My name is Jared Whittaker, one of the hosts and Audio Chewbacca of the Super-Fly Podcast and PCW! Welcome to Game Changer, a weekly burning missive about all aspects of video gaming with a little bit of opinion thrown in for fun. Proceed with caution and tread lightly, gentle gamers. It’s going to be good time. Like the first time you saw Super Mario 3 good time.
It’s getting close to Halloween. So I figured that I’d talk about the genre called “Survival Horror”. The term “Survival Horror” is often interchangeable with anything involving the concept of fear and being scared. But most of the time, game makers seem to miss the point. So this week, I’ll be talking about some of the games that I feel got it right and scared the pants off myself an other gamers as well.
The definition of “scary” is ‘To cause fright; easily scared and feeling alarm or fright.’ It’s a very difficult emotion to try and convey in media in general because everyone’s definition of fear isn’t the same. For some, the mere act of something jumping out at you at an inopportune time constitutes scary. Other times, games create an overall atmosphere of dread, making the player very uncomfortable through out the whole gaming experience. It’s all about how the game setting and presentation. Here are some games that I thought got the overall feeling of ‘scary’ right and everyone should play in a dark room…
One of the most cerberal and unsettling games I’ve ever played, Manhunt was an interactive horror movie. Nothing about this game was likable. The main charator, James Earl Cash was a killer, framed and put on death row. He was then broken out at the moment of his execution by a man known only as “The Director” to play in a sick game of cat and mouse, fighting killers and gang members while being filmed for The Director’s underground snuff film business. The game’s tone is so ugly. The fact that you don’t really root for anyone in this game is the most surprising thing about it. Everything about the game’s setting, tone and execution is so horrible, it creates an arua of dread while you’re playing that I haven’t seen in any game before or since. The use of Cash’s family and the racist gang, The Skinz, alone are upsetting enough. If that weren’t enough, Rockstar’s use of the headset mic added that much more immersion in the game. The Director comunicates to Cash in the game via an earpiece that he gets early in the game. As the player, if you play with the headset, you hear the The Director’s words to Cash in your ear. Again, it’s just another step to make the game atmosphere that much more dark and one more thing to draw the player in. I won’t even start with the brutal executions in the game. Manhunt was, and is, the darkest game I have ever played. It also was one of the best examples of horror in gaming.
The Early Resident Evil games
While the late few Resident Evil games where mostly glorified action games with a few zombies jumping out of closets here and there, the early RE games really nailed the feeling of being helpless. Sure, you had guns. But most of the time, guns didn’t necessarily mean that you were safe. You often spent your time trying to actively NOT use your gun and finding alternate ways of defeating your zombie enemies. Conserving bullets was a skill you had to use. While not inherently scary per say, the early RE games scared you by often making you feel powerless to stop the incoming evil coming your way. Often times having to turn tail, run and regroup in order to stay alive. The close quarters of RE 2 made this feel even more frightening, cornering you and forcing you to act or possibly die. The overall tone of the early RE games made the whole experiences more intense by making you feel like you weren’t as invincible as most games in the genre make you feel. Like any second, you could take a wrong turn or take too much time and end up dead.
The Silent Hill games
While there have many Silent Hill games, for the most part they all have the creepy setting of the game to thank for the series’ trademark foggy, paranoia-inducing dread that surrounds it. Like the early Resident Evil games, the focus isn’t on combat. In most of the Silent Hill games, the fighting mechanic almost feels like it’s built to discourage you from fighting. It’s hard enough fighting off one bad guy, but when it’s multiple monsters coming for you, you’re most likely going to get killed. Silent Hill games are the complete opposite of most games where they really don’t make you feel like a badass. You often will find yourself running for your life at the sight of disfigured nurses or the reoccurring series villain, Pyramidhead. The stories also add to the tension. Silent Hill 2′s story narritive was very upseting upon finishing the game. Not to spoil the game’s ending, but the ending of Silent Hill 2 is one of the best uses of psychological mind-f*ckery ever in gaming. It was and still is a very powerful and startling example of how storytelling in gaming can have just as much of an impact as any other form of media. A lot better than that Silent Hill movie did.
Obviously, there are more games that made you jump out of your seat. Again, these are just my experiences and other people will have different thought and feelings about the subject. For me, the more engrossed you make the player in the world, the better chance you have to convey feelings to the player. It’s more than just having something jump out at the player. It’s the feeling that at any moment, something could jump out at you. Using the setting, sound and perspective, you can create a world where players will be constantly looking over their shoulders, waiting for the next thing to come busting out.
What are some of your favorite scary games? Let us know.
Jared Whittaker plays a lot of games. Not as much as he’d like, but as much as time and money will allow. If you want to play some games with Jared, you can find him on Playstation 3; PSN tag: JFX. He is also on Steam and Battle.net as JFX316 and while he doesn’t have an Xbox 360, he has the coolest Gamertag in the world: Obiwan Jaborni. Feel free to add him as a friend or email him at JWhittaker@PanelsonPages.com. and on Twitter as JFX316