Horror in video games.

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Slender. God-damn Slender. When I first heard of this game I was so very intrigued, then excited and finally horrified. I love the Survival Horror genre and to the best of my knowledge have played all the best games that the it has to offer, be it the classic PlayStation era Silent Hill series or the somewhat under appreciated works of Frictional Games. You see, I’ve always had an adoration for the art that inspires these creations, the best example I can give is this. I’m Irish, and being Irish I absolutely love the fact that Silent Hill artist Takayoshi Sato was inspired by the Irish artist FrancisBacon. This love of the Horror sub genre got me thinking. Why do we enjoy being scared? What is it about us that makes us want to be shaken to our core? Surely the human condition is one that is centred around self preservation? So why do we throw ourselves into a world full of terror? Do we enjoy haunting beasts that bay for our blood? Let me give you a few ideas and some food for thought.

There was a study performed a few years ago on how fear affects the human body. It out lines the obvious facts such as elevated heart rate and anxiety, heightened senses and sharpened reflexes, but what it fails to do is tell us “why” we actively seek fear. When we think of why we play horror games, I generally think of it as a means to restore the human condition to a more empathetic state. Now days when we watch the news, our eyes and brains are bombarded with images depicting war, poverty, famine and death. We have become, through no fault of our own emotionally dead to the world around us. So we must seek our terror and fear in a land of make belief. In order for the player to be scared though, certain methods and subtle tricks must be applied. The aforementioned artist Francis Bacon was famous for his tormented visages that represented the most depraved and low emotions we posses while somehow maintaining a certain level of attractiveness that draws the eye. But simply making something “look” scary, doesn’t make it scary.

To induce fear, the creation that subjects us to the mental torture must represent something, it must have its own set of ideals, and its own reasons for committing its atrocities. We give them form and reason, be it intellectual  or purely animal in nature. Once a creation has a purpose it can become a figure of iconic horror that resonates with our minds, thus rendering it a horrific creation.

The Silent Hill series, introduced us to a creature known as Pyramid Head, or Red Pyramid for the purists. Pyramid Head is a tall, well muscled creature with a large pyramidal cage on its head that stops us from seeing its features. Not very scary right? Well when it’s given a reason for existing….well let’s just say I wouldn’t want to cross him. Pyramid Head is a torturer, the reason for its existence is to inflict torment upon his prey. It can create tulpas, beings brought into existence through sheer force of will, it has a smock made up of the flayed skin of its conquests and victims and it wants nothing more than to shatter your mind and body. Now that is someone I wouldn’t mess with.

Imagine being trapped and alone, being hunted down by the Pyramid Head, it wouldn’t be very pleasant would it? But we do imagine being trapped and hunted by it. Because we know that we can outrun it, and maybe even survive its deluge of horror and tricks, and that is what compels us to dive into our fear. I said we have become emotionally numb to our world around us, but it hasn’t changed our will to live, and it goes without saying that once you experience something truly scary that you respect and understand life a little better.

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Pyramid Head as seen in the second movie adaptation, Silent Hill Revelation.

The most recent example of popular survival horror would be Slender . The Slender Man is a creature, that was created purely with the intent of harming us, we don’t really know why and we don’t really know how. All that we know for certain is that he is always watching. Slender Man was created by Mark Hadley inside an online forum called “something awful”. Slendy himself isn’t very scary though, a tall man with no face that wears a suit and has multiple long spindly arms. Not scary. But put yourself into his game, and he becomes another entity completely.

Imagine this if you will. You wake up in a forest, you don’t know how you got there and you don’t know why you have been brought there. All you find in your pockets is a flash light. It’s night and the trees loom over your character and quite obscure your path forward. So you move forward, rather cautiously I might add, and come across a tree with a page attached to it, you pay it no attention and ball it up into your pocket. You turn around and catch a glimpse of something in the trees, a man perhaps? But he isn’t there any more. Thus begins Slendies hunt for you because “once you are aware of him, he is aware of you”. Slender Man will now relentlessly follow you, getting closer and louder until your speakers blare white noise static and high pitch wailing. Your screen flickers in and out of action and a tall foreboding man is in your face, wheezing and reaching for you, then its game over my friend. That’s all well and good, but why do we subject ourselves to this torment? Because like before, we just might survive.

Survival is keyed into our very being and we will always strive to survive in even the most adverse conditions, that is why we play these games. We already know, [subconsciously at least] that we are numb to the surrounding worlds afflictions, so we must bring the feeling down upon ourselves. They allow us to have a bit more empathy and concern for neighbouring people. I think that this forced fear and forced empathy can only be a good thing, helping us understand those around us and giving us the ability to care. At least that’s what I believe, we could just be crazy.

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Written by: Martin Toney

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