Survival Horror is (not) dead

So whatever happened to our imperfect, psychologically damaged heroes, our creepy little doll rooms, our feeble switchblades, our crawling dread? And why have they been replaced by gun-toting professionals and space marine types – as if gaming needed any more space marines?

Leigh Alexander answers this question in a very rational yet disappointing manner.

Perhaps the Silent Hill series might have attained still more widespread appeal if it had, to be blunt, made just a little more sense

Because contemporary games cost more to make, the size of the audience needs to grow and thus the content needs to be adapted to the tastes of a larger audience. And of course you choose the hardcore gun-toting-space-marine-loving crowd as your larger target audience, because they present the lowest risk factor.

There is another solution however: find a way to make these games cheaper. And stop compromising your vision. And don’t hide your lack of vision behind economic arguments.

5 thoughts on “Survival Horror is (not) dead”

  1. Amen. And the Silent Hill series DID make sense if you play through a few times, examine the various endings, and pay attention to the metaphors (though that only applies to the first two, come to think of it). True, the Born From A Wish substory from #2 was a bit ambiguous, but I thought that it left more room for interpretation.

  2. I’m guessing that the comment about “gun-toting professionals and space marine types” isn’t just targeted at Silent Hill: Homecoming since Alex as a solider but also to the latest horror game, Dead Space.

    Now…I’m currently on Chapter 9 of 12 Chapters in Dead Space. While it is true that much of the game is very futuristic and yes, the main character Issac does have a sci-fi blade-gun, but as a diehard horror fan, I’m far from disappointed because Dead Space has pulled off something that I personally haven’t witnessed in a survival horror game in a long time and that’s the element of actually trying to survive.

    The game does have some dark, creepy moments. Blood will cover the walls, you’ll hear and see things moving in the shadows, you’ll hear random screams or cries from people before they die…All typical elements in a horror game but despite the fact that it, at times, feels like an action game, I do feel that the developers of Dead Space were trying to take a different approach to horror by making you panic and that is something I feel they have achieved. With having very little ammo on me, no health items, and being locked in a room with a creature that I technically couldn’t kill but, instead, had to lure to a cage and hope that I can lock it in it, my heart was racing faster than it has while playing a game in a very long time. I was scared by not in a “eh..this is so creepy and disturbing” way, I was scared for my life.

    I think this is what some developers are starting to do with these “out of the ordinary” approaches to horror. So while I do see where she’s coming from and while I do like the idea of having ordinary people as main characters, Dead Space has proven to me (at least) that even with a character who you think is overly powerful, it can still be a solid horror game.

    Though I think the main thing that chases a lot of people away from the survival horror genre is the control scheme that the best horror games have. Recently someone I know talked about how they felt the Resident Evil: Remake on the GameCube was impossible to play due to its controls and camera angles while I, on the other hand, have played and beaten it with ease probably a good 20 to 30 times. (It’s one of my favorite games.) Sadly I think that a lot of younger gamers (and by this I mean gamers who started with say the GameCube, PS2, and XBox) just aren’t as willing to adapt to controls because they’ve become spoiled with “perfection”. A ton of people who played Resident Evil 4 as their first Resident Evil game felt it was the absolute best in the series just because its gameplay was similar to most action games that they’ve played while I personally was disappointed in it because it didn’t scare me nor did its story make much sense with the series.

    This is why I think developers are turning away from the traditional forms of survival horror games and are going with the direction they are now. It isn’t necessarily the characters that they’re trying to make more appealing to a wider audience but the gameplay itself.

  3. I have a strong feeling that the measure in which Silent Hill “does not make sense” is directly related to the artistic quality of the game. Silent Hill does make sense when you play it, but perhaps not on a purely rational level. Art is not a riddle that you can solve! Art is a form of communication that happens on an entirely different level. It’s beyond words, beyond conventional logic. Because words and logic put up artificial borders around reality. Art explores the things that cannot be told in words.

    In short, to desire a Silent Hill that “makes more sense” is the same as desiring a Silent Hill that is less artistic. And that, in my book, is a crime.

  4. Steph, I think gameplay is implied when one chooses a space marine as avatar. Though it would be interesting to see a non-action game about a space marine, I guess.

    What you are talking about sounds like the shock tactics that action games have been employing for years, if not decades. In this sense, most FPS games are horror games. Miss Alexander identifies this as a typically Western approach to horror. And since the West, apparently, is more successful commercially, these days, the game industry, even in Asia, tries to make this type of game. Which only narrows down the form.

    While the simple solution is to make cheaper games. Something that Nintendo has understood very well. Now, who will do for narrative and art what Nintendo has done for fun and games?
    Just turning all games into action shooters does not sound like a very sustainable strategy to me.

  5. But… Silent Hill made so much sense to me! I only played part 2 (which I like best) and 3 though. I remember some really nice conversations about these games and read very insightful comments in forums. The intepretation the player has to make is a large part of the appeal, right?

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