Sunday, 9 May 2010

What Has Scared You?

"I may be merely generalizing, but there hasn’t truly been a genuine horror experience in video games."
 - Nathan Cheng, Are You Scared Now?

I have to wonder just what games attempting a horror experience Nathan Cheng has played. While it's true that many that take a stab fail or mistake a few jumps and buckets of blood with horror, one example of utter dread, terror and repellence does come to mind.

Though it was primarily a 'stealth-em-up' with fantasy styling, each of the games in the Thief series had a streak of dread running through it which culminated in the Shalebridge Cradle. I could spent weeks expurgating on its wonderful design, the way it sucks you in and twists your fears one way then another in multiple dimensions... but I really need to catch a few hours sleep before I wrap up my own level creation assignment and Kieron Gillen talked about it in a much more interesting fashion in this article.

What games have you found 'genuinely horrific'? What makes those examples particularly effect and what spoils the effect in other games, for you?

(Format shamelessly ripped from Sexyvideogameland)

1 comment:

  1. "Genuinely horrific?"

    Given that definition, I would most certainly list the Penumbra series along with Ice-Pick Lodge's Pathologic.

    Penumbra due to a carefully applied atmosphere of dread permeating throughout the game, with little to take you out of it. Penumbra: Black Plague specifically avoids giving the player any manner of attacking the various horrors you face, which helps avoid any sense of empowerment, yet I feel it's true "horror" arises from the application of game "rules" we take for granted, and then the deliberate breaking of them.

    It's been said that insanity is doing an action exactly the same as a previous attempt and expecting a different result. Penumbra achieves this by playing within conventional narrative and/or game-play, then suddenly subverting the expected result. A principle example of this is a section where the player's objective is to rescue the arch-typical "princess" which we are familiar with from gaming lexicon. (Avoiding being specific due to spoilers). However, you fail at rescuing her not because she's "in another castle", but because the player is tricked into performing an action they otherwise wouldn't have - the abrupt awareness of this invokes a feeling I feel is "genuinely horrific."

    Pathologic's horror arises from a truly grueling experience (the game is notorious for it's steep difficulty), where the player doesn't understand many key elements of the games story. To follow objectives throughout the game, the player must refer to a map, a trivial exercise. Pathologic is also different (unique?) in the sense that the game tells you how many days it will last until the end. The player is in the dark as to what this implies. Why will it end in 12 days? Do I, the player, die? Does the world end? It is ambiguous, and so the player continues. So, nearing the end, the player may open his map for any reason, yet suddenly, the game abruptly throws an image onto this canvas. The sudden and crude shock may serve as a scare, but the genuine horror arises from you, the player, with slowly growing clarity, as you realize the truth.

    So, I'd say these examples are effective by playing with our expectations, and perhaps because humans fear that which we do not understand. The Shalebridge Cradle plays with the fabric of reality, Clarence in Penumbra has the ability to distort the player's perception of reality... notions and concepts which we cannot understand lead to an ultimate rejection?