character slowed down and was out of breath. I think I started to smell something horrible, like a mix of decay and blood as I gave the game all my attention.

I really needed to stand up. Sitting in this tense position was causing me to get sore. As I passed one zombie, I was forced to take my hand off the mouse, as a sting of pain shot up from my hand. I didn’t realize how hard I had been holding the mouse.

Limply shaking my hand while trying to ease up on using the mouse, I finally saw an unlocked building. I charged straight inside the house as far as I could, up to the second floor bedroom, forgetting to check for zombies anywhere inside. At least the zombie spawning algorithm was finally having mercy on me.

Exhausted from all the running and panicking, I finally went to sleep.

I woke up at noon, and looked out the window to find that my zombie pursuers had not followed me to this new house. The fridge was filled with chicken and salmon, one cupboard had a fire axe, and there was even a shotgun, but no ammo. I was finally starting to get back into the swing of this game and safe enough to continue writing this, I suddenly felt a drop in the pit of my stomach. A status icon popped up in the corner with a slightly green frowning face. Rolling over it with the mouse, it read, “Queasy.”

Reluctantly, I opened my health screen. The right hand on my outline was dimly flashing red. I scrolled over it, and it said, “Right Hand: Scratched.”

I’m still a skeptic, mind you. Everything that has been happening to me has had a reasonable explanation. Skeptic or mystic, it won’t be long now until I find out whether or not I’m right.

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