Monday, February 25, 2013

Survival Horror: the Concepts of Old and New Video Games

Lets start with a video. I ordered Fatal Frame IV from Japan about a year ago and hacked the wii. This is actually me playing, haha.
The first survival horror game that I ever attempted to play was the PSX Resident Evil, which was released in 1996, and I was six years old. What made it scary was the fact that there was suspense and fear of the unknown...and of course I was six and seeing a zombie on the t.v. in that way is naturally crap-inducing. What is going to be discussed is how the survival horror genre has evolved and what today's games are (maybe) missing.

There are many ideas that go into the making of a survival horror game. When you sit and think about what makes a game scary there are a few answers that come to mind, like because I am scared of this anyway or because I didn't know it was there, and these are important because there is a goal that is being met. As the games started getting older and advancing, that goal started to change.

Lisa Alexander wrote an article for Gamasutra last year that I found very important. It was about how to make horror games better than they are today. She cited games from more than ten years ago to make a point as well. In a world where there is an obsession with hack and slash games, survival horror is slowly starting to be sucked into that idea. "It's challenging to create fear in games that are all about head-on confrontation and quick reflexes" (Alexander, 2012). The best example that is talked about (at least in my house) is the Resident Evil franchise, particularly RE:4 and RE:5. This is a perfect example because when the series started you had to solve puzzles, conserve ammo, and be sneaky. As the series got older the franchise started changing the game play to appeal to a different audience, the point-and-shoot and hack-and-slash crowd. Resident Evil 5 was more of a perfect example because the enemies were constant waves, there was no suspense in the story line, and there was a lot of the run and gun concept going on. I like RE:5 don't get me wrong, but for a survival horror, the horror aspect was lacking. Gearing towards a different type of audience has changed the direction that fans look. Since the run/gun concept has become popular, some games are starting to be left in the dust. The Silent Hill franchise, wildly known for being a psychological thriller and a survival horror, has taken hits.

All of this leads me to this, what makes a survival horror game scary?

For myself, this is what makes a game scary:
        1.) A sense of suspense- Suspense is one of the most startling things that can be in a video game.
        2.) Fear of the unknown- Obviously not knowing what might happen can create some intense feelings.
        3.) The setting of the story- There are places that are frightening and places that you are kind of like eh with.

We examine games of the past and future and come up with a few important characteristics that are involved. Fear of the unknown is an extremely important concept in horror games because it is "the most obvious horror element, the unknown is used to keep the player guessing and their mind going wild" (Carless, 2009). Not knowing where and when an enemy will appear or a what someone is going to say can produce some interesting effects on a persons psychology, maybe make them jumpy. Another important characteristic is the relationship to the area the character is in. In Dead Space, the first installment, you are Isaac Clarke and you are stuck on the Planet Cracker the USG Ishimura, it is a massive ship that is extremely quiet except for the whispers in your head and the scratching of necromorph claws in the walls. What makes the Ishimura terrifying is that it is full of mystery, blood spattered walls, and (my least favorite) vents which enemies can just decide to pop out of. And being stuck in space where it's all quiet and there really is no escape is terrifying. Developing a relationship with the character that you are playing is also important to surviving the terror of a game. Take Silent Hill 3 for example, being Heather Mason shows the importance a character has to a story line, with out her being the protagonist the story would be incomplete and just another game, like Silent Hill 4: the Room which felt forced and wasn't that great story wise.

There are many details and ideas that go into the making of a survival horror game. As time passes some ideas become lost and others rediscovered. We always hit a point where we question whether developers are losing their touch or not, and question whether we are going to lose a genre in the gaming community. Today's games are leaving out some key characteristics that make a game terrifying as they are addressing the needs of new gamers and the gamers from the hack and slash community. But the ideas aren't lost, they are their for the next great survival horror game to utilize, and like any other genre there are hits and misses, it is up to the community to speak up and the developers of the games to listen.

There is only so many times you can listen to Resident Evil developers say they are 'going back to their roots', haha.

Alexander, L. (2012). Four ways to make better horror games. http://www.gamasutra.com/view/news/173350/Four_ways_to_make_better_horror_games.php#.UTI4HIy9KSM

Carless, S. (2009). Opinion: what makes a horror game truly scary?. http://www.gamesetwatch.com/2009/02/opinion_what_makes_a_horror_ga.php

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