As a teenager I often found myself fascinated with the idea of urban legends, those maybe true creepy stories about strange happenings (one of the more famous being the “hook hand” story). They tickled some part of my brain that found those kinds of things intriguing, which probably explains why I like the horror genre so much, whether it be in books, video games, or movies. But there’s one kind of urban legend or horror story that I have a very interesting relationship with, because I don’t actually believe in it but I find the subject matter to be incredibly intriguing. They are the things that go bump in the night, the things that linger on. I speak, of course, of ghosts.
Ghost stories are fascinating in the way that they represent a very human desire to understand what happens to us when we die. Throughout history, there have been countless explanations, ranging from simply ceasing to exist to reincarnation to everlasting bliss. The idea of ghosts lies somewhere in the middle of all that. They are the idea that the human spirit, essence, energy, or whatever you want to call it, remains behind when a person dies. This happens for any number of reasons, but it is most commonly believed that it stems from some psychological inability to move on.
Now for me personally, I don’t believe in the idea. What evidence has been gathered and presented is thoroughly unconvincing to me, especially in the era of Photoshop and digital editing. When it’s possible to make anything look like anything else, what is reality in a picture or video becomes rather subjective. And that’s not even counting the least convincing examples of ghost evidence, namely something referred to as Electronic Voice Phenomena.
Electronic Voice Phenomena (or EVPs for short) are supposedly ghostly voices recorded on an audio recorder. The theory goes that these voices are below the normal threshold for the human voice range, which is about three hundred to three thousand hertz. Typically, these EVPs are recorded at below the three hundred hertz range, which would exclude any living human because no human alive has managed to reach that range yet.
The problem with this is that the vast majority of EVPs (if not all) can be explained away by simple misinterpretation of static noise. Have you ever watched one of those ghost hunting shows where they play an EVP and then tell you what they think it says? Isn’t it strange that the second time they play it back, it sounds just like what they say it does? That’s because it’s not strange at all. A similar thing happens in police interrogations if an officer leads a suspect or witness, giving them visual or audio cues that taint their version of the event (like if they ask “did it sound like a gunshot” and then the person concurs that it did, thus leading them to a particular interpretation of events). The ghost hunters telling you what they think it says leads you to hear exactly what they heard, which then taints the results. You’re no longer able to hear anything else in the recording besides that.
So with EVPs being unconvincing, what about pictures and video? Pictures should be simple enough visual evidence of ghosts, or at least they would be if human vision was perfect. Unfortunately for us, it isn’t. The human brain hates visual gaps, and will actually attempt to fill them in whenever possible. This means that our brains can unintentionally trick us into seeing things that aren’t there. So then, a few smudges, weird dust particles, or a trick of lighting on a photograph can trick us into seeing a human face where there isn’t one, and could explain much of the ghost photographs presented as evidence. A friend of mine referred to human beings as “pattern recognition machines” many a time when we talked about this subject.
As for videos, those are harder. Some of them are genuinely creepy, and (if authentic of course) completely inexplicable. Ghost videos are some of the more interesting bits of evidence I’ve ever seen. Some have been explained away as a trick of light or as errors in the lens of the camera, but some are just mystifying, and therefore intriguing. However, none of it is convincing enough for me to believe in the idea of ghosts. Sure it’s weird, but just because something isn’t explained right now doesn’t mean it never will be. Lack of proof in this case is not proof. Besides, the burden of proof lies upon those who claim that ghosts are a real phenomenon.
Yet, despite my inherent skepticism of the idea, ghosts still remain a fascinating topic for me. I enjoy ghost stories and video games about ghosts, and I’ll even admit to enjoying some of the ghost hunting shows at times (even if I don’t believe the evidence they gather). It might seem like kind of a paradox, but in reality it’s rather simple.
It works much in the same way that a non-religious person would find the fundamental concepts and views of a religion to be interesting. You don’t have to believe in it for it to interest you. I’m sure that not everyone who watches horror movies believes in the devil or demons, and yet they like those kinds of things anyways. It’s even translated over into the video games I play.
In the last few years or so, I rekindled a long love with an old genre of gaming: point and click adventures (which is a story for another time). And with that rekindling I stumbled across a series of point and click games known as the Dark Fall games. What caught my eye about these games was that they dealt with ghosts. So I picked up the first game called Dark Fall: The Journal. And you know what?
I enjoyed it, immensely.
The gameplay of it wasn’t anything spectacular. If you’ve played Myst, you’ll know roughly what to expect. But the idea of playing a game that was set in a haunted location where the sole point was to explore and discover? It was too much to resist. Dark Fall: The Journal takes place in an abandoned hotel overlooking a train station. On one strange night in the 1940s, everyone inside the hotel mysteriously vanished, never to be seen again. But as you soon find out, they never left…
For me, Dark Fall was more about the atmosphere than anything. At times, I became immersed in this location, feeling like it could be a real haunted location somewhere in the world. I really enjoyed the little touches of having ghostly pictures and even EVPs to listen to. After beating it, I pick up the second game, Dark Fall 2: Lights Out. This one takes place primarily in a lighthouse where the three lighthouse keepers mysteriously vanished (surprise, surprise). This one I also thoroughly enjoyed, especially because the plot it told ended up being far more intricate than the previous game.
The resurfacing of point and click games in my life allowed me to get back in touch with a part of myself that I hadn’t given much thought to in recent years. Outside of movies like the Paranormal Activity franchise (really well done movies by the way) and the ghost hunting shows, I hadn’t really been able to experience ghost stories in most media, least of all in video games. Encountering the Dark Fall games really got me back in touch with that part of myself that, while not believing in ghosts, still loves the idea of it. They make for good stories and truly moody atmosphere, something you don’t see a lot of anymore in today’s era of gore and jump-scares.
I guess the end result of all of this is that I’m not ashamed to say I like ghost stories, even if they are incredibly cheesy at times. I like them in the same way someone would like the Saw movies. It’s not really a guilty pleasure, but rather one that not everyone is going to understand or agree with. Regardless, I’ve liked ghosts stories since I was a kid, and I doubt I’m going to stop liking them anytime soon. I’ll always have a fondness for those things that go bump in the night.
Thanks for taking the time to read this. Tune your eyes in next Wednesday for another post.