In their insightful book, “21st Century Game Design”, Chris Bateman and Richard Boon say:
In many ways, [the survival horror genre] marks the development of one of the first modern genres -being a blend of so many aspects of previous games, we have no choice but to consider it on its own terms. Where a control mechanism or play perspective doesn’t suggest a genre (as in racing or FPS), we can expect to see more genres of this style emerge as games continue to develop.
The survival horror genre is characterized primarily by its commitment to atmosphere. This is not to say that these games are light on design expertise or gameplay; merely that atmosphere is inseparable from gameplay. Resident Evil, for example, is a very easy game to play if one ignores its atmospheric effects; if the player allows themselves to be immersed in its world, however, it feels tremendously dangerous. Crucially, this suspension of disbelief is made very easy, if not compulsory, by excellent atmospheric design.
It struck me how pertinent this quote is to what we’re trying to do at Tale of Tales. Even though we may be coming from a different background (fine art) and we’re not exactly making horror survival games, the end result is the same: our work relies heavily on the active collaboration of the player. In that sense, our games may be more similar to theater than to anything else. We ask the player to assume a role and we give them some freedom (and thus responsibility) to fill it in. And depending on how they do that, they will enjoy the experience or not.
I guess that’s where the challenge lies in our work: Can you play the part of a magical deer in an idyllic forest? Can you behave like an old lady -a dying lady even- in a cemetery? Not everyone can. It requires a certain talent. And a certain willingness (more so, admittedly, in our low budget productions than in the work of our triple A horror survival brethren).
Perhaps, ultimately, player satisfaction is not as dissimilar to other games as we may sometimes think: in both cases, the player is happy when they have adequately performed in a way that the game expects. Our expectations are different. And we don’t award points. But if you don’t play in the proper way, chances are you won’t enjoy the game.
Much like survival horror games will be enjoyed much more deeply, if you control your avatar in a way that makes sense in the fictional world. If you only make him or her do things that fit with their personality and in the circumstances. As opposed to using that avatar as a tool to make progress through an abstract system (which is what I imagine pure gameplay is about). Playing a survival horror game comes to mean acting as much as it does gaming. Perhaps even more so, considering that it seems to be vital for the enjoyment of the title, especially for less action-oriented games like Silent Hill and Fatal Frame.
I agree with Bateman and Boon that this is a distinctly modern form. One that really uses the unique qualities of the interactive medium, instead of replicating older forms of entertainment (like sports or games or theme park rides). And I hope that they are right: that we will indeed see more genres in this style in the future.