I was browsing a forum on the intertubes the other day and found this little subject.
This is a topic very close to my heart - the excellent, but flawed survival horror genre. Don't get me wrong, I love the genre with every ounce of my being, but in spite of it “working”... I've yet to actually feel scared scared from a game. Certainly not scared to the point that I wouldn’t continue to play a game any longer than the point in which a 'scare' is introduced.
I envy those in that situation - and if you're one of those people I envy you.
I'm jealous of the personal level of immersion that you get when witnessing the same horrors and experiences I too am exposed to.
I'm jealous that you feel playing the game unaccompanied acts as is it's own hurdle other than the challenge of the game itself.
Conversely I am a sucker for 'cheap scares' resulting in my 'jumping', which is a testament to my love of the genre - I get so immersed in the game that whenever I'm in a quiet section with a following 'cheap scare' I'll be scared to buggery.
The problem is that it's cheap, low effort and not as sophisticated at digging into whatever fears I may have - it's more a shock. The same feeling can be achieved visually when walking with an iPod (or other branded portable music contraption) and stumbling blindly around a corner into an old lady only to 'jump'. The content of the scare is irrelevant (although a reminder of our inevitable decay is always terrifying) it's just a shock to the senses – the video game equivalent of this can be found in Resident Evil when the zombie dogs jumped through the mansion windows.
The problem is that this fear isn't deep enough – just the surface cheap scares. I have witnessed potential deep fear in the Silent Hill series. Fear which can not only be used multiple times in different ways, but can linger in the player's mind post the game experience. I understand it, appreciate it, but it still doesn't quite get to me. Maybe makes me feel uncomfortable, but that’s stretching it.
I think my problem is that I'm desensitised, I know this, because it hasn’t always been the case.
I remember back to when I was an innocent 8 year old, I was too scared to watch Bram Stoker's Dracula – at that time, computer games weren't really addressing this genre en masse and it was my primary form of entertainment. Movies on the other hand had gone through the whole splatter/video nasty thing and come out of the other side, ready to get their balls cut off by the wave of PG13 remakes (though not before the rise of torture porn)…
I’m not sure where I’m going with this and refuse to condemn violent video games…
There’s also someone throwing up in the street outside of my window…
Basically, now I'm older and fearless and the only way I'm able to experience fear is via the death of my character and the loss of my progress, resulting in me having to replay a portion of the game.
Yes, the survival part of survival horror, something I believe games touch on but don't fully exploit.
Almost every game relies on survival as a means to challenge the player - which is fine, especially in horror games. The problem is with empowerment. Games empower the player far too soon, Resident Evil 4 is guilty of this.
The feeling I got whilst playing Resident Evil 4 was one of helplessness – I had the fear that my acts of desperation were perhaps insufficient to stop my Spanish attackers... I refer to the opening village/church segment – one of my favourite gaming moments to date (the closest video games have come to that Romero zombie survival fantasy).
Unfortunately this sandbox game play was short lived and soon replaced with generic linear action and heavy player empowerment, thus removing the desperate fear based survival element and replacing it with standard computer game survival.
Somebody is still vomiting in the street - I might get out of bed to close the window if I hear another strained yelp.
Where was I?
Basically I love the genre. I just don't think it's fulfilling it’s potential. Back when I hit the age of 13 and became invincible to as many horrors that films could throw at me, games attempted to bowl a couple of scare balls my way, but nothing phased me. The Internet made it's way into my home and with it images of true horror and other unpleasantness.
I'm waiting for the film or game that gets under my skin.
It will happen one day.
I'm sure of it.
I'll leave you with the only scene in film history that's made me feel uneasy.