Video Game Stress and Dead Space 2

published on 2015-07-05

TL;DR: Absolutely amazing game (as is Dead Space)… but certainly not for everyone.

So, I just finished Dead Space 2, the second installment in the space horror shooter series, and boy, do I hate this series. Okay, that’s a lie. I hate this series like people hate horror films, which basically leads to the cliched “I love hating this game”.


The series is told from the point of view of Isaac, a maintenance engineer sent to repair the communications on a mining ship, the Ichimura. Upon arrival, it is clear that something horrible has occurred; in fact, some of Isaac’s crew mates are killed by monsters within the first few minutes onto the ship. Soon, their landing craft is damaged and they must travel through the infested ship, fighting off these monsters the entire time. In fact, the synopsis of the first installment feels quite a bit like Alien. Except, of course, for the fact that the protagonist is badass Ellen Ripley and not mechanical engineer (geek) Isaac Clarke.

ripley Much more badass than Isaac from Dead Space

The second installment takes place on a space station circling Titan where Isaac has been locked in the asylum for the past five years. Of course, as one could expect from a sequel, the infestation has somehow followed Isaac and taken out virtually the entire population of the station, leaving Isaac fighting through hoards of monsters again. Again, this is very similar to the plot of Aliens (the sequel to Alien, for those not in the know), except with a complete absence of this:

power loader Any piece of entertainment can be improved by adding a power loader.

To be honest, I played through Dead Space and was thoroughly creeped out. I mean, the setting, the ambiance, the way the game is paced… all of these are done so well they make up a very scary game. Not only were there the BOO! type moments which startled me, there’s the anticipation of these moments which builds a ton of tension. Also, since the environment really pulled me in with the sounds, story telling, etc., I truly fear while exploring rooms. The game trained me VERY rapidly to not get too cocky; there’s always something it could throw at me. Therefore, every move I made, I was deeply conscious of the fact that my character could die, and I didn’t want that. I learned that, if I get into a lull, a necromorph (the name of the monsters) was going to jump down in front of me and make me die.

In fact, Dead Space affected me so much, it took me about 4 months to start the second game (the first came out in 2008, part 2 came out in 2011, so it’s not like I was waiting for the sequel); I was just dreading getting back into that mind frame. Really, playing the game was stressful, and I viscerally remember that. Not only was it creepy (necromorphs are human, just… horribly mutated), not only was it very scary, but it was hard, too. You’d have to try several times to go through certain rooms, each time trying to figure out where the attack was going to come from, learning from what you’ve already seen. That just added to the stress level, and I think it carried over to the second game.

necromorphs Really…. can you blame me for being stressed? I have no weapons, just a STRAIGHT JACKET!!

When I started Dead Space 2, I had a certain amount of trepidation; would I feel the same way? And, lo and behold! I did. Whenever I played the game, I was on edge. Several times, I had to stand up and take a break. Not because I was getting frustrated (that happened a time or two), but because the game was just so intense. This installment has new weapons, new creatures, new environments, and some pretty cool changes to the mechanics of the game. While the new weapons are great, I only used four to get through; this shows that, while the game might be easier with the ideal weapons, you can get through with only a few. But the challenges went way up as well, meaning that the game was just as stressful as before.

Which brings me to my observation: I think it’s wacky that I participate in something which adds stress, makes me tense, frustrates and scares me, and just works me up in general in order to relax. I think it’s odd that MANY people do. I mean, I was never once in a true life-threatening situation, but I’d be surprised if I didn’t have the same kinds of reactions and thought processes as if I had (obviously on a different order of magnitude, of course). After all, “it’s all in your mind” is a very accurate phrase; all sorts of purely mental things can have an effect on your physiology. However, on the other hand, I’m pretty sure that there’s just a flood of dopamine going on which would explain why I’m playing a game like this. With a boost to dopamine levels, I feel more rewarded when I solve a puzzle like “how do I hack into the next room?” or “How can I get through that room without getting ripped to shreds?” and, since I like rewards, I want more. I’m sure it has something to do with that.

Final observation: since my heart rate was elevated for so long while playing, I’m wondering if there’s a setting on the FitBit for that…