The Fear is Gone: Reconsidering the ‘Left 4 Dead’ Series

It’s October and so begins a month talking about horror games.  It seems only fitting. First up is the Left 4 Dead series. Always one to be oh so punctual, I was looking over the list of horror games or at least games with tangentially connected horror elements and for some reason couldn’t find an angle to write about any of them. I have three or four false starts hanging around in word documents. But in thinking about Left 4 Dead I reminisced on my changing attitude to the game over time.

The first time I played it was at BU’s video game club in the middle of a Saturday afternoon. They networked 2 360s together and we had a full party. We were all terrified. I ended up screaming on a few occasions. A few months later after I could prove my old laptop could actually play it I got it on Steam. Still scary this time at night with the lights turned off. I played through all the campaigns over and over. Then the DLC came out and I got more play time out of it. But soon the game stopped being scary as we got better at working together and planning. Every situation had a solution. In some cases I made it harder for myself by using the mounted mini-gun when I really shouldn’t have. I never pushed myself onto higher difficulty levels because it would have just delayed the end reaction.

Left 4 Dead isn’t inherently scary. It’s how you play it that makes it scary. However, as you learn and become better at the game you are growing out of the play style that makes it scary. It presents an optimal scenario for how people should behave to survive in a zombie apocalypse rather than a scenario that makes the situation scary.

I would like to note that in the present political climate the object lesson of working together as displayed through player actions to be better than selfish self-interest warms my cackles. Thanks to G. Christopher Williams, my editor there, for the title, because I am still rubbish at coming up with them.

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