When it comes to the most important coming-of-age moments of my life, movies are usually front-and-center. Like many people who read (and write for) this site, films are the predominant force of nature that drove me to be the nerdy, well-informed and passionate fan I am. But it’s not just films that have that ability. Music, books, comics, and video games have the power to touch us in personal and life-changing ways.
Sometimes outside elements are attached to certain pieces of entertainment that can have just as big an impact on you as well. Who you experience these things with, how they make you change the way you look at your beloved favorites – these aspects can give a movie or show or band or game a lasting impact on your life. I know that first hand because that’s what happened with me and Resident Evil 2. While it might not be the greatest video game ever made, the Capcom classic altered the way I absorbed horror forever.
Before Resident Evil 2
I grew up watching and loving horror films. This was due to my parents being accepting of my tastes and, honestly, not knowing just how much I had seen. Some of my earliest memories are watching gory, blood-soaked scary movies in my friend’s bedroom. Dead Alive, Night of the Comet, Halloween – these were just some of the movies we gorged on as our parents and siblings slept. There were severed limbs, buckets of blood and ghastly monsters keeping us company nightly. It was a wonderful way to grow up.
Yet, as much as I adored scary movies, I always felt a distance from the fear. I admired these films and couldn’t get enough of them but they never truly shook me. A few of them did in a major way – The Shining and The Thing come to mind – but I rarely felt the trembling terror that others did. I wasn’t gripped by dread; I wasn’t breathless with tension or shaking with fright. In fact, one of the first things to truly affect me in that way wasn’t a movie. It was the video game Resident Evil 2.
Making Friends and Fear
The year was 1998. I didn’t own a Playstation. At the time Resident Evil 2 came out, I didn’t own any console. My game playing was done at neighbors’ and friends’ houses and typically with me in the passenger seat and not actually holding the controller. I was a little brother, this was my lot in life, and I didn’t question it. But as I learned, playing a video game can be a group experience.
I was in a local theater production and had recently become friends with another pre-teen in the play named Adam. Adam was new to town, and we got along right away, making dumb jokes and stupid references that no one else enjoyed. Adam also had a Playstation and lived near me. As any kid knows, that meant a sleepover was required. So I invited Adam over and, along with my brother and his best friend Cody, we fired up Resident Evil 2. Just us, alone in my mom’s living room as the sun went down.
The Unique Familiarity of Resident Evil 2
There was something so incredibly different – yet familiar – about Resident Evil 2. I had never played RPGs or any games that contained an actual story. My life had been filled with Mario, racing, and arcade games. Right from the opening scene, Resident Evil 2 felt refreshing and new. It was like jumping into a pool and automatically knowing how to swim. The game was perfectly fit for my interests. There was a story about an entire town being overrun by flesh-eating zombies. That was like the countless horror films I had seen before but this time we were in charge of the characters’ fates. It was more immediate than the films I had grown up on, and it hooked me immediately.
The volume was cranked to the limit; the lights turned off. Huddled together under the glow of the tube TV, we pushed through Raccoon City, battling undead and monsters and the wicked Umbrella Corporation. The game was intense on its own, but things were taken up a notch because Adam didn’t own a memory card. That meant when our avatar Leon S. Kennedy died, he was dead for good. We would have to start over from the beginning of the game. That little hiccup made things more consequential. Every enemy and bullet was life or death, leading us to scream and panic and pull our hair out. Over a video game.
It quickly became a bonding experience that brought us closer together and made the game vastly more engaging. We were playing because it was fun but also because we were doing it together. Few things bring young folks together more than collectively taking on a video game.
The Catalyst to My Fandom
I rarely had such a reaction to a movie, let alone a game. It was an invigorating experience. Resident Evil 2 was packed with twists, turns, memorable characters, and a plot that whisked along at a breakneck pace. None of those elements were groundbreaking; they were old scary movie tropes that had been employed again and again. Yet it all came together for me as an impressionable kid who was nurturing my budding opinions and passions.
I could sense my entire view of video games and horror evolving. The experience of playing Resident Evil 2 changed how I felt about zombies, an obsession that sticks with me to this day. It altered the way I thought of games and encouraged me to pick up the controller, no longer relegated to the little brother sidelines. The game also made me think about how and why I liked being scared. It led to reflection on watching horror as a group activity. Like laughter, being scared always feels better when in a group. It’s a communal experience and being huddled around the TV delving into Resident Evil 2 made that even more clear. That night was a watershed moment in a young horror fan’s life. It propelled me into a new understanding of horror fandom.
The Impact of Resident Evil 2
I’m not alone either; the game was monumental to many people. It is consistently cited as one of the most important and groundbreaking games of its generation. Its layered plot, multiple characters, cinematic cutscenes, and film-like vibe made it a landmark in video game storytelling. After years and years of watching zombies devour people on screen, players were able to take them on. The dream (or nightmare) of millions of scary movie fans was realized. Despite its many faults, Resident Evil 2 awakened and strengthened horror fanaticism in numerous young people.
Watch one of the aged commercials for Resident Evil 2 and you might ask yourself how I could have been so shaken up. The graphics don’t hold up, the voice acting is cruddy, the scares and story can be fairly generic. But it affected and inspired me in some major life-changing ways.
And, no, we didn’t beat the game that night.