How Outlast 2 Helped Me Accept My Catholic Trauma
Content Warning: Sexual Assault, Child Abuse. This article contains spoilers for Outlast II.
I grew up Christian.
Depending on the denomination my dad was following that year, new and exciting ways of living with shame were baked into me at a young age. Every night, I’d recite the Lord’s Prayer in fear of divine retribution. I went to a private Catholic school where I was gaslit and physically abused by the teachers. I’d ruminate on death daily as young as five, and bartered with God to not take me away if I did something bad. I lived in constant terror. If my dad’s physical abuse wasn’t going to get me, then my warped version of God was certainly going to.
That’s the terror of making children active participants in certain branches of organized Christianity, isn’t it? You’re taking a still-forming brain and exposing it to all sorts of negative ideas about guilt, shame, penance, what have you. By the time they’re old enough to forget it, they’ve been taught self-destructive methods of thought that take years and years of therapy to unearth and grapple with – if they even get that far. Most of the time, people just repress it and put it on their own kids.
The cycle repeats. The world keeps turning.
Unfortunately, this particular type of psychological damage isn’t dealt with enough in media. When religion is presented as an evil thing, it’s often turned into some hokey approximation of the actual thing. Catholicism becomes goofy cults with hokey leaders that trade in ambiguous non-speak that don’t accurately depict the things about it that are actually damaging.
This is why, three years later, I still hold Outlast 2 in the highest regard.
A sequel in name and lore only, Outlast II follows married journalists Blake and Lynn Langermann as they investigate the brutal murder of a pregnant woman. After a helicopter crash lands them in a remote region of Arizona, Blake is left to fend for himself after Lynn is kidnapped and their pilot crucified. But no sooner does he find civilization than does he discover the hellish cult town of Heaven’s Gate, led by murderous rapist “Papa” Sullivan Knoth. Blake is now forced to save his wife from both the religious cult and their forest-dwelling rivals, the Heretics.
Breaking up the narrative are a series of flashbacks to Blake’s upbringing. In these flashbacks, the protagonist relives his memories of spending time with his childhood friend, Jessica Gray, in Catholic school. Through these recollections, players begin to witness the slow mental unraveling of Jessica as her parents and teachers fail her repeatedly. She tries to escape her abusive father through online Christian support groups, but the people there tell her to “talk to her teachers.” Those same teachers exclude her from field trips and gym classes because she’s “too sensitive,” due to the copious amounts of trauma inflicted on her, and force her into mandatory library study.
But that library study is overseen by one of Jessica’s biggest sources of trauma – a teacher by the name of Father Loutermilch. As players discover throughout the game, Loutermilch is taking advantage of the abused and exploited girl in private, then playing her off as a weak, touchy child. Meanwhile, Blake can only watch from the sidelines, knowing that the abuse is happening, but unable to actually do anything about.
This culminates in one of the game’s most disturbing sequences. Father Loutermilch is taking Jessica upstairs to sexually abuse her, and she resists. In the struggle, she tumbles down the staircase and breaks her neck. Blake, having heard her screams as he left, rushes to the scene, only the find the corpse of his best friend and implied crush. Loutermilch threatens Blake, and makes him promise to not speak a word of it. Jessica’s death is made to look like a suicide, with the whole world never knowing the real story behind her death.
It’s bleak stuff – to the point where many critics balked at the subject matter. However, while the game is undeniably filled with some gnarly imagery and grim thematic content, Outlast 2 doesn’t ever feel exploitative. At least, it didn’t to me, because everything this game has to say about how organized religion gaslights, exploits, and sometimes kills kids… well, it’s kind of true.
You see, playing Outlast 2 reawakened much of the trauma I had from my stint in Catholic school and my years in church. It was the sort of stuff that had always been kicking around in my subconscious, leading me down routes of addiction, self-harm, and extreme depression. But the specific memories, the root of it all… those were buried until I played this game. Until I found myself back in the halls of a Catholic school. Until I was forced to contend with teachers that abuse children and lie to their parents under the pretense of religion.
Suddenly, it rushed back in fits and starts. I remembered being struck by teachers for not saying “God bless you” instead of “bless you” in Catholic school. I remembered crying children being dragged away to the principal for praying wrong. I remembered teachers gaslighting me after other students attacked me, telling me that it was my fault and that Jesus wouldn’t tell on his “friends.” I remember childhood friends whose parents dragged them to anti-abortion rallies, forcing them to rally around a corrupt and evil cause they couldn’t understand.
But these memories came back as snapshots – short, decontextualized bursts of trauma. Those bursts, however, soon gave way to more vivid, coherent memories. And as I tried to fully process Jessica’s horrific sexual abuse in Outlast 2, I found myself back in Albuquerque. I was eight years old again, and I was talking to my church friend, Zachary. Zachary was a sweet kid – always one to play practical jokes, make goofy faces, sing dumb songs. At the same time, behind that was a boy who I could tell was deeply unsure in himself, who was emotional and impulsive and scared. I wanted to be there for him… as much as an eight-year-old can be.
In retrospect, I kinda had a crush on him. But I was a boy at the time, and that was wrong. That was a sin.
One Sunday, Zachary and I were wandering the halls of our church as per usual – goofing around in the halls, talking about whatever kids do. But when we rounded the corner into a dark, dead-end hall, he stopped us. He looked around, nervous, then leaned in and whispered in my ear.
“Have you ever sucked a man’s penis?” he asked.
I felt ice run through my chest. “What?”
He looked panicked. “Uh, y’know. Like if a man asks you to put your mouth on him.”
“No! I’m not gay.”
“I-I’m not either! I was just asking.”
He looked around again. “Yes.”
He clammed up. “Someone around here.”
And with timing out of the hackiest script, a teacher showed up behind us and told us to get ready for Sunday School. We followed her. Zachary never brought it up again.
Outlast 2 brought this memory roaring back to life. I realized that I had been in the same position as Blake. I knew something bad was happening, but I didn’t ask enough – and I couldn’t. I was a kid. We both were. How are children supposed to process being told something like that, let alone having it happen to them? Still, to this day, it sticks in my craw that I didn’t tell anyone anything. I was so caught up in the shame that my friend might be gay that I didn’t stop and question what he meant by “a man” and “someone around here.” That shame stood in the way of potentially getting somebody out of an abusive situation.
But then.. that’s the point, isn’t it? Too often, the purpose of indoctrinating young children into Catholicism at a young age is to teach them to shut up, fear God, and listen to their preachers. If you don’t listen to your preacher, then you’re not fearing God enough. And if you’re not fearing God enough, you’re a sinner. And if you’re a sinner, then you’re going to hell. There’s no grey area, no comfortable middle ground. Instilling these beliefs into children, then, keeps them complacent and obedient, and makes them ripe for exploitation at the hands of vile, evil people. And, as numerous examples prove, those craven predators often mask their abuse behind a veil of religious piety. After all, if they tell a young boy it’s a sin to be gay before taking advantage of him, he stays quiet.
Because he’s sinned. And sinners go to hell.
This is precisely why Outlast 2 is a fantastic representation of religious abuse. Throughout the course of the game, players are forced to watch as a young woman is abused, then forced to find solace in other abusers. All the while, she’s gaslit, lied to, and manipulated into the hands of a corrupt priest. All of this leads to her horrifying and tragic demise, followed by the subsequent cover-up that paints her as a troubled suicide statistic. The world thinks Jessica Gray was unstable and weak, and she’s never truly mourned as the victim she is. Only Blake carries the truth with him – and by game’s end, he’s likely carried it to his grave.
When the credits rolled on Outlast 2, I was shaken because I’d known a Jessica. Maybe I hadn’t watched Zachary die, but I did carry the knowledge of his abuse with me – and couldn’t do anything about it. But watching Blake try and fail to tell the truth filled me with a new kind of resolve. No matter what, I would never doubt a victim again. I would never push them away when they were confiding in me. And I would never hesitate to call out abuse for what it is.
Years of concentrated abuse in the church taught me to be quiet and look the other way. To accept the word of my elders and never question them. Now, I spend every single day trying to unlearn that programming. If there’s another Zachary, asking for my help, begging to not be alone in the world, I want to be the person who’s there for them. I want to throw my weight behind them, to support and protect them.
Because if we do that, maybe there can be less Jessica Grays in the world.
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Bella Blondeau is a lovable miscreant with a heart of gold… or so she says.
She likes long walks in dingy arcades, loves horror good and bad, and has a passion for anime girls of any and all varieties. Her favorite game is Nier: Automata, because she loves both robots and being sad.
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