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6:24 AM on 04.03.2008

Random Lit Nerd-ery 1: Why Resident Evil is a Gothic Masterpiece

Survival Horror epic Resident Evil is a number of wildly different things, spanning from being responsible for the the resurgence of the Survival Horror genre, redefinition of what "good" Survival Horror is, and oddly enough, being the ultimate Gothic narrative. Resident Evil's setting, a large mansion, isolated from civilization is the ideal setting for such a narrative, and truly lends itself to an interpretation of the story as Gothic.

Notice that Gothic is a capital "G," and with good reason, too. First, Gothic is a grown-up and they always get big letters, and secondly, Gothic has nothing to do with goth. Suppose now it's time for a small lesson. Gothic is a movement in literature, of which there are certain aspects that color any text that falls under the umbrella. For example, in a Gothic novel, there will be (depending on if the story is European or American) a castle or a large house (Euro and American respectively) in which there may or may not be a dark secret, ghosts, or some kind of uncertain danger. The castle/house may be ruined as well, but this is not always the case. If a ruined building is encountered, then it will bring about a sense of melancholy or it will seem sinister. Underground passages, hidden doors and hallways, puzzles and traps, and many times a sense of something being hidden from plain sight are a part of every Gothic setting. There is usually a threat of something awful happening, if the event doesn't happen outright. Usually the hero of the story is a hero-villain, a man driven by his own passions, who may or may not be the last of his line or have some mental or moral problem. The physical setting of the Gothic texts are usually extreme landscapes (mountains, thick forests, ice filled wastelands), and extreme weather (violent storms, blizzards, etc). If there is a heroine, she will need to be rescued frequently, and in some cases she may be doomed from the start. The idea of Gothic is to tap into the part of one's mind that scares it most, and it is this idea that links it very closely to Resident Evil.

The game's setting matches very closely to the template outlined above, with most of the game occurring within a large mansion (check), in the middle of the Arklay Mountains (check again), and also surrounded by a thick forest (double check). Within the house, there are many doors and passages that are hidden, such as the hidden chamber within the piano room from the beginning, doors that need special keys to open them, and puzzles that reveal hidden knowledge. The mansion is beginning to decay (yet another check), and the ruined rooms are often dark or lit by one sole source (another rarely used, but staple of Gothic as well). The entire mansion has an oddly sinister feel to it, as the player examines the rooms, especially after encountering the monsters inside it, as the player is unaware what the rooms will have in store for them, it's quite similar to pages in a book in that way.

The best part of the setting, though, is the hidden laboratory on the mansion grounds, because the nature of Gothic is that the laboratory is, by nature of being hidden amongst the ruined mansion, the representation of forbidden knowledge. In the case of Resident Evil, the knowledge is how to reanimate the dead, which touches very closely to the novel Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley. The lab serves as an out and out way for the scientists to reanimate the dead as well as create new life in vicious monstrosities.

The characters don't truly fit into the character pegs of Gothic, but by certain characteristics, can be loosely approximated. The hero-villain in Resident Evil? Albert Wesker. He's the leader of the team and driven by his desire to have tested the bio-weapons on trained individuals, he leads the entire team to its doom. His passions are what drives him mad enough to conspire against a loyal team and indulge in his darkest fantasies. Obviously, depending on who the player chooses, the heroine is different, in Chris' game, it's clearly Rebecca, who needs rescuing quite frequently, and depending on your actions, can easily end up dead. The heroine in a Gothic novel is usually toast, but some of them are similar to Jill, in that their task is to investigate and uncover the dark secrets before dying. Sound familiar? It should. That's kind of the idea in Survival-Horror.

When Resident Evil was remade for the Gamecube, the Gothic template for the mansion was redone and taken to a whole new level. From the first time you see the outside of the mansion at all, until you leave it for the underground labs, there are very few lamps in the traditional, plugged into outlet sense. Even fewer are rooms that aren't lit by candles or larger torches. These are great touches, not just for enhancing the atmosphere of the title, but for further emphasizing the Gothic slant of the title as a whole. The entire idea of the title visually is to play on all the things that are traditionally Gothic, passed down by literature and myriad forms of entertainment over at least the last 200 years, and Capcom far and away accomplished their goal.   read

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