I have been reading murder mysteries since I was in the seventh standard.
I have been playing video games since probably when my uncle introduced me to a desktop in 1998.
I have read stories about monsters and how the hero feared the monster hunting them but due to a fortunate turn of events, he/she eventually overcame the fear and either killed it or trapped it for good.
I also killed a lot of said monsters in many video games ever since Doom, Quake, and Half-Life came out. I was afraid of them but not for the reasons I thought I did.
My introduction to the fear of the unknown was fairly recent. I had bought a PS4 in 2016 and for one sole purpose. There was this gothic horror game, fairly unheard of which dealt with horrors that escalated the more you dived into the story. Like some Victorian secret, the game slowly revealed in phases what the plot was about and why we were trying to end a Nightmare! No prizes to the people who guessed the game. It was Bloodborne.
The visceral kills and boss fights at the start of the game did set the mood but it never could prepare me for the story that lied ahead. I am not spoiling this for anybody but I would highly suggest you check the game out if you are in want of surreal gaming experience. Also, the game is brutal so you will have to “git gud” to progress!
This article is not about Bloodborne (that can be a topic in the future!). This is about the fascination I held when I completed the game and delved harder into the fear of the unknown. All my life I was scared of imaginary monsters which I realized wouldn’t actually come hurt me once I grew up! (I was scared of You-Know-Who sneaking into my room after reading Goblet of Fire).
The real horror, according to me, was of the things that lay just beyond human comprehension. I know the genre is known as Lovecraftian Horror and kudos to H. P. Lovecraft for bringing it to the mainstream all the way back in the 1920s but he was just a vessel. The fear of the unknown is something that is very deeply rooted in all of us. It is something we can all relate to at our own personal levels. This can also go back way before Lovecraft even existed. Take an example of the bubonic plague back in the day. Imagine being alive back then and seeing hundreds, if not thousands, succumbing to an invisible disease, an unknown curse. Since science was in its infancy, who would have blamed you for believing invisible Death walked on the streets every day. It was unknown, it was at the time inevitable and it must have been psychologically speaking, brutal on your mind to comprehend. Seeing death all around you would eventually break you down and set you on the same path.
Even today, we are constantly trying to increase our horizon on the understanding of our world but we still have just five senses to experience the world around us. The fear of something lurking just beyond those senses can’t be denied. This is where the fear initiates and takes its roots. The parts of oceans we haven’t explored yet, the sightings of things we can’t properly explain, the space that exists infinitely around us holding things or creatures unbeknownst to us. It makes us believe that we can’t be the only planet where life exists. It makes us believe that there must be someone intentionally hiding from us or biding its time to make their move when we least expect to. Like the Cthulhu slumbering deep in the Pacific Ocean, we are perhaps only one step away from losing our faculties and sanity to a creature so vastly convoluted and incomprehensible that we will go insane just by the thought of fathoming its existence. This is existential horror as its best.
The skeptics will say that this is all just a way to explain irrational fears and I would agree. As we have progressed, we have eradicated fears which were irrational and it is only a matter of time that we eradicate more.
But the part about the fear of the unknown which intrigues me and I am constantly terrified of is that we can never quantify it. We can never be absolutely confident that we have removed the unknown elements from our world, our universe. This is also the beauty of the unknown. We are limited by our senses to experience everything the only way we can. We don’t know how a mass of muscles can create consciousness or dreams or memories. We don’t know where the barrier lies between an intricately working body and the moment it knows that it exists and has intelligence.
We are what our senses tell us and beyond those senses, the fear has such a massive advantage that we can only imagine it and never fully realize it. If you stop to think about it, give it a moment and let it fester, you will realize why it is so crippling for various people but also such a powerful concept that has no boundaries unlike traditional fears.
This has led to a resurgence of existential horror back into the mainstream. We have video games like Call of Cthulhu, The Sinking City, Vampyr. All of them telling stories about the unknown. Amnesia: The Dark Descent according to me falls into the same category but it was a game that came a long time ago. All these games are trying to replicate a personal story spun around in a Lovecraftian universe and I am all for it.
I read Stephen King’s Revival recently as well and I was pleasantly surprised and enjoyed the novel quite a bit. The novel starts like any other novel with a plot that will take some time to establish but as you progress through the pages, you are introduced to magical electricity, miracles being performed, cancer being cured, and the answer to the most existential question known to man. What happens after we die? The novel is King’s version of what the fear of the unknown looks like and it hooked me properly in the second half. I would suggest you give it a try. It is one of the better novels I have read in a very long time. I am on the hunt for more such novels as the concept fascinates me to no end.
There are so many more people who are equally if not more invested in this genre as it is genuinely a concept where the possibilities of exploration are nearly endless. This makes me chill and paralyze in the night thinking of an unfathomable being sitting on my bed just beyond what I can see or feel. This also fascinates me about what storytelling can be inspired by such a vast amount of unknowns that we can yet explore.
We fear most what we do not understand.