About a month ago I was randomly looking through things I will probably talk about later when one channel started talking about a show on Netflix called Kingdom. Now this was a Zombie show and in one of my articles last year I had mentioned that Zombies were a very unoriginal story motif. (Sleepless Nights: Dead Men Walking) Heck both DC and Marvel now have new “zombie” stories going on where they had to buff up the zombies considerably because a regular zombie apocalypse even those you see in big films, would probably be wiped out in an instant by most super heroes. But regardless, this show intrigued me. Why? Well remember I mentioned that zombies were basically a metaphor for disease and pandemics (a rather topical subject unfortunately)?
This show was something different. It was from South Korea for one, already shown its success in the format with Train to Busan, but what’s more it’s not a contemporary setting! Yes a period piece zombie series set in Korea. The story didn’t start with the apocalypse having happened either. In fact we see the cause of the outbreak – that’s what happens in the first episode with the outbreak not starting till the end of it, sure the nature of it doesn’t get fully explored right away and is instead worked out over the course of the two seasons (no word on a third yet but cliffhanger means it might happen). What’s more the Zombies here work very well as a metaphor for the spread of disease with the issues having ultimately started due to political corruption and power struggles that ignored the suffering of the common man (once again, very topical).
I was intrigued. Yet… it was a zombie series… I knew what would happen if I watched it, yet I was compelled much like The Thing and The Blob before it. I had Netflix, it was the middle of the day, between shifts at work, maybe the first episode I could handle…. there was a scene in it, one that is instrumental in the cause of the initial outbreak that… yes… difficulty sleeping.
Yes readers welcome back to Sleepless Nights where I explore my history with the horror franchise. As you can read , it’s still very strong, maybe I’ll finish the series, who knows.
So what will I actually be talking about, well not that show, Kingdom. Talking about that was just an opener to illustrate that I’m still like that even to this day (and definitely still not watching the remake of The Blob). Today I would like to talk about the horror genre in gaming. It’s a subject when done right is possibly the best at handling the genre. After all no matter how scary a movie is, it’s not you facing the horrors. In a game there is less of that disconnect. Sure maybe you’re not directly being the one menaced, but it’s still coming for what is virtually you, and many have you feeling the repercussions of that.
Now if you think I’m going to be talking about Resident Evil games, well I will be talking about them but they aren’t the ones I enjoy. Perhaps it’s because they are more designed to scare you, or perhaps it’s the limited resources of a survival horror game. The feeling I can mess up early while learning and later when I enjoy the game I feel screwed over by a past mistake – perhaps that hits me at a personal level. Yet though I don’t play the games I often find myself looking them up. I have watched long videos on YouTube about the history of the series. And even getting angry when a horror themed game I don’t play, losing itself and becoming more actiony? I often wonder what is going on in my head. (Seriously we go from slow painful mutations, to a guy rapidly changing back to a human form.
What I like to talk about are games with a horror aesthetic. I love these, be they games where the whole theme is horror, such as Castlevania and its spiritual successor Bloodstained or the ones where you’re playing a regular game and suddenly you get a tonal shift to a horror themed level.
What do I like about these? Well perhaps it’s the feeling of taking back control? Things that maybe scared you as a child now falling before your lance, whip etc? Or perhaps it’s once again my love of the monsters and the effort put into the aesthetic? After all even the games and movies I am too afraid to experience myself I’ll often watch Videos about or read up on them online, even criticize Nemesis’s new design compared to the old (really what is wrong with me?). I’m to this day reminded of my bizarre obsession with the movie The Thing till I ended up watching it (need to finish reading that book Nephrite got).
Then there are the times in the games not primarily associated with horror. These can be things like in Turok 2′s second level having the undead; a game I temporarily stopped playing when younger as it scared me. But also ones that REALLY aren’t horror games. Say one with cutesy scenery normal, suddenly the shift to a more horror appearance then comes off as a big shock (there’s a reason the Piano in Mario 64 is listed under many people’s scariest moments in non horror games).
But how is this done? How can a game invoke fear? Well there are many ways. Often the same as those used in movie and TV. The simple word would be ambience. The sound, lighting, the atmosphere. While Castlevania, Bloodstained and other horror themed side scrolling actions usually have quite the pumping beats to accompany you killing the forces of evil. Games that have levels themed after horror will usually have a darker ambience with the music. While ones that mainly are just styled after horror you tend to have just creepy music. Ones that go in for the horror style will add in the occasional creeks a more suspenseful sound track, all to give you the feeling that something may be right behind you, and sometimes it is.
I’m not to fond of replaying the latter elements but those ones that go for the classic gothic horror aesthetic I absolutely love (yes even the Boo stage in 64, the Piano never scared me).
But what about the current horror games? I saw the rise of 5 Nights at Freddie’s and laughed a bit with anger seeing big game companies act like horror games were no longer a thing when there was an indie one becoming such a success – movies were in the talks. Right now the game “Among Us” a cutesy little party game is commonly associated with the movie “The Thing” and I have seen LOTS of art work of it gone full horror. VR games seem to have found a nice Niche with horror. Most likely with that added level of immersion that comes with it being perfect for a horror game (though I haven’t seen anything non horror really have much luck with that expensive gimmick)
I am always intrigued by how Horror will continue as a genre, as you see even when big companies (often to use exploitative micro transaction ridden games) abandon the format, indie developers pick up the pace. And even Resident Evil seems to have understood its mistake in moving away from horror and returned successfully to it in recent games. It is probably because as I said early on, with a game, it can much more feel like the horrors are coming to you. For me, I will still, mostly with the scarier stuff, just read and watch videos of the monsters. I’m back to work and a sleepless night is not good for that.