I was into video games before it was cool. In 1994, I was six years old, and my favourite pastime was watching my babysitter, a teenage boy named Mark, play games on our home PC. It was a huge, white, clunky thing that ran Windows 3.1 and was mostly purchased so my dad could play Solitaire. Before I could do long division, I was better at navigating DOS than most adults, and my favourite command was C:\>run ALONE.exe.
Our house had a lot of really large windows, so to keep the glare out and make sure things were as spooky as possible for horror games, we would hang comforters over the windows. Then the three of us (Mark in the middle and my brother Ben and I on either side of him) would gather our chairs around the computer desk and boot up Alone in the Dark.
The premise of this 1992 game, for those not in the know, was the exploration of an abandoned (and, naturally, haunted) mansion in 1920’s Louisiana. It truly is the forefather of the modern survival horror genre, and was certainly the precursor to my favourite game series Resident Evil. As with Capcom’s ongoing zombie series, Alone in the Dark opens with the option to choose whether to play as a man (Edward Carnby) or a woman (Emily Hartwood). Mark, Ben, and I always chose Emily. As a gamer, I choose to believe that this was because Emily’s backstory is more intriguing than Edward’s, but as an adult I realize it was probably because 17-year-old Mark had more interest in watching a young blonde woman walk around than he did a mustachioed older man.
With the room as dark as we could make it, we would throw a Foreigner CD into the disc drive and get to business. Then, with Emily at our fingertips, we headed into the haunted mansion, Derceto, in search of clues as to why its owner, our uncle Jeremy, committed suicide.
Naturally, upon entering Derceto, its front doors slam shut. Trying to open them before completing the game’s storyline results in the player’s death by creepy green pointy thing. I’m still not sure what it was supposed to be, much like I’m still baffled at how the purple velociraptors that occasionally crop up in this game are supposed to be werewolves. But I played this game in 1994, and it was over a year old at that point, so, really, what more could a girl ask for? At least the zombies were recognisable.
I’ll be honest—I was completely clueless about the plot of Alone in the Dark (aside from “haunted mansion”) until I sat down with my now-adult brother to replay it for this article. His memory is far better than mine; he remembered that Derceto is haunted by the occultist pirate who built it and whose spirit lives on in the creepy tree that resides in the secret tunnels underneath the mansion. My memories came back to me in flashes as we collected the documents scattered around Derceto, there to provide some backstory and context to players who bother to read them.
Upon replaying it, I discovered one very notable thing—Alone in the Dark is far shorter than I remember it being. Because we originally played in a time before the internet was rife with walkthroughs and survival horror wasn’t old enough to have tropes, it took us over a year to beat it. When Ben and I sat down to replay it, we beat it in only a few hours, though this was at least in part due to Ben’s fantastic memory for small details. Whenever we’d find a new item, he’d immediately recognise its use, like the pot of stew we had to serve to a room full of hungry zombie dinner guests.
When Mark, Ben and I tackled Alone in the Dark, we were late enough to the game that it’s sequel, Alone in the Dark 2, and promotional mini game Jack in the Dark were already released. And believe me, we played the crap out of those too. It’s been far longer since I played AIID2, but from what I can remember, it was a far better game than its predecessor, which I obviously have a soft spot for. If someone badmouths these games to me, I will fight them. I don’t care how terrible the graphics are or how predictable the storyline is nowadays. I will defend the terrible inventory system until my dying day. Why? Because this series, set to a soundtrack of Cold As Ice on repeat, was my entire childhood.
I’ve always been a heavily nostalgic person, and my reaction to anyone who dislikes anything I loved as a child is immediate contempt. With regards to the original Alone in the Dark games (we don’t speak of the 2008/2015 reboots), I toe a fine line between classifying them as “so bad they’re good” and “legitimately amazing.” It’s distinctly possible that I’m the world’s only Alone in the Dark hipster. If that’s true, then I’m proud to bear the label. Survival horror began with this game, and regardless of how it holds up in comparison to today’s amazing graphics and mind-blowing stories, Alone in the Dark deserves a hell of a lot of props, from now until the end of time.