WHO THE HELL IS THIS GUY!? I like tacos. I also like video games, but I like tacos more. If that's a problem for you then you can GTFO.
I'm a roasted turkey sandwich currently living in the Bay Area, California. I make art [and sometimes music], sometimes having to do with video games and sometimes not. I've been gaming since I was around 3, so it's safe to say if I don't play video games I might spontaneously combust like some unholy abomination. Which is what I am.
WHAT THE HELL DOES THIS GUY OWN!? Xbox
Nintendo Entertainment System
In my 22 years upon this planet, I've noticed that there is a wide variety of things that can make a person shit themselves. Say they felt a strong desire for some spicy, unadulterated Mexican food. Oh yes, the first few hours are splendid and made of gratuitous amounts of win. But the higher you are, the harder you crap. Into the bathroom you go. Hot, steaming, more spewage than gooage.
It happened to me once. It wasn't a pretty site nor smell, I can tell you that much. Let's just say I'll never look at Dulce de Leche ice-cream the same again.
While there are many causes of anal excretion that I hold close to my heart, I consider fear to be my most favoured.
“The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, n' shit.” - H.P. Lovecraft
As my homeboy Lovecraft explains, fear is powerful, capable of bringing the most manliest of mans to their knees. Yes, readers, even one such as I have felt my pride roll from the darkest reaches of my intestines and out into the Bowl of Sadness, all in the face of terror. I'm not afraid to admit it and you shouldn't be either. The bowl has claimed many victims.
So, it is now that I give you the run-down on what makes a true Survival-Horror game. It is here that you will learn the fine art of Crapping Yourself.
1. Shitty Weapons
As a lover of FPSs, I can say that weapons are definitely something that I enjoy. Games like Borderlands that have such a wide-range of guns and ammunition are like heroine to me. If I did heroine. I'm not saying I do. Great, now you're gonna use this to blackmail me.
While I've creamed plenty over guns and swords and lasers and mana, I've also enjoyed the lack of them. I don't understand why people would label a game SH (I'm calling it that now. If you don't like it you can salls my buck) when they're running around with dual rocket launchers and a sword attached to their crotch.
SH is just that: Survival. Who needs a longsword when you could have a pocket knife or a crowbar? Who needs an AK-47 when you could have a pistol with shitty aim? Giving you these mundane, usually weak weapons makes you struggle to live. That's where part of the fear comes from; if I'm destroying things left and right (even if it looks fucking goregeous), I'm not going to feel much knee-shaking terror. But if I have to run and hope I have enough ammunition in my gun, then I'll be scared shitless. Then there are games like Fatal Frame or Silent Hill: Shattered Memories that don't even give you weapons. So all you have to aid you are your legs and your brain.
Now, don't get me wrong. There are games that have epic weaponry that barely does shit to the enemies. Take Dead Space for example: In that game you're forced to fight undead alien creatures that can only die if you destroy their appendages. So if you're trying to kill one with some pansy pistol then you'll either be at it for 7.5 hours or die on the spot. You've got armour and big weapons, but goddamn are you still underpowered. One could compare it to watching Zeus get slapped in the face by Cronos and taking it like a bitch.
2. Lesser Than Thou
I find that a lot of games dubbed “SH” have protagonists that are a little...hefty. In this day and age, when one thinks “SH”, they visualize an Arnold Schwarzenegger clone staring down at an impish undead thing that couldn't chew on the dude's bicep, let alone his testosterone.
SH reminds us that we're human. We might have some muscle, and we might have K.O'd that one guy at a bar, but we're not standing around punching boulders all day. Well, I'd like to, but I'm not. Have you punched any boulders lately? If so, let me know, cause I'd just trash this blog and cover myself in monkey crap. Because I'm into that.
Thin all around, not a clue how to throw a punch, prone to yelping and peeing themselves rather than growling and pounding their chest; characters like these are what makes the game truly a fearful experience for the player. They're real. They didn't come from some 80s action movie. They're business people, students, sit-at-home sloths, plumbers. They're the goddamn milk man.
The not-yet-released game Winter shows us true SH. This girl could have been coming home from school, for all we know. Or she could be a reporter, or a photographer. There is nothing in her appearance that suggests some sort of bullshit military or police background. She's doing what she can to survive, even if it involves killing a goddamn wolf and laying inside of it to keep warm. I mean, I do that shit all day. But she makes it look good.
Another addition to the feeling of inferiority is the idea of “Cosmicism”, or “Cosmic Horror”, which are both terms coined by H.P. Lovecraft. In a nutshell, they say that all of the general truths of the world are false and that we are but a speck in the vastness of space. We could never even begin to understand anything outside of our world, lest we go insane. The sheer idea that the most obvious, logical truths of the world are actually a load of rubbish is terror in itself. Our arrogance, our belief that we're an immortal species, all crushed against the rocks. You can find that type of horror in games like Call of Cthulhu, The Secret World, or Eternal Darkness.
Now we travel from “Survival” to “Horror”. A heavy part of a good SH game is the tone and atmosphere of your surroundings. Even the most minuscule things, things we don't notice unless we try and seek them out, have an affect upon our psyche.
One thing that adds to the “I feel liquid on my leg and it's not pee” factor is music. When strolling through a deserted town, we're not head-bobbing to Haddaway. We're listening to otherworldly instruments, ambiance, with maybe a hint of melody. The music is usually depressing, haunting, and/or suspenseful, filling us with the same fear we would feel when actually encountering zombies or otherworldly entities. Even Chrono Trigger did it right, and that isn't even a SH game.
There are also times when music can go completely opposite to what is expected. Where you thought there would be horrific music, there could be the happy tune of a music box or circus music (Yes, a bit overused, but it still gives the right affect). Or maybe there's no music at all and you're forced to walk about with your own mind to plague you. Man, those were some awkward times.
Many horror games take place in the daytime much too often. Resident Evil 5, for instance, was nearly all sun, save for near the end of the game and during indoor areas. While there are games that can pull off the terror affect in the sun (like Silent Hill or Winter that added extra things atop the daylight to scare you), RE5 wasn't one of them. While I was terrified for my life most of the time, I wasn't terrified for my life. Shut up, you know what I mean.
It doesn't matter who you are—you could be fucking Skynet for all I care—the number one fear amongst all things is the fear of the unknown. What we cannot dream of comprehending, what cannot be seen, what we cannot understand, what can't be touched. While we may be curious, we approach that curiosity like a person approaches the possibly still living body of a serial killer: Slowly, trembling, and with a 50ft stick. When a game takes place at night, or in any dark location, the Fear of the Unknown factor comes into play. In the day we could see that crazed man with the chainsaw running at us from a distance. But, at night, he emerges from seemingly out of the goddamn ethers with no prior warning.
4. What the Fuck is that Shit!?
We know how things should be, how things should look, how things should work. So, when we're facing off with something that doesn't look quite right, we have the necessary instinct to make a butt-cherry.
Things should not always feel familiar. Why have a normal zombie run at you when instead the zombie could be crawling towards you...upside down? Why have a creature come out from behind a corner instead of peeking at you from the end of the hallway, too far to understand exactly what you're seeing until you get close enough?
We need to feel queasy, our stomachs need to churn, we need to furrow our brows and wonder what the hell just happened. As you saw from the Winter gameplay, the creature walking towards that poor girl was nowhere near average, or at least in that type of setting. And it didn't just charge at her, no. It slowly made its way to her, eyes locked in an unwavering stare.
Another splendid “holy shit” is when you play with people's minds. What? No, why would that mannequin be alive, it's—Oh, well then. And why would there be anything in that picture you just took when—Ah, fooled again. Yeah, that bastard is totally dead, it stopped mov—Fuck fuck fuck fuck~
Personally, I find the monsters of Silent Hill to be the most scariest and grotesque (which is saying something, since there are some great candidates). From sexy-legged monstrosities to walking piles of meat to things that burp when you hit them. That last bit is actually hilarious. I would have spent more time hitting them, during my own play through, if I weren't about to butt-cough a load into the nether regions of my trousers. If you somehow feel that there are creatures even scarier than those of Silent Hill, don't hesitate to throw them into the comments. I love seeing that shit.
No, fuck the Americanized “Boo Factor”. I'm tired of shit jumping out at me. Of course it scares me, but not in the right way. It's just like how I could give you plenty of reasons why seeing a 500lbs. man running down the street naked with a pirate hat for both himself and his little pep-pep is terrifying. I would want to kill myself, but it's no SH. Or maybe it is. I haven't tested it yet and I'd rather not.
That's one reason I didn't enjoy Silent Hill: Homecoming as much as the others; it was all a bunch of “BOO! Hahah, gotchya!” moments among failed attempts to disgust the player. I don't know what it is about most (Keyword: Most) American developers, but they need to find another genre to fail at. Those Japanese dudes, however, seem to know what they're doing, as we can see from the large amount of SH games they've been pumping out over the years. Man, using Japanese and pumping in the same sentence made me think of tentacles.
Something that holds true for most SH games, even the ones that fail at fulfilling the title, is being alone. You have no friends to watch your back, no one to share your lunch with, no one to hold your hand as you walk across the street to catch the bus to school, no one to stuff you into garbage cans or take your lunch money. It's just you and whatever horrors the game decides to throw at you.
There are games that do pair you with someone, like RE5 with Chris and Sheva. But even with two people you still feel like you're battling the world on your own. Left 4 Dead somehow managed to make me feel scared, even with 3 other characters with me. It was probably due to the constant fear of being molested by the Special Infected. I didn't mind reverse-molesting the Witch, though. She loved it long time. She incapped me all night. I startled her about 5 times in 20 seconds. Sexual intercourse.
The Loneliness Factor is why so many Survival-Horror games aren't co-op. Having a friend with you while you play makes the game a little less terrifying and threatening. Plus your friend gets to see you sob and wet yourself, so you end up pulling out your chest hair and crushing beer cans over your forehead, which gets annoying after the 14th time. So, to get the full affect (or as full as you can get, given the previous conditions mentioned above are put into play), you need to suck it up and play alone. No, keep the lights off. Stop being a little girl. Unless you are one, then I'd warn you away from SH games and wonder why you're even reading this Cblog. Would you like some candy? Dig into my pocket.
Well, bitches, those five things are what I believe makes a true Survival-Horror game. There are games that have only some of those features, while there are also games that have all of them. I never said I didn't enjoy the games that mislabeled themselves as SH, but it just agitates me that people have forgotten what true SH is. It seems almost lost, never to be found again save for within the crooked minds of horror enthusiasts dreaming of better days. One day I hope to be a part of the creation of a true SH game, because this other shit isn't cutting it.
So, before you pick up that horror game with the beefy pack of man-meat on the cover, ask yourself how scared you want to be. If you feel like wearing a diaper, then put that shit down and pick up something else. Or you could just wear the diaper. Whatever floats your boat. That offer for candy is still up for grabs.