A few weeks ago, I was rifling through dusty boxes of old games with my husband. We have a hoarding problem, I guess. Boxes of games and consoles in the loft, and nowhere to display them. We don’t often go through them, but when we do, it’s a nostalgia fest.
We were actually looking for Silent Hill 2. Halloween was coming up, and we both enjoyed the idea of plummeting James Sunderland back into hell again. It turned out to be in the disc drive of the actual Xbox (because of course it was). Before we figured this out, though, my husband found something else.
“Wow!” he said, holding up a slightly tatty case, “Do you remember this?”
The game was ObsCure, a survival horror game from 2004. And as soon as I saw the box, it all came flooding back.
ObsCure couldn’t be more early noughties if it tried. It has everything: spiky hair and baggy jeans on the boys, short denim skirts on the girls, and a bit of casual misogyny. (It also, for some reason, plays the whole of Sum 41’s Still Waiting in the intro.)
It has all the tropes from movies set in American high schools: the confident jock, the creepy nerdy guy hiding behind a camera, the friendly stoner. The kids are thrown into chaos when they stumble upon weird, twisted, sinewy monsters in the corridors, and it’s up to this rag-tag group of snarkers to get to the bottom of it. The only way they could have made it more “of the era” is to, I don’t know, put Uggs on all the girls or something.
I like the real sense of danger here. In the nineties and early noughties, teenagers were fodder for murderers, demons, and even the entity of fate itself. Think Final Destination and Scream and Jeepers Creepers and I Know What You Did Last Summer. Teens were dropping like flies back then; the question was, which one of the group would make it, blood-soaked and traumatized, to the end?
ObsCure plays with this idea by making the character’s deaths permanent – if they die, you don’t get them back again. This is unusual, and playing The Quarry last year reminded me of how much more tension is involved when you actually want some of them to live. The stakes are higher. I had forgotten this aspect of ObsCure. I wondered which of them we’d steward safely to the end of this adventure.
The game also allows another player to hop in using local co-op, something that genuinely makes it a lot easier. Each character has a special ability: Shannon, for example, can give tips on puzzles, and Stanley can pick locks to break into previously inaccessible areas. (Josh, it seems, exists just to say, “There’s nothing left for us here!” which I would argue is not the most useful thing ever.) Having a second player makes it easier to use these benefits effectively and makes the whole process feel a bit less lonely.
We never finished this game, and I always felt guilty about it. The fact that the past version of us – the pre-children, all-the-hours-in-the-day version – never got around to completing it should have been a warning sign, in hindsight.
I didn’t think it was too much of a problem, though. I would re-master the controls, and I would get all of these teens (or at least some of them) safely to the finish line. I would finally, after all these years, witness the ending.
Here’s the problem:
It’s been a few weeks since then, and I actively don’t want to finish this game.
It’s kind of fun. It’s a bit scary. The storyline is interesting, and I’m enjoying all the references to Silent Hill and Resident Evil, the loving nods to the granddaddies of survival horror.
I just don’t want to play it anymore. Alright? I just don’t want to do it.
This is causing me a problem because, like many people, my “did not finish” list is growing longer and longer by the minute. There are many beautiful, funny, captivating, interesting games that I have truly loved playing – only to never finish them.
It’s overwhelming. Which of these games, all taking years to create and plenty of blood, sweat, tears, and probably burnout from dedicated developers, deserves my attention all the way to the end? Which ones should be left abandoned, figuratively collecting dust, unless our overlords at Microsoft decide to take them away from us?
Having this huge list of incomplete games makes me feel incomplete as a person. It feels like the gnawing sense of nervousness I sometimes get in the hour before the school run in case I forget to collect my kids at the right time. That sense of having left something to fend for itself. It’s guilt.
I enjoyed ObsCure. I enjoyed the gameplay. The co-op is genuinely fun, and it makes the whole experience way more interesting than playing solo.
But ultimately, ObsCure is like the horror movies I used to watch back in the early noughties in my poster-lined bedroom on a sleepover. Silly. Predictable. Full of beautiful, disposable people. And ultimately, kind of empty.
I’ve realized I can’t feel responsible for the games I don’t finish. Life is short, isn’t it? It isn’t 2004 anymore. We live in the age of Mario Wonder and Alan Wake II and Tears of the Kingdom. We live in the age of shiny, noisy distractions in our pockets and an endless, constant stream of entertainment. I am a mother, a student, a writer, a wife, a daughter, and a friend. I have many hats, many responsibilities, and not much free time.
ObsCure is the last straw for me. I think it may have cured me, funnily enough. I cannot hold onto guilt for a reason as silly as this. Sometimes, you can enjoy a game just for a moment: you can appreciate it for what it is and then let it go.
In the end, I watched the ending of ObsCure on YouTube. (God bless no-commentary longplay creators; may karma give you a lovely reward in time.) It turns out the weird mutated creatures are actually students being tested on for nefarious immortality-chasing reasons. The principal has a twin who is also a monster or something, and he burns up in the sunlight at the end. They all live to see another day, except the ones that didn’t.
Maybe instead of feeling guilty for years, I could have just watched that instead.
Megan is a freelance writer based in the UK. She writes about videogames and the meaning of life on her Substack, Side Quest.