Hidden Gem: Nightmare Ned

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           I’ve always been a huge fan of the horror genre. Whether it be film, television, novels, or video games, there’s just something so interesting about becoming frightened. I think this love of horror is in the same vein as my love for fantasy, the fact that I’m seeing or doing something that doesn’t occur in our reality. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for realism when it’s to justify a change in society. However for the sake of art, or the absurd, I feel that since the 1980’s, we’ve veered off track from creating what the imagination is truly capable of.

(Hence the tagline for the blog: “Discussing the Lost Art of Imagination”)

However, there are those few astronauts who blast through the asteroid field of reality! Those who use their cosmic jets to send the repetitive flares of unimaginative films towards the molten sun. We’ve set our phasers to ingenuity, so that you don’t have to.

I too have separated the stars, and discovered this little gem.

         Nightmare Ned ladies and gentlemen. Did you hear that music?! That eerie taunting piano melody, drawing you into a deep, unknown slumber. Mystery around every corner, terror and fear, all from the music alone. This little puppy took up a lot of my time as a kid, for better or worse. Nightmare Ned is a computer game that was released in 1997, and oddly partnered with Disney Interactive. When I think Disney, I don’t usually think of nightmares, ghosts, and dead grandparents, but for Ned that’s exactly what you get.

We follow our hero Ned, a nerdy little bald kid who’s left home alone for the first time ever. As any kid alone for the first time knows, Ned of course goes to town in the house: sliding on the railings, eating candy after eight, sitting right in front of the tv, rolling down the stairs, jumping on the couches, the usual ‘bad kid’ stuff. However as night approaches, Ned becomes less and less excited to be alone, as the shadows grow, and the darkness spreads through the house. Ned tries to fall asleep, but once he does, he’s pulled into the depths of his depraved imagination; a nightmarish hellscape surrounded by a tornado, constantly haunted by five terrifying ghosts.

And here we begin the game, inside Ned’s head while he sleeps. As the player, your goal is to traverse the inner workings of Ned’s mind and solve intricate puzzles and platforming, all in order to reveal the true appearance of the five ghosts haunting you, thus waking Ned from the nightmare.

HOW DAMN GENIUS

I could spend hours and hours describing in detail all of the elements that make this game the brilliant piece of art that it is. Even now, I don’t think I’ve ever played a game with the atmosphere that Nightmare Ned manages to bring. The music, the art, the locations, there’s so much that sells it. Each one of the five ghosts represents a different realm of Ned’s mind, each realm representing a fear of Ned’s in the real world. For instance, there is a ghost with needle hands who represents Ned’s fear of going to the doctor. There’s an unnerving school realm, an attic and basement realm, a graveyard (complete with his own dead parents), and even an entire toilet realm!

Now then, let’s consider Nightmare Ned with the realism of today that I mentioned in the open. The game is set on Earth presumably, and Ned is also presumably human, as are his parents. However, the game itself does not take place in our reality, but inside of nightmares. We’re not playing a simulator where we drive to work, we’re playing a game where we use a yo-yo on a talking severed dragon head to tell us a terrifying tale of spiders growing in peoples skin. We’re in a world where the wallpaper peels itself down and tickles you. Where rats can sing, where toilets laugh, and chalkboard drawings come to life.

 Ned serves as a prime example of the sort of thing that’s been disappearing from popular media. Nobody’s making games like Nightmare Ned anymore, because I guess games like that don’t sell well? It’s easier to set something in a city than inside a mind, because everyone knows what’s happening in the city. There are signs that tell you what’s what, what stores are selling, displays in front of you, signs for roads, building names, logos, brands, things you can recognize. People don’t want extra work, they don’t want to have to think, they want to shoot and win.

Guns sell. Guns are quick and easy, brainless. Soulless.

tipnumber4

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Published by

Sean McGehee

CEO of the Department of Imagination.

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