• The Infractions Forum is available for public view. Please note that if you have been suspended you will need to open a private/incognito browser window to view it.

💀 Necro Horror games and the "first death" problem

CarpeGuitarrem

Blogger and gamer
Validated User
Oh yeah, that's another good point. Which kinda compounds the problem of a death. Having two releases of tension in a row doesn't really work since you've, well, already released tension.
 

Calliope

Super Moderator
Moderator
RPGnet Member
Validated User
I just finished reading the thread, and this stood out to me. Does anyone else actually have this reaction? Because I absolutely do not. Repetition does let me see the seams in things, including the death mechanic of a game, but it's definitely the repetition that's the problem, not the death itself. Seeing the strings certainly doesn't flip on at the moment of the first death.

Does everyone else who's engaging with the premise have the same reaction as Calliope or are you just thinking about death as a specific example of a more general problem of repetition in game mechanics?
To be clear, I think it's a little bit of both. I'm not saying that death is some sui generis issue necessarily, and the fact that it usually just results in repetition/loss of progress certainly compounds the problem. Things tend to be a lot less tense when you're going through it for the fifth time.

I single out death, though, because that's the "failure state" of most of these games. It's the ultimate consequence, the thing to be avoided. But once it happens, it becomes obvious that it's a paper tiger.

Now, obviously, you already know that intellectually. You KNOW there aren't going to be any dire consequences for dying in a video game. But these things are about suspension of disbelief, right - immersion, the illusion of things happening "in the moment". Dying and then having the game shrug and say, "Oh, well, try again" is kind of the ultimate break in that illusion.
 

thuryl

Active member
Validated User
In terms of the psychological effect, the closest thing I can compare it to is missing a deadline on a project you're working on. You get more and more stressed out as the deadline approaches, and then it hits and there's an actual sense of relief: the project is now officially late, and nothing you can do will change that, so you're just going to have to deal with it.

Maybe you don't have that reaction to deadlines. But I do, and it feels very similar to the first time I die in certain kinds of video game. So yes, I'd say there really is something there that's separate from the repetition factor.
 

Max

A dapper chap without a doubt
RPGnet Member
Validated User
In terms of the psychological effect, the closest thing I can compare it to is missing a deadline on a project you're working on. You get more and more stressed out as the deadline approaches, and then it hits and there's an actual sense of relief: the project is now officially late, and nothing you can do will change that, so you're just going to have to deal with it.

Maybe you don't have that reaction to deadlines. But I do, and it feels very similar to the first time I die in certain kinds of video game. So yes, I'd say there really is something there that's separate from the repetition factor.
Oh my yes. Now that nothing I can do will make me not-late, I can focus on the actual work again instead of on the impending deadline. The pressure and the distraction of it are gone.
 

LordofArcana

Registered User
Validated User
Now, obviously, you already know that intellectually. You KNOW there aren't going to be any dire consequences for dying in a video game. But these things are about suspension of disbelief, right - immersion, the illusion of things happening "in the moment". Dying and then having the game shrug and say, "Oh, well, try again" is kind of the ultimate break in that illusion.
This seems like a case of the game escalating too quickly. Having the stakes increase over the course of the narrative until the climax is a matter of life and death would probably work better for horror.
 

Max

A dapper chap without a doubt
RPGnet Member
Validated User
This seems like a case of the game escalating too quickly. Having the stakes increase over the course of the narrative until the climax is a matter of life and death would probably work better for horror.
Yeah - like I said, I think it would be good to explore different failure conditions besides just PC death. The loss of something other than your own life is frequently a more upsetting threat even IRL.
 

Calliope

Super Moderator
Moderator
RPGnet Member
Validated User
This seems like a case of the game escalating too quickly. Having the stakes increase over the course of the narrative until the climax is a matter of life and death would probably work better for horror.
Yeah, pacing is absolutely critical in horror, and it's something that even a lot of horror films can't really sustain. I can't even count how many horror movies I've seen that fall apart in the third act, either because they've run out of steam or because they've already escalated so far that they don't really have anywhere to go. It's also why I tend to prefer short horror fiction to novels - I feel like the shorter format gives you more room to play with the audience's expectations. Anything can happen. Compare that with a novel, where the demands of the format mean you probably (not always, but often) have a decent guess as to how the general arc is gonna go.

And let's be honest, which part of a survival horror game generally feels more like "horror": the part at the beginning, where you're low on resources and everything is a threat, or the end, where you're armed to the teeth and the game has to throw all kinds of super-powered nonsense at you to present even a moderate threat?
 

Killer300

Registered User
Validated User
Yeah, pacing is absolutely critical in horror, and it's something that even a lot of horror films can't really sustain. I can't even count how many horror movies I've seen that fall apart in the third act, either because they've run out of steam or because they've already escalated so far that they don't really have anywhere to go. It's also why I tend to prefer short horror fiction to novels - I feel like the shorter format gives you more room to play with the audience's expectations. Anything can happen. Compare that with a novel, where the demands of the format mean you probably (not always, but often) have a decent guess as to how the general arc is gonna go.

And let's be honest, which part of a survival horror game generally feels more like "horror": the part at the beginning, where you're low on resources and everything is a threat, or the end, where you're armed to the teeth and the game has to throw all kinds of super-powered nonsense at you to present even a moderate threat?
Although to me, the key to solving this in longer horror is mixing with other genres, so that the novel/film/what have you can do things that aren't horror all the time, and use contrast to make the horror bits work better.

To give examples, I think both Silent Hill 2 and, for film, Jacob's Ladder work because they have modes they can switch to that aren't horror centric. Silent Hill 2 could switch to extremely depressing, or otherwise emotional scenes that aren't fear centric, to make the horror bits work. By contrast, I think the problem too many survival horror games can suffer from is they cannot switch to something that isn't horror, so as to break up the monotony, and keep the horror bits fresh. Obviously, this is easier said than done, but I bring it up because I think the first death problem would matter less if there were non-horror bits to help stuff like pacing. It's hard to pace horror when you can't do something that isn't horror for a bit.

I bring this up because I think games like Outlast 2 suffer from that they have to be horror the whole game, and cannot switch to another genre, such as drama, or heck, comedy, judging by Jordan Peele's work in this area. Now, this is complicated by that outside of visual novels we don't really have drama video games, per say, however, there are other genres to look at here. I feel like in a way, puzzles were supposed to be serving this purpose, mechanically, in horror games, but judging by Dino Crisis, that may have gone too far, in that the puzzles got so intricate and overly complicated that they wrecked the game's pacing. Also, there are of course immersion problems here.

I've already brought this up, but this point seems to keep getting buried by other stuff. If the first death problem is a pacing problem, then I think a lot of that pacing problem comes from that horror games are stuck being horror games the whole game, which just isn't reasonable for anything that isn't an ultra-short indie experiment.

EDIT: Also, playing Dead Wishes is interesting here because the creepy bits of that game are enhanced by that... well, it has a wider range of emotional tones to draw on.

To put it another way, if games were like paintings, than I think we've seen too many games try to paint a large painting with too few pigments.
 
Last edited:

Max

A dapper chap without a doubt
RPGnet Member
Validated User
One obvious pacing mechanic for survival horror could be the day-night cycle that lots of non-horror survival games already use very effectively to create a pattern of rising tension and relief. Letting you putter around a safe base, crafting stuff and just unwinding, can also work very well for breaking the monotony of terror, and the more pleasant it is in here, the more you'll dread inevitably having to get back out there for resources and progression. And of course the two can (but really don't need to) also be combined.
 

Killer300

Registered User
Validated User
One obvious pacing mechanic for survival horror could be the day-night cycle that lots of non-horror survival games already use very effectively to create a pattern of rising tension and relief. Letting you putter around a safe base, crafting stuff and just unwinding, can also work very well for breaking the monotony of terror, and the more pleasant it is in here, the more you'll dread inevitably having to get back out there for resources and progression. And of course the two can (but really don't need to) also be combined.
That's interesting, and definitely can work, however, I'm not sure its enough for a longer work.

One thing I've noticed is that one of the best emotions to contrast horror with is sadness. The reason I suspect is because sadness is a downbeat emotion, whereas fear and horror are energizing emotions. Notably this fits with your examples of relief, because relief is, itself, a downbeat emotion, albeit a positive one, same goes for say, something that is pleasant, such as the music that often plays in safe rooms.

In the case of sadness, the benefit of this variety goes both ways, as I think horror can help break up a work that is otherwise far too depressing to engage with on its own terms. Silent Hill in general needed its horror elements to talk about stuff like sexual frustration, and domestic abuse, as otherwise, I could see, ironically, the topics being too harsh to engage with from a, "fuck that's depressing," perspective. In genre terms, I'm essentially saying drama, which is often a genre associated with sadness, is a great combination for horror and vice versa, because the genres complement each other extremely well by essentially fixing each other's flaws. Dramas don't become too slow, or worse, petty, and horror gets help from a genre that is far, far more flexible in terms of length.

On a side, but related note, I'm someone who thinks horror benefits from having a point beyond scaring the viewer/reader/player/what have you. Part of this is because of a quote about comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable that I find inspiring, but also because being about something more than horror itself can, I think, help with stuff like pacing. To give an example, Silent Hill gets away with using stuff like severe domestic abuse, because it isn't just using it for shock value, but actually builds its entire plot, and story, around the way that abuse affected the characters. Tying this into pacing, having a point beyond fear for its own sake can give the game something to do when its not in horror mode.

I need to go play the Letter actually, because while it is a visual novel, that game apparently manages to stay good, albeit probably not scary, for 20 hours. Note that doesn't include replaying the game. If it gets anywhere near accomplishing that, then I expect a lot of lessons to be gleamed about how to balance a game of that running time with such a scenario. Higarushi When They Cry I suspect has similar lessons to teach as... like, that game, across all its sequels and stuff, must be like 100+ hours, unless I'm overestimating how long each one is. The game probably isn't in top form all the time, but it clearly worked quite well for at least parts of it, and I understand Higarushi When They Cry is rather good at using emotional contrasts as well.
 
Top Bottom