Image courtesy of Silicon Knights
In 2002, the now-defunct Canadian video game developer Silicon Knights released a game for the Nintendo GameCube named “Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem.” An action-adventure horror game, players took the role of several characters across humanity’s history (spanning from 26 B.C. to 2000 A.D.) as they fight against godlike entities from another reality known simply as the “Ancients.”
The game takes many cues other horror games of the time, namely the “Resident Evil” and “Silent Hill” games. However, unlike the biological horror of the former and the psychological horror of the latter, “Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem” draws heavy inspiration from the unique brand of horror developed by American writer Howard Phillips (H.P.) Lovecraft, as evidenced by the game’s primary conflict against otherworldly entities that humanity is almost incapable of comprehending.
The most noticeable aspect of this theme of unknown and cosmic horror comes in the form of the game’s main innovation: the sanity meter. Like the health meters and magick meters of other games, “Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem” was among the first games to introduce a manageable sanity meter, which lowers upon seeing monsters or other horrific sights. However, unlike the health or magick meters, a low sanity meter does not simply mean death or being unable to cast certain abilities.
Instead, playing with a low sanity meter will cause various “sanity effects” to occur during gameplay, a reflection of your player character’s fading grasp on reality, and what is most notable about these effects is that many are not even directed towards the character on-screen but instead towards the person playing the game, as if you are the one losing your grip on what is real and what is not. Every time one of these effects happen, your screen will then suddenly flash back to reality, with your character audibly panicking with the line “this isn’t really happening!”
This level of fourth-wall breaking is widely regarded as the game’s most notable aspect, and so the rest of this article will be a list of some of the game’s more striking examples of sanity effects. Imagine being one of the first players of this game in 2002, having a late night session in your dark room alone, unaware that the game will literally flash various effects intentionally designed to mess with you, the player and question your overall sanity.
-Sometimes, your screen will go completely black, as if your television suddenly turned off.
-What looks to be bugs may suddenly appear crawling on your screen.
-An in-game volume bar will appear on the screen and lower to its minimum setting, as if your television volume was being turned down.
-The screen may suddenly go black and simply display the word “Video,” while the game audio continues as you hear your character being eaten by enemies.
-Upon entering a room, your character will instead be an enemy zombie and “die” a moment later.
-Attempting to use the “Recover” spell will instead cause your character’s torso to explode.
-Wake up. This isn’t real. None of it is. Please wake up.
-Upon saving your game, a message will ask, "Are you sure you want to delete all of your Saved Games?" Regardless of if you pick yes or no, the saved files will be "deleted."
-The game will suddenly cut to a promotional sneak-preview for a never-released sequel, titled “Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Redemption.”
-Various paintings and statues throughout the game will suddenly appear much more hellish (or even follow your movement if the statue is a bust of a human head)
-Blood will drop from walls or the ceiling, with even more coming down if the walls are hit
-When entering a room, the environment will be upside down.
-A Blue Screen of Death will suddenly appear.
-Upon entering a room, your character will be surrounded by enemies while a fake system message will appear asking you to reconnect your controller as your character is attacked.
-You suddenly read a TechNews article about a completely fake game and its completely fake sanity effects.