THE WASHINGTON POST – There is a sequence in Amnesia: Rebirth that reminded me of the infamous psychological study led by Stanley Milgram in 1963. In Milgram’s experiment, volunteer subjects were asked to read a series of questions to a person behind a screen who they could hear but could not see. For each incorrect answer given by the respondent, who was (unbeknown to the volunteer) a part of Milgram’s team, the volunteers were told to administer a series of increasingly severe shocks. Although no one in the experiment was injured – the electric shocks were faked – the test showed how, under the right conditions, any number of people might consent to torture another person.
I first heard of the Milgram experiment back in high school and, for the longest time, thought that if I had been a participant surely I would have been among the few who refused to dole out any painful shocks. I’ve comforted myself with that notion until I recently, and painstakingly, assembled the instruments that were necessary to torture a man so that my character in Amnesia: Rebirth, Tasi Trianon, could protect the life of her unborn child. After the man’s screams stopped ringing through my headphones and his agony had been transmuted by an infernal machine into a substance that could nourish Tasi’s unborn child, I marvelled anew at what a powerful motivator context plays in the human condition.
Amnesia: Rebirth is a dark fantasy game that casts players in the role of a woman who is a part of an expedition to French colonial Africa in March 1937. After a severe bout of turbulence and a plane crash, Tasi wakes up alone aboard the fatefully-named Cassandra to find that her partner Salim and other companions have disappeared. Leaving the wreckage behind, she finds a cave and comes across a letter from Salim stating that most of Cassandra’s injured crew are dead and that a supernatural creature is hunting them. In an effort to avoid the fate of those who perished, Salim decides to follow after a group of survivors and leave path markers along the way.
As Tasi ventures after her companions she quickly realises that the darkness enveloping parts of the cave, and other areas she later discovers, threaten her well-being. If she lingers in the dark for too long her body will begin to go through malignant changes. Players are therefore encouraged to make prudent use of the books of matches they come across to light candles and wall-mounted torches to keep the darkness at bay as well as to make conservative use of fuel for the oil lantern that Tasi eventually acquires.
At the start of the game players are told they should not play Amnesia: Rebirth to win and allow themselves to be absorbed by the story. One of the more brilliant aspects of its game design is that it doesn’t particularly punish failure. Without giving much away I can say that even when Tasi finds herself in a compromising situation she’ll usually wind up, if not in the same spot where things got hairy, at least close enough to the other side of it so as to never suffer through the onerous tedium of backtracking. After all, nothing kills a suspenseful sequence like repetition.