In light of the readings for this week, I would like to attempt to “read” the different types of horror used throughout major “horror” video games: Silent Hill 2 and Resident Evil (GCN version). I hope this doesn’t end up being too structuralist, but I foresee that happening, as I am comparing the readings of 2 different, yet similar video games (I wanted to try to go more phenomenological, but we’ll see what happens).

Please also note this comes from someone who plays these games all the time and ends up laughing now when designers try to involve the scare factor in gaming now. Also, I want to point out that I did try the second game I present here before the first one. But I digress.

Also, sorry for any potential spoilers I may give – I’ll try to reduce them so you can experience these games.

Silent Hill (SH)

SH I believe, along with Fatal Frame, are the leading games in the industry that do “horror” best. For this series, “horror” ends up being defined as “psychological horror (thriller)”. The player always ends up being some poor soul, through some sort of magical series of events, gets thrusted back into this town that has cultish origins. Some of the mechanics used to achieve SH horror from the movie industry are: the epic amount of fog (you can barely move down the streets of SH without being enveloped by it), the very cramped corridors, the mise-en-scene (including the characters), the exclusion of most sound in the game, the usage of the static radio, and the obligatory “messed up alternate world of SH”.

All of these aspects of SH create a very tension from the first time one picks up the controller. The main mechanics of the game help to support the immersion of the world and hellp to create this psychological thriller, which is SH horror. The radio is used to let the player know where the bad guys are, and the way it is delivered is super effective at even making me get the chills (I had to put down the game the first time I played it because I got creeped out). Also, the only way for the player to see where he/she is going in most of the game is to utilize the flashlight – which only illuminates a small portion of the screen, but also alerts the bad guys to your presence. So a player could walk around in the dark everywhere, or walk around mostly in the dark but attract all of the bad guys. It’s up to the player.

But that’s only the action aspect of the game. The story itself thrives upon SH horror. The way the characters interact with each other, the way the player creates his map, the way the world is created, and the development of “psycholand SH”, the inverse of the world in SH where the walls are covered with living, and moving blood. That world has its own rules, utilizes flesh for a covering of machines, has lots of creepy bad guys, and also utilizes lots of screaming, moaning, and voices in the background make you want to get out of that world as soon as possible. But unfortunately, about half the game occurs in the creepy world, so one has to build up a tolerance to it. The good news is that once you have played through one version of SH, you have a good tolerance in you to withstand the others.

Resident Evil (RE)

Please ignore the voiceover – this video shows some of the aspects of RE I want you to see.

This clip is from the GCN (GameCube) version of the game. It was enhanced with better graphics and 1 new area from the original PlayStation version of the game. RE is essentially a remediation of the actual camera used in older horror films and it is the main critique many gamers have of this game: the camera is cemented still and will change depending on where the player walks. It can be quite disorienting to some, especially with enemies around, but this adds to the “scare” factor RE tries to play up to: the “cheap scare”. This is a name my sister and I have used to call the type of scare which has the following features: there’s something around the corner and it pops out and tries to scare the audience, it is usually preceded with the removal of sound and then something happens suddenly, or just the usage of blood or lots of shadows to make the audience feel they are in a horror film.

For me, this ends up making a great and a horrible experience. It is great for me as a gamer, as these are the visual language I use to “hack” the design of the game: these cues for cheap scares tell me exactly when to grip the controller, and when I should start singing and laughing when zombies start eating people. Yeah – it’s that predictable (I also watch a lot of bad horror films in my spare time). This added language I have gotten from the movie industry has made me realize where these cheap scares are about to occur, and unfortunately make the game less scary. Also, this game and RE0 were, in my opinion, the best of the series in trying to scare the player, but that’s a story for another day. This type of horror ends up ruining the experience for me, as I am immediately taken out of the context of the game and I just see the images on the screen as just part of a “map”, and not part of a horror world. I also am saddened because many of the tricks they use are awesome the first couple of times, but then end up losing there charm, just as the horror industry does. I also want to challenge the developers to not only utilize this method of utilizing the camera, but trying to really scare (shake me to my core) me, than just situate me in “just another zombie film”.

I would love to keep talking and play this for everyone if we want – it’ll be great to not only reflect on the material in action, but also will get a chance for everyone to see something they can interact with and critique.

Maybe it’s just my eye… but what do you think about the horror trying to be portrayed in these games?