Helplessness

‘The feeling of helplessness that we encounter during certain dreamlike states’ is how Freud (1919) opens up the explanation on this uncanny factor. I’m certain many have had these kinds of dreams. Opening dozens of doors in a hallway but unable to get out of the building, instead finding yourself in more rooms and more hallways with more doors to open. Feeling fixed to the floor incapable of moving your legs, or the dreams where you’re trying to run but as the world around you continues at a normal pace, you seem to be moving in slow motion, completely powerless to move any faster. These dreams wouldn’t be considered particularly scary. You’re not being chased, there’s no threat of death, but the inability to escape is still fearsome. They fall into the ‘the realm of the frightening’ that is uncanny. This is not to say that a dreamlike state can only refer to illusions whilst we sleep, however, as Freud here identifies with a personal experience as his example. He recalls an experience where he was wandering through the streets of a small Italian town and found himself lost on a street where ‘…heavily made-up women were to be seen at the windows of the little houses…’, and proceeds to tell how ‘…after wandering about for some time…I suddenly found myself back in the same street…Once more I hurried away, only to return there again by a different route.’ Freuds experience is that which embodies the essentials of this concept; finding oneself in a situation out of their control, bringing on a sense of fear of the unknown, a fear of perhaps never finding ones way out, ultimately, feeling helpless. Freud provides another example in his explanation of the sense of helplessness, which I have found is perfectly reiterated in the game, ‘The Path’ (fig. 1). Freud speaks of;

having lost ones way In the woods, perhaps after being overtaken by fog, and, despite all ones best efforts to find a marked or familiar path, one comes back again and again to the same spot, which one recognises by a particular physical feature.’

the path

Fig.1 ‘The Path’

In this psychological horror game, developed by Tale of Tales, you play as one of six sisters, all reminiscent versions of little red riding hood. The instructions for the game play are simple, “Go to Grandmothers house. Stay on the path.” (The Path, 2009) The player then finds themselves standing on a path in the middle of a large forest with a small cottage in the distance. If the player strays from the path and explores the forest the feeling of helplessness arrives as they find themselves wandering through the foggy forest, unable to see very far into the distance, passing small landmarks yet entirely unable to get back to the path. The game does not allow the player to return to the path on their own once lost in the forest unless they encounter the ‘saviour’, a child in a white dress who leads the player by the hand back to the path, or the ‘wolf’, whose identity differs depending on which sister the player chooses. The game received praise for its use of revolutionary storytelling and experimental narrative, described by one critic as a triumph of atmosphere, coming much closer than the cruder shocks of games such as Silent Hill or BioShock to a dramatization of what Ernst Jentsch and Freud analysed as the “uncanny” in literature.” (Poole, 2009)

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