“The Fear System” - Triggering Tension in Survival Horror Videogames

Bachelorarbeit, 2011

49 Seiten


Table of Contents

1 Introduction

2 A Brief History of the Horror Videogame
2.1 The Origins of Videogame Horror
2.2 The Evolution of Videogame Horror
2.3 The Modern Videogame Horror

3 Approaching the Field
3.1 Academic Approaches in Game Studies: Narratology vs. Ludology
3.2 Linking Narratology and Ludology: The Approach of this Paper
3.3 Defining the Survival Horror Videogame: An Attempt
3.4 Immersion: Connecting the Player and the Game
3.5 Theories and the Method

4 Analysis of Resident Evil and Silent Hill
4.1 Resident Evil
4.1.1 Visual/Level Design Techniques
4.1.2 Gameplay Techniques
4.1.3 Audio Techniques
4.1.4 Narrative Techniques
4.1.5 Miscellaneous Techniques
4.2 Silent Hill
4.2.1 Visual/Level Design Techniques
4.2.2 Gameplay Techniques
4.2.3 Audio Techniques
4.2.4 Narrative Techniques
4.2.5 Miscellaneous Techniques

5 Conclusion

Works Cited

1 Introduction

Neuroscientist Joseph LeDoux states that

[the fear system in the brain is] a system that detects danger and produces responses that maximize the probability of surviving a dangerous situation in the most beneficial way. (128) LeDoux’s definition of our brain’s “fear system” serves as part of the following paper’s title. This is due to the following reasons: First, it refers to the part of the human brain, where all our fears are processed, hence making it become both the ultimate destination for all external signals triggering fear (including horror media) and its place of origin. Second, it serves as an appropriate subordinate term for the holistic framework of techniques, which developers of so-called survival horror videogames[1] have established, in order to hopefully trigger “the oldest and strongest emotion of mankind”, as gothic horror writer H.P. Lovecraft put it (qtd. in Perron, “Introduction” 3). Third, “surviving a dangerous situation”, as the name of the genre itself already indicates, is the hallmark activity of every survival horror game[2], the latter being of primary interest on the following pages. This paper aims at taking a close look at this “fear system”, though, for the most part, not literally in the sense it is used by LeDoux: This paper does not take into account the neural processes working in the human brain, and it does not belong to the field of the neurosciences or similar disciplines. Instead, the techniques referred to by the term “fear system” and the relevant emotion tension[3], which is connected to it, will be analysed from a cultural/media studies perspective. In the course of this analysis, it will be argued that not only tension itself, but also several other emotions proclaimed as “negative” and provoked by playing a certain game can bring about tension, such as unsettlement, stress or disgust. It is assumed that these emotions evoke a basically negative mood in players so that they are more susceptible to be scared. This assumption draws on the film studies-related “Excitation Transfer Theory” developed by Dolf Zillmann in 1988, which Lee and Peng felt free to adopt on games (327-45). They state that “residual excitement from previous game playing may serve to intensify a later emotional state of a game player” (328). By arguing that feeling unsettled or experiencing frustration or disgust are in fact forms of excitement, Zillmann’s theory can be related to the former argument. In the main part (chapter 4), a glance will be taken at the “videoludic staging of fear” (Roux-Girard 145) of two different survival horror game series: Resident Evil[4] (Capcom, 1996-99[5] ) and Silent Hill (Konami, 1999-2003). These specific series have been chosen, because, according to Picard (96), they are commonly said to be the most popular[6] and the most representative ones within their genre. The series will first be analyzed individually in seperate chapters (though frequently referenced to each other), and will later be compared as a whole in the final conclusion. In the end, it is hoped that the following questions will have been answered:

1. What techniques are used by game developers to trigger tension in the player? 2. How do these techniques differ? 3. Which of the techniques are the most effective ones?[7]

Hence several iterations[8] of the different series will be analysed, a close reading of an individual title (e.g. a step-by-step analysis as Carr did in “Textual Analysis, Digital Games, Zombies”) is not possible, as this would clearly be beyond the scope of this paper. It is merely sought to identify as many “scare techniques” as possible in order to point out tendencies and pave the way for a more detailed analysis elsewhere.

Before broaching the games, an adequate theoretical foundation needs to be established (chapter 2-3). This is done by first providing a brief history of horror games, which approximately covers the time span from the early 1980s until today (chapter 2). The “general” horror game (in contrast to the “survival” horror game to be treated later) will also be looked into, because the latter is, without any doubt, a child of the former. Therefore, they are inseparably connected to one another. Chapter 3 points out the different academic approaches to game studies, specifically illustrating the dispute between the so-called narratologists and ludologists. The approach chosen for this paper follows this point. Afterwards it will be attempted to define the genre of survival horror after having shortly discussed the problems of defining genre in general. A piecemeal account deals with the psychological state of “immersion”, which is argued to be a precondition for all videoludic emotions. The chapter ends with introducing some theories from media studies and psychology, which are drawn upon in order to help identifying some of the techniques triggering tension.

Current State of Research

Probably because of its “perceived low artistic value” (Kirkland, “Discursively Constructing the Art of Silent Hill”, 314) and the often claimed “frivolous nature of video games” (Dymek 666), the academic field of game studies is still in its infancy (Bopp, Neitzel and Nohr, “Introduction” 7). According to Therrien (27), it approximately covers the last ten years. Thus it is not surprising that there are only a limited number of publications in comparison to long established “traditional” fields of study such as history or geography. As Bopp, Neitzel and Nohr have stated further (13), as well as Kringiel (16), research in the field is even more restricted, because it is still dominated by American and Scandinavian scholars. Furthermore, little attention has been given to the specific realm of horror games. As Perron has pointed out, only two publications have dealt with it (“Introduction” 4). Moreover, “consensus on what […] is scary in a game is hardly reached” (Roux-Girard 146), which provides convincing reasons for more research. However, apart from printed publications, several academic journals and essays on the topic can be found online within the framework of academic projects like Eludamos or Game Studies.

2 A Brief History of the Horror Videogame

2.1 The Origins of Videogame Horror

Games with a topic or setting which may be associated with the horror genre have already been developed within the very first years of games themselves (Rouse, “Match Made in Hell” 15): Haunted House (Atari, 1981), for example, featured ghosts, spiders and vampire bats. Nevertheless, it is debatable whether it may be referred to as a horror game, since the technological limitations of the old computer game systems made it difficult for their developers to create any tension, as Roux-Girard has pointed out (147). And since tension, by definition, constitutes the most vital element of horror (Carr, “Textual Analysis” 5), games like this may not belong to the genre at all or they do, but simply do not work along the same lines. However, it has been argued by Rouse that “the more realistic computer models become, the less capable they are of provoking emotions in players” (“Games on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown: Emotional Content in Computer Games” 6). This, by implication, means that the less realistic graphics are, the more likely they cause emotions. But the graphics in Haunted House were so simple that one could hardly see the monsters in the game as anything else but “a white collection of pixels moving on the screen” (Therrien 30), and “the games’ capacity to propose a horrifying experience”, as Perron reveals, “obviously seemed negligible” (“Introduction” 5). As soon as the hardware began to evolve and when it became technologically possible to depict more than elements “that sort of looked like a ghost” (Buecheler), developers picked up the typical imagery of horror, which, in most cases, was that of horror films. The graphics were presented in greater (and more gruesome) detail: The game adaptation of Sean Cunningham’s 1980s slasher film Friday the 13th (Domark, 1985), just like the film it was based on, offered explicit gore within cutscenes[9], such as a machete vertically cutting through a human head. These frequently occuring scenes were accompanied by loud sounds that aimed at startling the player, which was, due to the lack of better hardware, a commonly used method[10].

Surprisingly, the origins of “real” gaming horror lie in the adventure genre (Taylor 46; Wolfsteiner 157), or more specifically, in a most abstract form of the genre (Todd): Text adventures[11] like The Lurking Horror (Infocom, 1987), which, to Barraza, is “the great grand-daddy of gaming terror“, were able to “generate some serious emotion and dread in the player”. Playing, or more appropriately, “reading” the game, was perceived as something similar to reading a horror novel, “leaving so much for the players imagination” (Beech), and there is no limit to the human mind (in contrast to hardware). Although being a pure text adventure, The Lurking Horror also used music and sound effects similar to Friday the 13th. These had a particularly shocking effect, and created “a disturbing intrusion [. . .] accentuated by a sound burst” (Perron, “Sign of a Threat: The Effect of Warning Systems in Survival Horror Games”).

2.2 The Evolution of Videogame Horror

In 1992, Alone in the Dark (Infogrames) was responsible for the first great revolution of the genre. The game introduced several features, among them the ability to move freely within a complete 3D surrounding and a fixed (virtual) camera, which displayed the game characters from different angles, thereby “fully embracing cinematic conventions” (Todd). The most important feature was the possibility of evading monsters instead of simply killing them[12]. The release of Alone in the Dark is regarded as having led to the birth of an utterly new horror game genre, “survival horror”, as pointed out by Blum (26), Roux-Girard (148), Taylor (47) and Fesler (9). However, some authors, e.g. Schmidt and Ernst (81) as well as Kirkland (“Horror Video Games and the Uncanny” 1), credit Sweet Home (Capcom, 1989) with already having done the same three years before. In the game, several characters were locked in a mansion, forced to fight monsters in a confined space, with the “risk of permanent death” (Sterling).

In the midst of the 1990s, horror games became even more cinematic with the boom of the obscure “FMV” (“Full Motion Video”) games, consisting completely or partially of filmed or animated videos. Roberta Williams ’ Phantasmagoria (Sierra On-Line, 1996) is among the most popular of this type, owing its popularity mainly to its extremely brutal film sequences. Apart from that, it was a rather simple adventure game, players had to click their way through, waiting for horrible events to happen. Therefore, it “left no legacy to horror gaming” (Todd). Nevertheless, it is mentioned, because the genre it belongs to differs so much from other (horror) game genres. 1996 marked the release of Sony’s game console “Playstation” and its first “killer application”[13], Resident Evil[14] 1[15]. Both factors contributed to establishing and popularising the survival horror genre, whose groundwork was laid by Sweet Home and Alone in the Dark. With Resident Evil 1, Capcom adopted most of the features previously introduced by Infogrames (Schmidt and Ernst 78), such as the fixed camera perspective, the freedom of movement and the well-balanced mix of action and puzzle-solving. However, it replaced the complete 3D-animated environments with detailed pre-rendered backgrounds[16], which were made livelier by the use of animated real-time effects. These were integrated in the surroundings, e.g. in the form of water streaming out of fountains, fire burning in chimneys and the omnipresent blood splatters. Additionally, since these backgrounds were practically “photographies”, the degree of realism was as high as never before: Whereas in Alone in the Dark, a ceiling still was nothing else but a green or brown surface, in Resident Evil 1, we could make out the grain of a table for the first time. The pre-rendered background visuals became a special characteristic of the survival horror genre and its popularity and frequency of occurence is mirrored by a plethora of good and bad Resident Evil 1 clones appearing after 1996: part two of Capcom’s in-house series Dino Crisis (2000), the first two Parasite Eve games (Square Soft, 1998-99), Martian Gothic: Unification (Take 2/Creative Reality, 2000), Alone in the Dark: The New Nightmare (Infogrames/Darkworks, 2001) as well as Clock Tower 3 (Capcom, 2003) are only a few examles.

The latter game deserves more consideration, since it is characterised by an even stronger focus on evading rather than fighting: With the exception of the boss battles, in which the game character is temporarily armed with a bow, all gameplay relies on hiding from the enemies, who are constantly looking for the player. Therefore, it is not wrong to call such games[17] the most consequent form of survival horror. Because of this “flight factor”, they are called “stalker simulations” by Weise (242), as derived from “stalker films” like Wes Craven’s Scream series (1997-2011), in which “the killer is the main antagonist of the story” (243). Silent Hill 1, just like Resident Evil 1, also used the technological capacities of the Playstation to create a new type of psychological horror. This was completely different from that of The Lurking Horror: Though still evoking an “imaginative and subtle anticipatory dread” (Perron, “Sign of a Threat”), Silent Hill 1 was especially disturbing through its macabre game design, which featured humanlike, but disfigured monsters and rusty, decaying environments. The developers also wanted to show “classic American horror through a Japanese filter”, as Picard quotes Akira Yamaoka, one of the creators of the series (114), staging the game in a typical American micropolis. Further innovations brought Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem (Nintendo/Silicon Kights) in 2002, also focusing on psychological horror, but evolving it. The game, which was obviously inspired by H. P. Lovecraft, achieved most of its horrific atmosphere by irritating and confusing the player: Eternal Darkness was “messing with our save games, controller and seemingly even our TV sets” (Barraza). The more the player encountered gruesome elements, the more visual and audio effects were triggered, including insects running over the screen, the shut-off of the TV’s picture or sound or the apparent decapitation of the avatar[18] (with all effects shortly after being reversed). Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth (Bethesda Softworks/Headfirst Productions, 2005), a game adaptation of Lovecraft’s short story Shadow over Innsmouth, was characterised by a similar approach: When being exposed to too much danger, “insanity effects” (Krzywinska 283), were triggered, leading to the game character losing its mind and even committing suicide.

2.3 The Modern Videogame Horror

With Resident Evil 4, Capcom in 2005 was once more responsible for leading horror games into a new direction: The developers disposed of most of the genre’s traditional features, like the fixed camera angles and stiff controls, and made the franchise overall more action-oriented. The virtual camera was placed directly behind the game character, in an over-the-shoulder view focusing on the weapon (resembling first-person shooters). Moreover, the general level of difficulty was lowered: Ammunition and health could be found more often and, for the first time, checkpoints appeared in a Resident Evil game. Tension relied rather on stress than on horror, by often confronting the player with a bulk of enemies at once. These “baying mobs” (Evans-Thirlwell) were agile and intelligent, contrasting the slow and stupid zombies of the previous games[19]. That is why many authors, e.g., Taylor (54), do not consider Resident Evil 4 to belong to the survival horror genre anymore. Its successor Resident Evil 5 (Capcom, 2009) followed the same recipe and, by introducing a cooperative mode[20], emphasised action even more strongly. The horror game of today is exemplified best by the highly-praised[21] Dead Space series (EA/Visceral Games, 2008-11), which remains in the footsteps of Resident Evil 4, while staging its claustrophobical horror in an isolated space ship/space station scenario. The slow-paced survival horror seems to be moribund and has made way for fast-paced action horror, profiting from “the new generations of graphics technologies” enhancing “spectacular audio-visual effects” (King and Krzywinska 145). According to Beech, Dead Space“sits at the forefront of this evolution”, featuring hordes of highly-detailed monsters, screaming at the player in Dolby Digital and state-of-the-art lighting effects. Its successor Dead Space 2 impressed players even more through the addition of rambling explorations into outer space. These modern action horror games do a good job keeping the player in a constant state of “arousal”, defined by Järvinen as “the stimulation of emotions as a result of fast action and high-quality graphics” (182), rather than focusing on subtle scares.

3 Approaching the Field

3.1 Academic Approaches in Game Studies: Narratology vs. Ludology

To bring the academic approach attempted in this paper in line with the general discussion on horror games among academics, it is necessary to point out what these approaches look like. In brief, scholars interested in this highly-specialised field come from two different factions, the “ludologists” and the “narratologists”, with the former clearly representing the bigger one (Eskelinen). On the one hand, narratologists (like Janet Murray) are open to theories and approaches from traditional literary and media studies in order to analyse games. Ludologists (like Espen Aarseth or Jesper Juul[22]), on the other hand, firmly reject such “limited” and “outdated” approaches (Eskelinen): They argue that games are completely new media which have nothing in common with traditional media forms like e.g. films. Thus, to them, “narratology is deemed less fruitful as an analytical tool” (Dymek 664) and, in consequence, games cannot be treated as such.

3.2 Linking Narratology and Ludology: The Approach of this Paper

However, games and films (or horror games and horror films) have a lot in common. Since the very beginning of the history of games, they have not only been thematically inspired by films, as in the case of the early game adaptations of popular films, they have also adopted many cinematic characteristics[23]. High-budget games (called “AAA”[24] games in the industry) like the Call of Duty: Modern Warfare series (Activision/Infinity Ward, 2009-11) employ the (simulated) camera work of a Hollywood blockbuster to evoke a clearly cinematic experience from a first-person point of view. But of paramount importance regarding this paper’s topic is that especially survival horror games are said to have most in common with films. Two examples are the frequent use of a fixed camera perspective, which refers “directly to horror film conventions”[25] (Roux-Girard 151) and their “third-person shooter mode” (Pinchbeck 79). That is why different approaches, linked to different branches can be adapted to video games, if the aspect under observation finds its adequate partner in an academic field: The plot of a certain (story-driven) game, since it is a plot like any other, can indeed be explored with the help of traditional literary techniques to analyse narratives. Merely how it is told needs to be approached with the help of ludology. Further on, a game developer’s methods to create tension are very similar to those used by the director of a horror film: Both make use of “startle effects”[26], for instance. The main difference is the important ludic factor of interactivity, which is, of course, restricted to games. Interactivity offers particular chances of scaring the player in ways films certainly do not. In that case, ludology is again required to fill the gap and cover up with approaches, traditional media studies cannot provide. In this paper, games are approached in a similar way: Rather than strictly sticking to either ludology or narratology, this paper proposes an approach, which attempts to define a position between the two schools (i.e. ludology and narratology), as e.g. Roux-Girard and Ekman and Lankoski did. The following example of Resident Evil 4, though still favouring the narratologist’s approach (in line with Zillmann’s theory referred to earlier), pays its respect to ludology by embedding its key terminology (as provided by Järvinen [ Games Without Frontiers: Theories and Methods for Game Studies and Design ]) whenever possible. Players have just fought their way through an enclosed zombie-infested area of the Spanish village providing the game’s environment[27]. Because of the superior number of enemies and the enclosed environment, limiting space to evade the attacks, they have barely survived. They leave the area through a door after having achieved the contemporary game goal which was to solve a quick puzzle. Suddenly, they are confronted with a complete change in game tone: The enemy-infested, bright area has given way to a dark, gloomy forest with no sign of any monster. Still stressed and exhausted from the previous battle, the player is in a weak emotional state. While cautiously exploring the woods, all of a sudden a mutated dog with tentacles coming out of its mouth, appears and attacks the startled players. Adapting the example to Zillmann’s “Excitation Transfer Theory”, the “residual excitement” arises in the form of stress and exhaustion, which then intensify the “later emotional state”, consisting of panic and shock. According to Zillmann, the former emotions would not be this intense, if there was not any “residual excitement”.

3.3 Defining the Survival Horror Videogame: An Attempt

Every cultural area has its genres and always, “the lingering problem of genre definition emerges” (Therrien 26). Sometimes defining a genre can be done more easily, as in the case of an “anime”, by referring to an example from films: An “anime” is always a “type of Japanese animated film that often shows a lot of violence and sex” (“Anime”). In another context, however, producing a definition can be a complex endeavour, especially when it comes to subgenres: In the world of music culture, for example, no one really knows what the subgenre “Post-Rock” actually is (Schumacher and Steinbrink 122-23), but, nevertheless, it has been established as a proper genre. In this context, games are no exception, as we shall now see. Assigning them to specific genres poses even further problems, since the game industry is so much younger than e.g. the film industry. That is why there are no “official” definitions. However, scholars, journalists, game designers and aficionados alike have agreed on specific characteristics being attached to a game in order to categorise it as survival horror. A selection of quotations aims at delivering a proper definition of that term. To begin with, in an issue of Cahiers du Cinéma it is stated that “Survival Horror - as the name implies, it’s mainly about not dying” (qtd. in Therrien 34). Though this rough definition is certainly true, it applies to nearly every action-oriented game and needs to be extended. In the definition provided by Taylor, she not only mentions the theme of “surviving”, but additionally brings up the obvious connection between that genre and that of “horror”: “Survival Horror games earned their genre title because of their use of horror elements and because of their gameplay emphasis on surviving instead of thriving” (46). Elsewhere, Taylor quotes Richard Hand, who includes further gameplay elements in his definition: [Survival Horror is] generally understood to be a game in which the player leads an individual character through an uncanny and hostile environment where the odds are weighed heavily against the avatar. (48) The gameplay elements mentioned are the “individual character” and its weakened position in the game (“the odds are weighed heavily against the avatar”). This vulnerability of the character, Hand mentions, seems to be an important factor in defining survival horror for many other authors: for Perron, it is caused by “not so powerful weapons and limited ammo and health” (“Introduction” 6), Niedenthal, quoting Wikipedia, concurs: “[. . .] the player is made to feel underpowered, generally fighting alone for the bulk of the game, with limited supplies” (“Patterns of Obscurity: Gothic Setting and Light in Resident Evil 4 and Silent Hill 2” 170). The feeling of players being “underpowered”, on the other hand, is not only the result of their “limited supplies”. Weise, in addition, states that [. . .] the player must strategize, making effective use of their resources to survive […] this is where much of the challenge comes from, since health-refilling items are scarce and enemies are numerous. (253-54) The fact that players have limited access to ammunition and health is complemented by the fact that they are also outnumbered by the enemy (“enemies are numerous”). The same is mentioned by Kelman, as quoted by Kirkland: “the player usually takes the role of a normal human being in an environment overrun by demons, zombies, ghosts etc.” (“Resident Evil ’s Typewriter: Survival Horror and its Remediations” 115). To Lay, this is “quintessential survival horror” (37). Additionally, by the use of the word “normal”, Kelman hints at the fact that the protagonists of survival horror games tend to be what Pruett calls “average Joe” characters (“Designing Characters to Be Scared For”), who contrast sharply with the highly- trained soldiers of most modern action games (like in, again, the Call of Duty: Modern Warfare games). Therrien also mentions this “ordinariness” (34). To sum up, all characteristics of survival horror having been pointed out so far (limited ressources, vulnerable and average characters and a superior number of enemies) serve the overall aim of the game developers, which is to make sure that the player is in a constant struggle of surviving. However, there is one last characteristic, which has the same function, as proved by Kirkland in a quotation from Egenfeldt-Nielsen, Smith and Tosca: [In survival horror,] the player controls a character who has to get out of some enclosed space [. . .] destroying horrific monsters along the way. (“Storytelling in Survival Horror Video Games” 62) Nearly all survival horror games are set in a location, which is “enclosed” and thereby somehow isolated, e.g. the deserted mansions in Resident Evil 1 and Haunting Ground and the barricaded, isolated villages in Forbidden Siren (Sony, 2003-08) and Project Zero 2: Crimson Butterfly (Tecmo, 2003). There is not a single survival horror game set in an open-world[28] environment as those of the Grand Theft Auto games (BMG/Rockstar Games, 1997-2010). Reasons for that are tension-related, and will be commented on later in the text[29]. Characteristics of the genre which have not been discussed so far, but are needed to arrive at a proper definition of survival horror, are a “fair component of puzzle solving” (Niedenthal, “Patterns of Obscurity” 170) and the perspective of the game, which is, in the typical survival horror game “viewed primarily from [a] third-person” point of view (McRoy), and is further limited through “the use of fixed cameras” (Pruett, “Designing Characters”). Against the background of those results, the following definition of a “survival horror” game appears to be appropriate:


[1] Henceforth, the term “games” is used instead of “videogames” for practical reasons.

[2] As a matter of fact, in most action-oriented games, such as Space Invaders (Taito, 1978), “surviving” is the general aim, as Rouse states: “the player is thrown into a dangerous situation with a clear, undeniable ‘kill to survive’ (emphasis original) motivation” (“Match Made in Hell: The Inevitable Success of the Horror Genre in Video Games” 16). However, the constant threat of death (and the fear of dying going along with it) is much higher in a survival horror game, because the player is frequently confronted with depictions evoking tension and often particularly gruesome dying sequences: In the Resident Evil series, when the player is killed, the screen first turns black and then shows the character lying dead on the floor (Resident Evil 1) or being eaten or dismembered by the monster, that has killed it (Resident Evil 2 - 3). It is very unlikely that players of Space Invaders are actually afraid of dying, they would rather feel frustration than tension.

[3] The term tension, rather than fear or suspense, is used in this paper’s title. It is generally preferred here, because fear, meaning “the feeling you have when you are frightened”, is a quite abstract term, while “suspense” seems to be closer connected to the source of the feeling (the type of media e.g. games or films) than to the destination (the human body) of it. According to Macmillan, “tension” stands for “the nervous feeling that you have when you are reading or watching [or playing] something very exciting or frightening”. Since this definition includes both the body as well as the source, it was considered more appropriate for this paper, where a game and the “bodily” emotion are explored in context.

[4] Resident Evil is the European title. The series is called Biohazard in Japan, the country where it is developed.

[5] The release dates of the games may vary, because most often, games are published in different countries at different times (a very common situation in the industry).

[6] According to Lange (15), e.g. Silent Hill 1 and Silent Hill 2 together sold 2.6 million copies worldwide, while the Resident Evil series (until 2005) sold 26 million (Pruett, “Resident Evil 4”).

[7] Concerning the last question, it is rich in significance to note, that it is hardly possible to measure tension on some kind of a scale, at least not without conducting a thorough psychological study like Tamborini et al. did in 1990 (616-640). Since individuals feel and process tension (and emotions in general) differently, the intensity of a certain emotion, in all likelihood, depends on one’s knowledge, viewing or playing experience and personal background, as suggested by Ekman and Lankoski (183). However, if certain “scare techniques” used in a game are labeled as “more” or “less” effective here, it is a mere assessment.

[8] Only the first three installments of each series will be taken into account (each as one body of work), since Resident Evil 4 is technically not a survival horror game and Silent Hill 4 is supposed to be not even scary anymore (Pruett, “Silent Hill 4”).

[9] The cutscene is defined by Juul as a “cinematic, non-interactive part of a game, conveying the game’s backstory or fiction [. . .]” (“Cut-Scene”). Though its degree of detail has increased with the evolution of the hardware, Juul’s definition still applies to every game, no matter how the graphics look. Cutscenes can be “in-game” cutscenes (in survival horror these are often presented in the cinematic letterbox format), CGI cutscenes or implemented as films staging real actors.

[10] A further example of this can be found in Rescue on Fractalus (Atari/Lucasfilm Games, 1984). In the game, the player explores a deserted planet seen from a perspective simulating a cockpit, whose limited view alone managed to create a constant fear of the unseen. In one specific scene, the player spots a seemingly harmless pilot outside from a distance, who suddenly appears right before the virtual screen as a vicious alien. Its appearance is accompanied by a high-pitched siren-like sound burst (Ernst 24).

[11] In these games, players had to type in commands like “pick up key” all by themselves, which made progress in the game difficult, since it often had to be guessed, which commands might work. In 1986, the adventure game Maniac Mansion (Lucasarts) introduced a more comfortable interface called S.C.U.M.M. (“Script Creation Utility For Maniac Mansion”), which made navigating through the game world much easier: Possible commands were depicted at the bottom of the screen, visible at any time, and were simply clicked instead of typed in.

[12] Metal Gear (Konami, 1987) did the same for the action game genre. It introduced passages, where the player was able to sneak upon the enemies, instead of fighting them, making it the first “stealth” game. In that pedigree group are e.g. the Thief (Eidos Interactive/Looking Glass Studios/Ion Storm, 1998-2004) and Splinter Cell (Ubisoft, 2002-10) series.

[13] This term denotes a nearly perfect game (in terms of playability, quality of graphics etc.), which is so successful that many players purchase a home console, just to be able to play it (Schmidt and Ernst 78).

[14] To this day, the Resident Evil series is composed of more than 16 games, mobile phone variants, such as Resident Evil: Degeneration (Capcom/Ideaworks 3D, 2008) not included. All games are more or less similar in their visuals, sound and gameplay. The fourth installment is an exception, because it was different in many aspects. For further reference see below (8).

[15] The first iteration of the series is originally called Resident Evil. However, to distinguish it from the whole series and to avoid confusion, it is referred to as Resident Evil 1 in this paper (the same applies to Silent Hill). If a title is spelled without a number added, the whole series is meant. This is done, when certain characteristics do not only apply to a specific iteration, but rather to all games of the series.

[16] These are “static background images that are not drawn in real time [graphics]” (Giantbomb).

[17] Haunting Ground (Capcom, 2005) is another example for a “stalker simulation”.

[18] According to McMahan, as qtd. by Neitzel, avatars are “textual or graphic representations of users that include a character designed to fit into the fictional environment in question, complete with a set of personality traits, skills and health status” (196).

[19] The developers might have been inspired by the horror film 28 Days Later (Danny Boyle, 2002). Here, the zombie-like creatures were also able to run and jump, never seen in a zombie film before.

[20] In coop, two players (or more) are able to play a game together, either via splitscreen or online.

[21] The Metacritic (an online database which averages out an overall rating of several critic and user ratings of specific films, games etc.) score of Dead Space 2 was ninety (of one hundred).

[22] All authors are held responsible for having written seminal works within the field of game studies. Murray’s Hamlet on the Holodeck: The Future of Narrative in Cyberspace is a prime example for a narratologist’s approach, while Juul (Half-Real: Videogames between Real Rules and Fictional Worlds) and Aarseth (Cybertext: Perspectives on Ergodic Literature) hold the ludologist view.

[23] Because of this, games in general and horror games in particular, are often criticised, e.g. by Rouse, who argues that in order “to evolve the horror game” one needs “to move it away from just emulating other media” (“Match Made in Hell” 16).

[24] These “AAA” titles, according to Dymek, have an average development budget of 5-10 million dollars (667).

[25] In the case of Resident Evil, it stems from zombie horror films (Lay 8).

[26] For further reference see below (16, 19, 27).

[27] “The space for play – boards, grids, mazes, levels, worlds” (Järvinen 338).

[28] Open world games like Grand Theft Auto, Saints Row (THQ/Volition, 2006) or Just Cause (Eidos Interactive/Avalanche Studios, 2006) feature a huge game world, which can be explored rather freely.

[29] For further reference see below (18, 37).

Ende der Leseprobe aus 49 Seiten


“The Fear System” - Triggering Tension in Survival Horror Videogames
Universität Osnabrück
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Buch)
607 KB
Game Studies, Ludology, Narratology, Video Games, Horror Media
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Pavel Girard (Autor), 2011, “The Fear System” - Triggering Tension in Survival Horror Videogames, München, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/177512


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