1920’s Video Game Horror (And All That Jazz)

By: AJ Shapiro

Everyone loves the 1920’s. What’s not to love? Jazz, liquor, nightclubs, flappers… giant oceanic robo-monsters???

Released in August of 2007, the video game “Bioshock” took the player beneath the Atlantic Ocean to the undersea city of Rapture, a once-great metropolis turned zombie-infested nightmare. The city’s discovery and cultivation of a substance called ADAM endowed its denizens with supernatural abilities, like telekinesis and pyrokinesis, but also destroyed their minds, turning them into mindless “Splicers,” murderous creatures concerned only with obtaining more ADAM.

So what? What separates Bioshock from every other horror video game? While I can attest navigating the sunken ruin of Rapture is terrifying to me, personally, a young adult born at the end of the twentieth century, I can’t help but feel a 1920’s audience would get a great deal more horror out of playing the game than I did, had they the opportunity to play it.

First, the primary antagonist of the game (SPOILER ALERT) is revealed to be Frank Fontaine, a gangster and a thug who made his blood-spattered rise to power through bootlegging. People living during the brief period where we thought prohibition was possible would certainly find Fontaine terrifying as a villain, especially since the disguise he wears most of the game is that of Atlas, a family man, more in-keeping with the notions of 1920’s “good.”

But wait, what about the robo-monsters? Along with the zombified Splicers, scattered amongst the city are the Big Daddies, along with their Little Sisters. As seen in the pictures, the hulking Big Daddies provide protection to the Little Sisters, who wander Rapture and extract ADAM from the corpses of enemies. The Little Sisters are strikingly similar in appearance to that of Regan in the 1973 film The Exorcist, complete with pallid skin and demonic eyes, but minus the pea soup. Like the film, the freaky appearance of the Little Sisters in “Bioshock” is at odds with both a contemporary and a 1920’s audiences’ conception of an innocent little girl. The result? Even though Big Daddies can drill through our character’s brain and leave them a smoking puddle on the ground, we’re more disturbed by these forlorn little zombie girls than the metallic goliaths that accompany them.

Disturbing imagery accompanies the physical characteristics of the Little Sisters, and the nature of their relationships with the Big Daddies is suggestive and unsettling. The girls, for example, wield syringes to extract ADAM from the fallen, and while they’re not entirely phallic in appearance, the syringes definitely provoke thoughts of “penetration,” similar to the kind of horror we experience when Regan shouts horrendous sexual obscenities at her mother. In a society with two immensely powerful women’s movements happening, suffrage and prohibition, to reduce the Little Sisters to subservient and sexualized slaves to the Big Daddies would leave a 20’s audience feeling more terror than the haunted city of Rapture would itself.

And indeed, much of the gameplay of slaughtering the undead and shooting sparks from your fingertips is done to the tune of jazz music! One could argue this is merely a flavorful decision in-keeping with the games 20’s theme, but then again…
The 1920’s metonymy around the game, from bars to nightclubs to the overarching jazz music, makes the player unconsciously associate the themes of the game with the time period. For one, scientific advancement beyond the scope of humanity’s control bringing about apocalyptic ruin was a concept that certainly might’ve scared people in the 20’s. For another, Frank Fontaine’s ability to conceal his identity as a criminal while profiting immensely was exactly what men like Al Capone were doing, until they were caught, which would leave a 20’s audience wondering just how many criminals are hiding out there.

So, while many horror video games would scare just about anyone who played them, Bioshock’s profound ability to horrify a 1920’s audience informs the kind of horrific elements which would’ve most effectively played on their fears. By the conclusion of the game, sure, we’re scared. But a 1920’s audience would need some ice cream and a hug….

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Doki Doki Meta Horror: An Interesting Subgenre of Horror

By: David St. John

Note: I am as vague as possible about this game, so don’t be afraid to read!

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“This game is not suitable for children or those who are easily disturbed. Individuals suffering from anxiety or depression may not have a safe experience playing this game.”

First of all: what the heck??????? This is not what you expect from a game about moe high school girls who like to read, but when you start Doki Doki Literature Club for the first time, the first thing you see is that warning about disturbing content before you’re welcomed to the brightly-colored start screen with a happy “Doki doki!” and cheery music. Outside of being what turns out to be a very valid content warning, this is the first hint at the style of horror Doki Doki Literature Club is aiming for – a meta horror that plays on the player’s expectations and impressions of the game.

This first warning reels players in; what could be so scary about a funny, dating simulator-esque game about having fun in the high school literature club? The game starts off completely as you would expect if you know about common dating simulator tropes – a male protagonist is dragged into a literature club by his childhood best friend (a staple in the genre), and unsurprisingly, everyone seems to quickly warm up to him and “like like” him. While the game continues in typical cutesy fashion, that warning is always on the mind, and nothing seems scary at all.

After some time, the warning fades away into what feels like a bizarre fever dream (even though this game does have a reputation at this point and you know it has got to get scary eventually – that was my situation at least). But suddenly, you start to get a few bad vibes from some weird lines of dialogue, and then the worst happens: you lose control. The game, the characters, the protagonist – somehow Doki Doki Literature Club makes everything spiral out of control.

What I mean is the game takes a direction you cannot predict, and it does its best to make you feel helpless. The characters start to not just act weird, but they become downright malignant and freakish. When before the characters all got along in the fun and happy literature club, suddenly they are hurting each other and saying horrible and threatening things, and you feel unable to stop things. The game plays with unique strategies to force you where it wants, and it often feels like there is no way to turn back. What makes this game so unsettling is that in typical video games you are never helpless – you can almost fight your way out or solve a puzzle and escape.

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Do not doubt me – this game gets scary. This is only a small taste of the weird stuff that starts to happen because I don’t want to spoil the good stuff. Truly there is someone sinister abroad…

I feel like the horror in Doki Doki Literature Club can be described as meta because this style of horror involves the player’s expectations on what is going to happen and what they are able to do. The game cleverly takes the characters in directions you will simply not predict from your experience with games. In addition, there are actions you will expect yourself to be able to do that will be out of reach, and actions that you will be forced to take that will make you feel uncomfortable. Unlike other horror games, Doki Doki Literature Club seems to interact with you the person and not you the in-game protagonist, and that’s just bizarre.

This is not the only case of meta horror I have experienced. An example of a book that uses meta horror would probably be The House of Leaves. I did not actually like that book, but I can recognize that it too interacts with readers on a strangely personal level. If I remember right, part of it is a documentary-style book in a book, and there’s even appendices to help you learn more about what is happening in the book inside the book. This forces the reader to personally dig into the appendices and footnotes, all the while deciphering the bizarre structure – a process sort of akin to researching a string of unsolved murders or some other horror by digging through newspaper clippings and online articles. On top of that, there is narrator who seems to talk one on one to the readers in a diary fashion.

Overall, meta horror is an interesting yet very hit-or-miss subgenre inside horror. I highly recommend giving Doki Doki a try as it is a free game, and allegedly The House of Leaves is worth a read… I question that though.

Cry of Fear and Surrealism in Horror

By: David St. John

The following content contains suicide and blood.

A traditional way of  making a horror story is to make the conflict concrete and definite. For example, in Frankenstein, Victor’s creation directly attacks and kills people, and there is no doubt in anyone’s mind that the creature is real and is responsible.  A different and very interesting approach, though, is to make the conflict less defined and leave questions – who is committing the horror? Is the perceived horror even real?

An example many people could be familiar with is The Turn of the Screw, which involves ghosts, where it is debateable whether the ghosts are real or a figment of the narrator’s imagination, but this is not the example I want to talk about.

pic-1The story I want to introduce is a video game called “Cry of Fear” which is about a teenage boy named Simon who wakes up alone after apparently being run over by a car. He is without injury, but the town he was in is abandoned with the exception of strange monsters lurking around. As Simon progresses through town, he also traverses sudden nightmarish dreamscapes where the world warps and twists around him. Is this all real, or all in his head?

I think this video is one of the best examples of psychological horror because it is very surreal. A lot of other monsters follow (for the most part)  physics, and when a vampire or something attacks you, that’s the conflict at hand you need to face. When things begin to turn to the surreal in “Cry of Fear” the conflict becomes less concrete because the players don’t know what’s physically happening or what has caused all of the people to be replaced by monsters.

ic-2I think the use of surrealism in horror can allow the genre to expand more directly to the psychological. In the case of “Cry of Fear”,  the monsters follow a theme; many of them commit suicide in their attack dynamics. For example,  one monster shoots itself in the head while another drops on top of you while hanging from a noose. What could this all mean for Simon? If the monsters are more grounded in his mind than reality, does that mean he is suicidal? Is he depressed? Depression and self-hatred are big themes in the game.

What I’m saying is I love how surrealism in horror can tackle psychological issues that are otherwise difficult to approach through the use of fantastic elements. Subjects like depression are tricky because there are few ways a monster can objectively represent the psyche, but twisted perceptions and all-out surrealism allow the author or creator to define the rules. In this way, a monster or setting can be tailored towards the minds of the characters.

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The mind can be truly terrifying; when you are the monster that’s plaguing you, how can you survive? This is one of the most frightening yet most interesting questions I can think of relating to horror because a battle with yourself can be one of the most difficult battles to overcome. When it feels like a whole other person is in control of your mind, your options can become limited, especially when you’re almost trying to kill yourself. In addition, the story feels personal, sometimes relatable, because more often than not the struggles of the creator are weaved into the plot.

If anyone is interested in the game, it’s free on steam, and many youtubers like Markiplier do “Let’s Plays” of it. It’s a very creative story, although with a few cliches, and I also think everyone should be exposed to the deeply personal aspect of horror that can be achieved through surrealism.

Night Terrors

By: Michael “Mitch” Mitchell (horror alum)

Horror can mean different things to different people. For most, horror in the classic sense is sitting around and watching scary movies — the films that feature the inhuman, the supernatural, and all manner of evil in between. For some, horror is reading a book that they can’t put down, while still being afraid to turn the page. But with horror becoming more and more prominent, people are trying to find new ways to scare and be scared.

One of these ways has been finding new methods of storytelling. 2007’s Paranormal Activity jump-started the found-footage genre, while video games have evolved over the years from psychological horrors like the Silent Hill games to more action-heavy survival-horror titles like the latter Resident Evil games. Somewhere in between those, though, is the upcoming augmented-reality game, Night Terrors.

mThe game, which utilizes your cell phone’s different features to create its experience, turns your own home into the setting of its story. The idea is that you’re playing the game with all the lights off and your headphones in while holding the phone in front of you to progress through the game. If you’ve ever seen someone playing Pokémon GO with the AR feature on, it’s kind of like that!

As you walk through your home, the game maps your environment to detect where walls, ceilings, and the like are. In doing so, it can create effects such as paintings falling down the wall or rubble falling from the ceiling above you. It also uses this to guide you through the story itself, leading you room-to-room in order to save the little girl who’s being trapped by malevolent entities. On your way there, your camera’s light will occasionally flash, creatures will jump out at you, and you’ll hear all kinds of strange noises that you can’t help but feel are actually there.

This last part is especially important — the game’s creators have gone a long way to make a binaural experience that elevates the sound being background noise. There is a directionality to the sound; if something sounds like it’s coming from your left, it’ll get louder as you turn and get closer. Listening to the sound is a big part of the puzzle, as the game asks you to do what instinct tells you not to: Follow the haunting noises.

It’s hard to put into words just exactly how scary the use of sound can be. If you’ve never experienced something that uses three-dimensional sound, you’re in for a (scary) treat. At one point during my play-through of the demo, a little girl whispered in my ear and I actually turned because my body knew where the sound was coming from. At other times, I heard noises growing louder and tried to aim my phone as close to the edge of my periphery as possible, for fear of what I knew was inevitably coming.

If you’re a fan of horror, you’ll want to give this game a try. It asks you to fully immerse yourself in the experience, and if you’re willing to do so, it’s guaranteed to scare. The full version will be out on Halloween, but if you’re eager to give it a test run, there’s a demo available as well. I wasn’t sure what to expect the first time I gave it a try, but I definitely wound up more scared than I expected to be.

But that’s part of the fun — finding new ways to enjoy horror, finding what does or does not scare you, and letting yourself kept swept up within an environment created to scare. And the best part of Night Terrors is that the environment is whatever familiar location you choose it to be — your apartment, your basement, your dorm… your choice!

(Below is a slideshow of some pictures Mitch took while playing the game.)

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Video Games – A New Potential For Horror

By: Kathryn Clark

I’ve always been a fan of horror in all shapes and forms. Much of my childhood was spent reading Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark and trying to hold séances with homemade Ouija boards without my parents finding out. I’ve also loved video games since I was little, so it makes sense that these two loves would eventually combine. Now, video games are my absolute favorite way to experience horror, because they’re the only form of media where the audience is in control of the story.

Now, when I say that the audience is in control, I don’t mean that they get to choose what actually happens in the story. Obviously every video game has limits to what choices the player can actually make, and many games have scripts that they force you to follow for the sake of the plot. If the game wants you to go explore the creepy basement, then it’s not going to progress until you give in and explore the basement. But even when you’re given only a single option, you still have to be the one to make the choice to keep going. In a book or movie, the action moves at the same pace no matter who is reading or watching. In a video game, you set your own pace. It doesn’t matter if you’re following an immutable script – you’re still the one who chooses to press the buttons and make the story progress. Nothing happens unless you make it happen. And this active participation is exactly where the true potential for horror lies.

My freshman year of college, my best friend and I decided to play a game called Outlast. In it, you play as a reporter named Miles who sneaks into an asylum with the intention of exposing its illegal and unethical practices. You quickly become trapped inside its walls, and must embark on a complicated quest to unlock the doors and make it to safety. She played the first bit of the game, which was fairly spooky and had some good jumpscares, but I didn’t actually consider it to be scary.

Then it was my turn to play.

I’m not ashamed to admit that I became a complete wuss the moment that the power was in my hands. Now, I had to make decisions about how to react, whether Miles should hide in a locker or keep running. I was no longer a passive observer; if Miles died, it was on me. This was my first time playing a horror game, and it made me feel vulnerable in a way that I had never experienced before. It was almost as though I had become Miles, as though I feared for my own safety rather than simply the safety of a fictional character. I quickly reached the point where I physically could not make myself move forward, and had to hand the laptop back over to my friend. When I did manage to make myself continue playing, it would sometimes take me ten minutes to make it to the end of a single hallway, even when there was nothing standing in my way. As I said before, I wasn’t at all scared when my friend was the one playing. But something about being the one in control of the story – even if all I had to do was press a button – is absolutely terrifying.

I’ve been hooked on horror games ever since, despite the fact that I still struggle to actually make myself play them instead of wimping out partway through. No matter how many movies I watch or books I read, I’ve never found anything that horrifies me in quite the same way that games can. If you’re a fan of any other form of horror, then I highly suggest that you give video games a try. If you need some suggestions, there are plenty of free games available online, as well as some that you can buy for a reasonable cost. Just don’t blame me if they make it hard for you to sleep at night. After all, this was your choice.

Fear the Freddy

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By Allyson Boe

When I was in elementary school, I spent a majority of my free time on what I thought to be the coolest video game website ever, addictinggames.com. There are thousands of games to choose from, created by over thousands of developers, but somehow I made the mistake of thinking that an “addicting game” with the title, Escape from 1428 Elm Street, would be a good idea. I wound up playing what has scarred me for the past seven years.

I’m not a big fan of anything terrifying to begin with, so I’m not even sure how I made it past the title screen. I had heard the name Freddy Krueger before, and so had my best friend, Jenna, who played by my side, but I never knew his story until we managed to spend an entire day over our summer break trying to beat the game.

When you begin the game, you type in your name and your birthday (which you later see on your tomb stone in Freddy’s backyard). Your friends supposedly dare you to go into the ominous house on Elm Street and you think, “what could possibly go wrong?” but once you walk through the front door of the house, there’s no turning back. Until you can defeat Freddy, you’re trapped, and trust me this isn’t easy.

Boe 2Boe 3Take your time and explore the creepy, old house, picking up strange objects that you will need later on. As you move from room to room, search for anything that will help you escape Elm Street. Don’t be surprised by the excessive amounts of blood you will find in each area you enter (and no, the graphics don’t get any better either). But whatever you do, be careful not to fall asleep in the bedroom that looks oh so comfortable (well, not really). If you do, Freddy might just make his way into your dreams where you must defeat him before you can even wake up and escape from the house.

On top of all of that, even after you think you’ve made it out of the house, you have to defeat Freddy one last time in his yard. Look out; he will be coming at you with his claws. Use the gun you picked up from his house to hold him off. Once he’s down, douse him in holy water. Maybe, just maybe, you might make it out alive.

To tell you the truth I haven’t played Escape from 1428 Elm Street since that summer going into fifth grade. I can still remember Jenna and I sitting in front of my computer monitor for all those hours, wondering if we would ever make it out of the house alive. When we finally stopped playing (no, we never actually beat it), I couldn’t stop thinking about Freddy Krueger. Somewhere in my ten-year-old mind I was convinced that if I went to bed that night, or any night at that, he would make his way into my dreams. For the remainder of that summer, I slept with all the lights on in my bedroom. And when that didn’t work, I found myself retreating to my brother’s bedroom or my parent’s bedroom where I slept until school began up again in the fall.

But when it comes down to it, the choice is yours. Will you choose to play? Or won’t you? You don’t believe in urban legends now, do you?

http://www.freewebarcade.com/game/escape-from-1428-elm-street/

Don’t Move: A New Take on Horror in Video Games

By: Brianna Autrey

Like horror? Great. Like video games? Perfect. Like horror video games that force you to choose a characters unpredictable (but surely gruesome) death? Even better! A PlayStation 4 exclusive game, Until Dawn, might catch your interest.

Many people question horror in video games as a duo; they’re typically more hit or miss than horror movies are. There are some well-known horror games that have broken the mold, such as Amnesia and Outlast (which by the way, Outlast is definitely worth checking out if you haven’t already – but that’s another blog post for another time). These games were more than just cheap jump scares, the gripping plot and well executed elements of horror made them stand out. Until Dawn deserves a part of that spotlight, too.

The plot of the game revolves around eight friends who return to a cabin in the mountains (typical but bear with me) where two of their former friends have tragically died. Boring? Turns out there are supernatural creatures that live in the mountains and, long story short, things hit the fan and they have to wait until dawn for help to come and rescue them. What makes Until Dawn stand out is that it’s an interactive horror game with a butterfly effect system. As you play as different characters, you will make the dialogue choices in the game you are presented with, find clues about future deaths that can be prevented; that’s where the butterfly effect comes in. Whatever choice you make will change the course of the game. You also don’t have much time to make that choice (maybe twenty seconds?) until the game makes the choice for you.

For example, let’s say a wolf aggressively approached you in the mountains, would you attack it before it attacked you or would you stand still to let it know you’re defenseless? Keep in mind, you don’t know how this decision will affect the game later and now you have about ten seconds left to pick because the countdown starts immediately. If you chose to stand defenseless, then the wolf will return later in the game to help you fight off one of the creatures. If you chose to attack it, the wolf will injure your leg before running off, the commotion attracted the attention of the creatures, and because your leg is injured you can’t outrun them so they capture you and your eyes are gouged out before the creature decides to eat your head whole. That kind of stuff.

The butterfly affect in the game isn’t the only noteworthy feature. The PlayStation 4 uses a motion sensor controller, and some video games take advantage of that. Until Dawn is, to much approval, one of those games. When your character is hiding from the creature, the words “DON’T MOVE!” will spontaneously pop up on your screen and damn it, you better not move because the creature will hear you and you will die. Your job as the player is to keep the controller as still as possible while you watch the ugly, blood dripping from their teeth and claws creatures sniff around looking for you. Needless to say, those are some of the most intense moments of the game. I also find the fact that you can’t tell what decisions you make will affect everyone’s mortality incredibly tense and pressuring.

Until Dawn is willing to make fun of itself, which makes the game even more enjoyable. The game and plot are purposely using cliché horror movie themes. There’s the classic teens who can’t control their hormones, some dumbass who insists on using a Ouija board and the dumbasses that agree to it, the one or two characters that you like and hope make it to the end (which is totally in your hands if they do), and those characters that insist on investigating every single weird noise even though they know there’s death around every corner. Those are the best. The silver lining is, even though that character was stupid and went to investigate the deathly sound, you as the player can still make choices that can get them out of that situation alive (or not if you really hate a character and want to kill them, I’ve done that).

I’ve refrained from going too into detail about the plot and characters of the game but I highly suggest watching a gameplay video or two of the game on YouTube, or read spoilers about it if you’d prefer. Until Dawn is steadily becoming one of those video games you just have to talk about.