Horror of the Mundane
Methods of creating fear in survival horror games
Research Paper Proposal
Horror has been a staple element of focus in the world of art, ranging from paintings, literature, plays, and films. This genre of art seeks to bring out feelings of dread and horror in viewers by playing upon their most primal fears, and fans of this genre are drawn to them in an almost masochistic fascination. There is something very attractive about coming face to face with our fears, and is why horror is still a vastly popular genre in all forms of media.
Because the main point of horror in the art world is to create fear in the viewer, thereby requiring the participation of the viewer with the medium, this provided an interesting niche in entertainment for video games, a relatively new art form, to adapt to. Video games has a unique aspect in which player and viewer participation is an integral element in how it gets its message through; the story in video games cannot progress unless the players themselves progress through it. Therefore, the fear elicited is very much the fear of players themselves as they react to the game, rather than the fear of the characters reacting to their situations in literature or film. This becomes a vital focus for the survival horror genre of video games, where the entire point of the game is the survival of the player controlled character, so in essence the survival of the player himself/herself. Therefore, it is important to understand why this is important in distinguishing survival horror video games from horror in the traditional art mediums, and how developers are utilizing this unique aspect to create amazingly terrifying games.
Since the player reaction is such an important part of the experience in survival horror games, creating an environment in which the player can relate to on a personal level is crucial for tapping into our most primal fears. This is why the most successful and influential games in this genre are set in everyday environments, and have very normal everyday people as characters. Prominent examples of this include the early entries in this genre, Capcom’s “Sweet Home (1989)” and Infogames’ “Alone in the Dark (1992)”, and more recent titles like Konami’s Silent Hill series, Tecmo’s Project Zero/Fatal Frame series, Capcom’s Resident Evil series, and independent developer Frictional Games’ “Amnesia: The Dark Descent.” The setting and characters for these games taken straight out of the real world; normal everyday people trapped in locations that we are all familiar with in our own lives that are forced to deal with supernatural forces and situations that are entirely out of their control. This is a fascinating juxtaposition against narrative video games of other genre, such as fantasy and action adventure, where players assume roles of characters that possess super powers or are put in environments that are vastly different than and absolutely implausible to exist in the real world. The act of stripping away the powers of the player in game, combined with putting the players in a game world that they can relate to, creates a very real sense of fear of being helpless in trapped in an environment that is both familiar and alien.
The other integral aspect of successful survival horror games is how video games go about bringing out our fear in an interactive form. The most standard and staple method is the element of surprise, where monster and enemies jump out at the player as he or she traverses through the game, or the game environment changes in a sudden and unexpected way. The fear created using this method is abrupt, though mostly temporary and vanishes once the player is able to move past the initial panic. Disruptive gameplay is very effective if used correctly, but many veteran fans of the survival horror genre have criticized many games, like Capcom’s Dino Crisis series, of overusing it and responsible of it being degraded to more of a “cheap scare” tactic. The more subtle and difficult method is to create a sense of dread, to make a game environment where the character is at once scared to move on yet scared to stay put. Through a combination of lighting, sound and audio, visuals, and smart use of disruptive gameplay, survival horror games like Silent Hill and Electronic Art’s Dead Space series managed to instill player fear into the most mundane of objects. From the crackling static of a radio, an erratic light bulb, to even just the harrowing echo of a player character’s footsteps, something that is seemingly small and unimportant becomes that much more noticeable and unbearable. The player’s anticipation of horror becomes just as important in the game experience as the horror itself.
The research proposal is to delve into the aspects of the survival horror video game genre, how it is different than the horror genre in traditional mediums of art, as well as to go in depth to the history, influences, and tactics of this particular game genre. Particular examples to be looked at will be the early pioneers of this genre, such as Capcom’s “Sweet Home”, Inforgames’ “Alone in the Dark”, and Human Entertainment’s Clock Tower series, as well as later and more well known games including Konami’s Silent Hill series, Capcom’s Resident Evil series, Tecmo’s Project Zero/Fatal Frame series, Electronic Art’s Dead Space series, and various games from independent developers. The genre’s history and influences from both Japanese and Western horror film and culture will also be looked at because of their impact on this genre of video games. Specific literature to be used and cited for the essay will include: “Horror Video Games: Essays on the Fusion of Fear and Play” by Cliver Barker, “Replay: The History of Video Games” by Tristan Donovan, “Interactive Storytelling for Video Games: A Player-Centered Approach to Creating Memorable Characters and Stories” by Chris Klug and Josiah Lebowitz.