WEEK 9: Horror, Death & the Video Game.

Tuesday 7th March

Arts Room 103



“I wanna play a game”

  • Jigsaw, Saw (2004).


Happy week 9! This week we’re exploring all the fun things to do with horror, death and the video game!!!

In his paper written on horror video games, Bernard Perron (2005) considers the horror video game to be part of the “industrialisation of fear”—adding that this process has informed artworks of a “ludic” nature; the reproduction of fear has become playful, relying on elements of interaction with the viewer/player (this is where I was going with the Jigsaw citation…).

This week, we’re interested in bringing all of our previous conversations into play through discussion of games and the horror genre. In particular, we want to develop further the idea of perceiving the game as a system – or contrastingly, the ways in which this knowledge is most successfully disguised. Where in many instances the algorithms built into a game are surfaced and quite clearly acknowledged/apparent, it could be argued that the horror genre most commonly seeks to keep them buried deep within the architecture of the game.

Death is arguably one of the core game mechanics used to draw game systems into light. Indeed, in the earliest developments of games, death simply means reboot; once a character has ‘died’ within a game, the system returns to either its beginning or latest checkpoint, and no radical changes occur. Even though death reveals something about the game’s narrative and mortality of a given character, the system mechanics use death as a disruption, not an end point.

Horror games play with the mechanics of death and disruption in some interesting ways, and the consequences of non-deigetic gameplay (player response; handheld control etc.) and diegetic gameplay (character response; narrative events etc.) become entangled more intimately. Physiological and psychological responses to horror video games are pertinent. Inasmuch as the game system is disguised by the gruesome visual elements, it is also disguised by the player’s reactions and sensations during gameplay. Sensations of horror are often produced paradoxically, either when the player feels they have immeasurable responsibility and control, or when their control over the events (and the game system more broadly) is limited and/or taken away.

To aid our discussion, this week we will be playing Supermassive Games’ Until Dawn (for PlayStation 4, 2015) and Capcom’s KITCHEN (Resident Evil Biohazard VR Demo, PSVR, 2016). Both of these games quite innovatively play with death as a game mechanic, contrasting with some of the claims made above. They are also particularly cinematic; we want to discuss why this seems to be a direction the horror game is heading in (and/or instances where cinematic conventions are averted). Combining both screened play and VR, we want to consider how the two experiences differ, and how paradigms of the horror genre manifest themselves both as a means of highlighting and disguising the game-as-system.

In short, we want to think about the following:

  • How is death used as a mechanic, and how does this affect the narrative of the game, and the player’s experience of it?
  • Why might attention to the game-as-system be either averted or brought to light? How does this alter the immersivity of a game?
  • How might the interaction with hardware emulate diegetic action and environments (in particularly, how does VR incorporate its inherent isolation and immediacy into the gameplay experience)?

Mandatory reading (short!):

Simon Parkin, ‘The Coming Horror of Virtual Reality’, The New Yorker (2016).



Optional reading (longer…but useful!)

Bernard Perron, ‘Coming to Play at Frightening Yourself: Welcome to the World of Horror Video Games’, Aesthetics of Play Conference (2005*)

*note that this was written in 2005 – we will be discussing the evolution of the horror video game; this provides a useful platform for analysing development.


We look forward to discussing more!

Vicki, Richard and Becky.


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