Roller coasters. Haunted houses. Horror novels. Ghost stories. Scary movies. Rick Santorum.
We can’t help but try it, read it, watch it, or look. Though the occasional person avoids all fear like Drac himself could pop out if they indulge, most people enjoy feeling scared under controlled circumstances.
As a child, I loved hide and seek. I was pretty good at it, too. What I remember about it was the adrenaline rush, the tingly, tangy fear that someone would catch me. As much as I loved that, the first real fear game I remember playing as a child had to do with boys.
In preschool, I fell in love with a little boy named Kenny. We used to hold hands at naptime. He had a rat tail, and he’d let me play a Ninja Turtle instead of making me to be April. He was also a year older than me. When I went to kindergarten, Kenny was in first grade. And he joined the Team.
The Team was a bunch of boys who would chase the girls and take them to this play cabin and threaten to throw them into Kachemak Bay. When Kenny joined the Team, all my hopes crashed. Going to recess became a time of fear, when all the boys were a danger. Nobody wanted to be thrown in the bay.
As I grew older, tag replaced the Team. Hide and seek. The numerous little games based on drawing shapes on someone’s back and lulling them into comfort before giving them a big push “off the side of a building.” Hot lava.
So many children’s games are based on fear.
When I began to read chapter books, I skipped Goosebumps and dived right into Fear Street. Before bed. I’d read R.L. Stine‘s descriptions of purple rotting flesh and the dying rictus of a character’s face.
From the time we’re little, we are more than accustomed to fear. Why?
I think a big part of it is instinct. Humans mature very slowly, but our society has progressed at astonishing rates. Our ancestors grew up in fear. They feared the dark, loud noises, white teeth in the night. Fire kept away some predators, but children at a young age would learn terror. They’d learn the screams of giant cats and the trumpets of mammoths. Though we are not driven by instinct as much as other animals, I believe some of it still exists within us.
What is hide and seek but practice for hiding from a predator or an enemy?
What is tag but practice for evading?
What is capture the flag but a sojourn behind enemy lines?
We practice those things out of hopes we’ll never really have to use them. It makes fear safe, allows us to feel the rush and the chalky terror without thinking we’re going to end up shot or lunch. An article from Science Daily posits that the old belief that humans seek only pleasure and to avoid pain may not be entirely true — humans can and do enjoy being scared.
In a world (and a country) where we are mostly safe from the primal fears of our ancestors, I think we instinctively seek out experiences that recreate that fear. We know that scary things still happen in this modern life, and I think that exposing ourselves to differing kinds of adrenaline rushes and fear softens the blow when something scary happens to us. In a way, it prepares us for that eventuality, because we’ve seen something like it before. Even if the memory is a false picture created by Hollywood or a game played as children.
The thrills we seek might not be the real thing, and they don’t have the same effects, but in a way they’re training for the what ifs of the world.
And those what ifs are often the scariest things we face. I believe Franklin Delano Roosevelt said something like that a few decades back.
What do you think about fear? Do you like thrill seeking activities? Have you ever jumped out of a plane or off a bridge? Do you watch horror movies or read thrillers? Let’s talk scary!
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