Man, that scared the sh#@t outta me! Do it again…
Well guys and ghouls, Halloween has come and gone. Did you have fun? Did you leave the candy bowl out on the porches and listen as the little darlings scamper around the yard in their Buzz Lightyear and Spider-Man costumes? Or did you opt for a more sadistic play of dressing up like your favorite serial killer and scaring the bejesus out of them? Either way, Halloween represents a time of year when everyone can get into the spooky spirit. Deep down, it’s because we all love to be scared. It’s something about the atmosphere of horror and the idea that something is GOING to happen (we just don’t know what) that is appealing. No matter how scared we get, we seek it out again and again (trying to recreate that rush).
So, if you buy into that premise, then it’s no mystery why the survival-horror genre of gaming has blown up over the last several decades. For me, the itch goes back to the days of NES. Now, I’m a huge Friday the 13th fan, and it’s no secret that the movie-licensed game by LJN for the Nintendo is no gem. However, as a kid, I didn’t know that. In fact, I still play it via emulator when I’m feeling nostalgic. I can still remember (as many of you can) the foreboding atmosphere of traversing the camp grounds, waiting to hear that annoying (and semi-terrifying) beeping noise that indicates Jason is currently slaughtering a mass of little children in a cabin somewhere on your map screen. Once you finally get to where he is (which, if you’ve played the game, you know is no easy task) the real terror begins. After slowly searching the cabin (which on the NES means simply scrolling left or right), BOOM! A sudden rush of panic grips you as Jason appears in a pair of purple sweat pants and starts whacking you on the head like he’s stuck in a foosball table. Now, that might not seem scary to someone who’s never played the game, but for a kid of nine or ten alone in a dark room, it is pretty damn effective. I spent more than one weekend alone in a dark room on a Friday the 13th rental.
Of course, we’ve come a long way since then. The survival-horror genre has continued to grow and expand. With games becoming more and more cinematic, playing horror-themed games can get pretty intense. So much so that hits such as Silent Hill saw film adaptations to capitalize on many of the games’ chilling and disturbing elements. Many franchises have helped foster the genre’s success, but one that gets an honorable mention is the Resident Evil franchise. It is one of the originators of a truly immersive and horrifying game experience. Now, if you were to go back and play some of the earlier releases for the PlayStation, you’d find that the blocky (and mostly pixelated) polygons are pretty laughable. Yes, it’s hard to imagine how we could have been freighted by many of the jump-scares, but in many ways, it’s in the same category as LJN’s Friday the 13th; it did its job for its time. Now, with the help of next-gen graphics and cinematic presentation, Resident Evil has become one of the most popular franchises to date. In fact, it recently did the unthinkable by supplanting the legendary Street Fighter II as Capcom’s best-selling game of all time. Think about it. Now, when you think about Capcom you associate it with Resident Evil, not the classic arcade hit. That’s no small feat, and it’s because of the success of the survival-horror genre. The franchise has since gone on to see sequel after sequel, including rereleases/remakes of many of its classic entries in the series.
As technology progress, we continue to strive for impressive experiences that feel more real. The next-gen consoles continue to push the graphics envelope, and new tech (like the many iterations of the VR goggles) continues to flourish in an attempt to put people right inside the game world. How will that translate to survival horror? As scary as some of the games can get, there’s still a level of separation there. You’re at your TV, with a controller, in your living room. The realistic feeling that you’re smack-dab in the middle of a zombie apocalypse (with the horde bearing down on all sides) may be an intensity that is a bit much for some.
Personally, I look forward to it. I can’t wait to be scared by what the future holds, so I say bring it on.