Let’s Talk About What Makes Effective Horror

‘Tis the season of ghosts and ghouls, spooks and scares.  The air carries a chill and the leaves are falling.  Halloween is just around the bend and it’s the time to celebrate all things scary.

I’ve talked a lot about my affinity for everything horror in the past on this blog, but it’s been very scattershot and all over the place.  So this time I’d like to just sit down and focus entirely on it and explain what, in my opinion, makes for effective horror.

If you’ve followed my blog long enough, you know that I’ve made it no secret my disappointment with the state of horror when it comes to Hollywood movies.  So many of them are just loud and annoying, filled to the brim with cheap scares.  When I reviewed “Blair Witch” back in 2016, I mentioned how it seemed to be everything the original movie wasn’t: obnoxious and full of quick, cheap jumpscares.  Instead of the slow-paced, tension focused build up of the original, we got a movie that was so lazy it even has one of the characters mutter “stop doing that” after it pulls a double jumpscare.  There were some genuinely creepy moments, but they weren’t allowed to leave a lasting mark as the next loud, obnoxious thing popping up in front of the camera wasn’t far away.

And when I see trailers for The Conjuring 15 or Insidious Chapter 257, all I see is a lot more of the same: jumpscares and demons.  Ooh you’re really breaking new ground there guys.

To me, for horror to be effective, it needs to be allowed to sit for a while.  There needs to be a kind of atmosphere to it, something that slowly unsettles and winds you up so that when the metaphorical shoe inevitably drops, it has more of an impact.  Most big budget horror movies these days rely on loud, quick scares as a crutch.  And sure, some of them might be scary in the moment, but they’re not memorable.  There’s a reason people still talk about movies like “The Exorcist” and “Halloween” but nobody is going to remember the 2016 “Blair Witch” or any of the “Insidious” movies once enough time passes.

Why do you think they keep producing sequel after sequel?  Because they know that a horror movie’s time is short-lived.  If they can keep pumping out more movies, they can keep it in the public consciousness for longer and make more money.

It’s the same thing with video games.  “Five Nights at Freddy’s” may have been a huge hit, but part of its lasting popularity has to do with the quick turnaround in games.  The first game hit in August of 2014.  The second game hit in November…of 2014.  The third game dropped in March of 2015 and…you get the idea.  Part of the quick turnaround had to do with how the games were designed, but whether intentional or not, this quick turnaround is what led to its staying power.

But while the fans go ape over the deliberately obscure story or make weird fan porn of the characters (don’t go looking for it…seriously…there isn’t enough bleach in the world to wipe your eyes clean after that), no one really talks about the actual gameplay itself anymore, which boils down to a trial and error waiting game.  And if you fail?  BLARG!  Jumpscare.

Compare that then to a game like “Amnesia: The Dark Descent”, which still ranks as one of my top scariest games of all time.  In that game you don’t even see a monster for the first hour or so.  Instead, much of the time is spent wandering around a castle gleaming clues as to why you’re there in the first place.  By the time the game draws back the curtain and sends something shrieking after you, the atmosphere has settled in and you’ve been drawn in enough to make the appearance more startling than it would be if there was a monster right behind the first door you encounter.  Even that developer’s earlier “Penumbra” series of games utilized the power of tension and atmosphere, choosing to build up suspense before throwing something at the player.

 

 

Despite all that I’ve said, jumpscares aren’t a bad thing.  It’s just that, by themselves, jumpscares aren’t necessarily creepy or scary.

I get it, it’s far easier to Google search “scary faces”, grab a stock scream sound effect and crank the decibels up until you’re not certain if that ringing in your ears was always there or not.  But if your intent is to create something that is truly lasting, something that will make someone afraid of the dark for a few days or a week after they’ve finished with it, you need more than just loud noises.  You need ambiance.  You need suspense.  You need lighting.  But most importantly, you need to ground it in some way.  You can have all the jumpscares and mood lighting in the world, but if your audience/player base can’t buy into the scenario you’ve crafted, you’ll have lost them long before you reveal what goes bump in the night.

 

Thanks for reading!  Check back on the third Wednesday of next month, and have a great Halloween!

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Can’t Remember: The Amnesia Trope

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before:

You wake up in a dark room, lying face down on a cold stone floor.  You groan, your head feeling like it weighs ten times what it should.  Taking stock of your surroundings, you find that you can’t see much in the dim lighting of the candles lining the walls.  There’s a rickety looking wooden table in the middle, and what appears to be an old antique dresser with a mirror on top just across from it.  Pushing yourself up off the floor, you wince.  Your body aches more than it should.  With shaky steps, you make your way over to the mirror.  Even in the dim lighting, you can tell you’ve had better days.  Your eyes look tired and your face is covered in dirt.  Turning around, you spot an old wooden door just outside the reach of the candles’ light.  You walk over and push it open, the door making a loud creaking that echoes into the hallway beyond.  You can tell you’re in some kind of ancient castle.  One of the windows has broken, the wind of the storm rushing in and blowing the worn red curtains all about.  You take a step into the hallway.

Then another.

You blink.

And that’s when it hits you, you don’t remember anything.  Why you’re here, where this is, and even who you are…it’s all missing, as if someone reached inside your head and pulled them out one by one…

 

The amnesia trope is a very common staple in fiction, particularly in the science fiction and fantasy genres.  People often malign the trope, saying it’s cheap or lazy.  And while I’ll agree that often the amnesia trope can be a sign of a writer who’s run out of ideas, there’s also a very simple reason the trope exists in the first place.

Because it’s an effective way to set up a mystery or driving goal for a character.

When someone in a television show, movie, video game, or what have you wakes up in a strange location without any recollection of why they’re there or even who they are, our innate curiosity is like “hmm this is interesting…I wonder what’s going on?”  Call it manipulative if you want, but it works.  It immediately draws us in because we can’t help ourselves.  We want to know more, we have to know more.  And amnesiacs in fiction tend to have far more interesting lives than their real-life counterparts.

Take The Bourne Identity for example.  In the beginning of the movie, the crew of a fishing ship fishes Matt Damon’s character out of the water during a harsh storm.  He’s been shot in the back multiple times.  There’s no identification on him aside from a strange device featuring the address of a bank in Zurich.  And it becomes quickly evident that he has combat training, as he manages to ambush one of the crew members and grab him by the throat.  It’s then that we learn that Damon’s character has no memory and has no idea who he is or where he is.  It’s a very effective opening that gives us a clear reason to get invested in the plot.

But the real reason Bourne Identity succeeds at gaining our interest is because they give us key interesting details about the character: the strange laser pointer device pointing to the Zurich bank, the gunshot wounds on his back, and his apparent combat prowess.  It’s not enough to just give a character amnesia.  The amnesia might draw in people initially, but unless they’re given some more details, that interest will wane very quickly.  This is especially true in modern fiction, because people have seen the amnesia trope used so often that a writer will have to do extra work to keep them invested.

While the amnesia trope is very common in thrillers and mysteries, I think more recently it has found a home in video games, particularly those of the horror variety.  Like before, amnesia is a good way to get people interested, but in video games it serves another important purpose.  In a game it’s crucial that the player identifies with the character they are playing as in some way.  Amnesia is a very useful tool in this sense, because it allows the player to jump in at a point where they have about as much information on their situation as the character in the story.  In this way, they are experiencing the mystery right along with the character.  If the main character suddenly got amnesia halfway through the game, it would just create this weird disconnect for the player and they would likely lose interest.

Take Amnesia: The Dark Descent as an example.  Our journey begins as the main character, Daniel, is stumbling through the halls of a castle struggling to maintain his memory.  The scene fades in and out of blackness as he makes his way through the stone corridors.  He recites off details about himself, but by the end of the intro he can barely manage to say his name.  He wakes up later on in the middle of a hallway, with nothing aside from a trail of pinkish fluid to follow.  As we go through the game, we slowly learn more about his predicament and how he ended up in this strange, haunting castle.  Because, like I said, the amnesia trope can be effective as long as a writer handles it with care.

In the end I think the amnesia trope has a bit of a unfair reputation.  Like anything, it can be overused, but just looking at the memory tropes page at TV Tropes shows you just how versatile it can be.  It pays to recognize that everything, even the most cliche of tropes, have their place in fiction.  And yes, that even includes demons, which I have very loudly complained about many times before.  But it’s a tricky balancing process.  You can give a character amnesia, but if you don’t give the character a compelling reason to have amnesia then the effect is lost on people.  I’m of the opinion that originality in stories is a little overrated.  As long as you can put a unique and interesting spin on a story, and do it well, then it really shouldn’t matter if your story is heavily inspired by one thing or another.  EVERYTHING is inspired by one thing or another.  All of fiction can have its roots traced back to the ancient tradition of oral storytelling.  True originality simply doesn’t exist.

A writer needs to be able to make use of all the tools in their toolbox, so to speak.

5 Things I Would Change About Modern Horror

In one of my previous posts, entitled “The Frightening State of Horror” (I know, puns right), I talked about how I feel that the modern state of the horror genre is severely lacking.  There’s an over-reliance on too many of the same types of scares, plot lines, and enemies, which leads to an overabundance of eye rolling.  I’ve talked a lot about the things I feel are wrong with the genre, but I haven’t talked much about ways where the genre could make itself better.  I’ve made my problem clear, now it’s time to start generating solutions.  I got the idea for this post from a Youtube video which you can watch here.

And so follows a list of five things I would change about the modern horror genre.

1. Jump Scares

Modern horror seems to be having a love affair with these things.  To put it simply. jump scares are those moments in horror movies that make you…well…jump.  It can be anything from a loud noise in the darkness to a creepy, white-faced man jumping out at the main character and screaming.  They usually do their job, soliciting a knee jerk reaction from the viewers, causing them to tense up and flinch.  But the real question remains, is it actually scary?

Such a question is a hard one to answer, because what is scary depends on the person.  Plenty of people found the game “Slender: The Eight Pages” to be one of the most frightening things they’ve ever seen.  Me?  I found it incredibly dull and ineffective, focusing way too much on sudden, loud musical blasts into your ears than anything overtly frightening.  It’s the difference between believing that there’s something out there in the dark stalking you, and your annoying friend standing behind you banging two frying pans together.

Which is not to say that jump scares don’t have their place.  One of the most effective I’ve ever seen occurred in a video game called Eternal Darkness.  In it, you have a brief vision of your character lying dead in the bathtub in a pool of her own blood.  It’s shocking and gruesome, but the thing that truly made it scary for me was that it happens during something so mundane as just clicking the “B” button to examine the tub.  All the prompt is “examine”, leaving you woefully unprepared for the scene that confronts you.  Not to mention that examining objects in this way is something you do many times throughout the game.

Modern horror uses jump scares far too often.  Dark hallway?  Jump scare.  Creepy music?  Jump scare.  Dark hallway AND creepy music?  What do you know, another jump scare.  It’s all become so artificial and obvious.  Horror movies and games tend to rely on the same bag of tricks far too often, which quickly makes things stale.  If they changed things up a bit, utilized jump scares a bit more like that one in Eternal Darkness, they might actually be more effective.  Jump scares work best when they catch people truly unaware.  Building your entire game or movie around jump scares is not a good way to go.

2. Setting

Dark mansions, spooky castles, and abandoned mental asylums.  All places we’ve seen many times before.  All places we’ve grown plenty tired of.

There’s nothing wrong with the familiar, but as with the jump scares, overabundance of them leads to weariness.  We can only traverse the same environments so many times before they lose all meaning.  Not to mention that many of us have no connection to these types of places.  I know I’ve never had to wander through an old mental asylum or creaky mansion in the dead of night.  And yet, I consider myself an old pro at exploring these places, at least within the realm of video games.

But with familiarity comes loss of power.  This is why horror movies and horror games aren’t as satisfying the second time through.  You already know what’s going to happen, so it doesn’t affect you anymore.  It’s the same thing with horror settings.  Unless you do something inventive or new with it, it quickly becomes stale.  While it is true that nothing is one hundred percent original, a creative touch here and there can go a long way.  Part of the reason why I liked the game Amnesia: The Dark Descent so much was that while it took place in a cliche, creepy castle, it did something rather novel in not allowing your character any weapons.  Your only defense was to run and hide in the closest closet you could find.  It’s the same with horror settings.  Old settings can find new life if they are handled correctly.

The video game Outlast takes place in a creepy mental asylum (gasp) where crazy experiments happened (double gasp).  Picture taken from Steam store page.

The video game Outlast takes place in a creepy mental asylum (gasp) where crazy experiments happened (double gasp).  Picture taken from Steam store page.

3. Demons

Seriously, enough with the demons.  That is all.

4. Character Development

This is something I feel like horror movies don’t really do.  Horror movie characters are usually two-dimensional, fulfilling stereotypical roles to serve as the exemplar of the “everyday”.  While this is fine in some circumstances (such as the movie “The Cabin in the Woods”, an excellent horror movie satire), mostly it leads to a kind of Schadenfreude, or “shameful joy”.  We come to enjoy watching certain characters get killed off because they’re annoying, unlikable, or just plain boring.  By developing the characters more, by giving them a better back story than just being the football jock or the nerdy kid would allow us to identify with them more, which would make their plight that much more tense.

Amnesia A Machine for Pigs is a game I’ve referenced several times for being an intriguing and unique horror experience.  Part of this was the character that you play as.  Oswald Mandus is a man who has done terrible things.  But his reasoning behind them is what really gets me.  Rather than just being some guy who selfishly wants to survive (as in the character from The Dark Descent), Mandus goes about his path because he feels a philosophical depression.   He doesn’t want to save himself, he wants to save everyone.  The way he goes about that is horrific, but his motivation is at least noble in a twisted sort of way.  It’s more than you get from a lot of horror protagonists, who usually just go mad and start doing things because hey, they’re crazy and all.

Ellen Ripley from the Alien movie franchise is another good example of a well-defined character in the horror genre.  She’s incredibly brave, considering all she has to go through in those movies, but at the same time she reveals her vulnerabilities at key moments.  She feels fear just like anyone else, but she rises above it to do what has to be done.  This is especially true in the first movie, Alien, where she is constantly at the mercy of the vicious alien stalking her as well as the government conspiracy underneath it all.  It’s a very psychological movie, which is something that a lot of modern horror lacks.  It’s too much about the physical onslaught of some horrific beast these days, and not enough about the psychological aspect.  With more well-defined characters at the center of these stories, psychological horror will become natural.

5. A Light Touch

A brief whisper in the night can be just as powerful as the slamming door.  We’ve all had that experience of a door mysteriously slamming in the midst of the night due to the wind blowing through an open window.  It makes us jump and scares us, but that feeling leaves after a moment.  The thing that frightens us most in that situation is the uncertainty, the unknown.  For that one, brief moment we experience pure terror before our senses return to us and logic overrides our irrationality.  But it’s that brief moment that’s so powerful.  And it’s all because of one little thing.

All it takes is a light touch.  Drawing back on the over the top music or noises, just for a little bit, can frighten far more than a monster barreling down the hallway at you.  In those situations, your imagination takes over.  At least if there’s a monster chasing you down, you know what you’re up against.  But in those moments when a faraway door creaks or a piano starts playing by itself, you have no idea what you’re about to run into.  You start feeling like a helpless child, knowing that you probably shouldn’t go towards the spooky noise but at the same time driven to know what it is.  These moments are so far and few between in modern horror that it is truly a shame.

This is why I like the Paranormal Activity movies a lot (aside from the lackluster fourth entry).  They build you up, taking their time before they unleash anything truly bizarre or horrific.  It gnaws away at your nerves, making you wonder when something big is going to happen.  You drum up your expectations for the inevitable drop, and when it does finally come, it’s far more intense and powerful than it would be if the movie started off with it.  I’ve preached this a lot in my other posts on horror movies, but it’s true.  There is a lot of power in the build up, the suspense.  And all those little touches (the brief flicker of a shadow, the far away door creaking, and so on) go a long way towards building up this suspense and atmosphere.

The video game Barrow Hill is another great example of horror that utilizes atmosphere more than anything else.  In fact, I don’t recall the game having any jump scares at all.  It merely uses creepy sound and music to draw you in, telling a creepy tale of people disappearing near some ancient burial mound.  It’s very similar to the Dark Fall games that I’ve mentioned before, which makes sense because the guy who made those games assisted in the development of Barrow Hill.

Despite the game not looking super amazing graphically, it still managed to immerse me in its creepy atmosphere.  (Barrow Hill)

Despite the game not looking super amazing graphically, it still managed to immerse me in its creepy atmosphere. (Barrow Hill)

But sadly, most video games have become truly bad at this, as many of the independently made horror games rely far too much on these sudden images popping up accompanied by a loud noise.  It goes back to the jump scares that I talked about at the beginning.  They can’t be very effective if you aren’t given time to appreciate the setting or the atmosphere.  In good horror, your imagination does most of the work.

Closing Thoughts

I truly do love horror as a genre (as you can plainly see), but I regret the path that it has gone down in recent years.  While these changes I would make may not be to everybody’s liking, they were by no means meant to be a comprehensive “here’s how to fix horror” guidebook or anything.  But I do feel that these five things could go a long way toward bringing horror back to the days where it was truly powerful, back to those days when it was a cavalcade of fears and not just a broken record.

Most of these things I have talked about at some length beforehand, but I just wanted to consolidate everything and create a list of things I think would change the modern horror genre for the better.

That’s all I have for this week.  Next week’s post will hopefully NOT involve demons.  Because seriously, demons suck.

Until then, have a wonderful week everybody.

 

 

Going Bump in the Night: My Fascination with Horror

You wake up in the middle of the night.  Something’s off.  The air seems different, almost suffocating.  You strain your ears, and detect a faint sound coming from below.  Eeek eeek eek…the noise bounces off the walls with a haunting echo.  Scratches…coming from the basement.  You throw the covers off of you and make your way downstairs.  The noise grows louder and louder, like someone is slowly turning a volume dial as you walk.  Your feet slowly pull you through the kitchen toward the basement door, and the noise is much louder now.  EEK EEK…it keeps going, building in pace, becoming almost frenzied.  Picking up a flashlight off the kitchen table, you take a deep breath, place your hand on the doorknob, and pull the creaky wooden door open.  When the flashlight flicks on, its beam illuminates the concrete wall, mold spreading over its patchy, rough surface.  The scratching rumbles around in your ears, now intermixed with a metallic clanking.  The wooden stairs creak as you begin your descent into the basement, accompanied only by the nightmarish shadows cast on the wall by your trusty flashlight.

The above scene was inspired by this game, Scratches (picture taken from Steam Store page).

The above scene was inspired by this game, Scratches (picture taken from Steam Store page).

If this scene sounds fairly typical to you, then congratulations, you are messed up in the head.  In all seriousness though, a scene such as this is pretty standard for the horror genre.  Horror and science-fiction have long gone hand in hand with each other, which probably helps explain why I am an avid fan of both.  The things that go bump in the night have always held a certain fascination for me.

I remember the first time I played the video game Amnesia: The Dark Descent.  Waking up alone in a seemingly abandoned castle with the wind blowing through a broken window…oh yeah, this was horror all right.  The game spends a good deal of time with the buildup.  It’s actually about an hour into the game before you catch your first glimpse of any monsters, and even then it’s not a good enough look for you to be sure what it is.

This to me is what horror should be.  For a good horror story to work, there has to be some semblance of a buildup.  If you aren’t sucked into the mood, whether it’s a movie or a game, then the scary aspect of it doesn’t work so well.  I remember watching the Paranormal Activity movies and actually being scared.  It had been a long time since I’d seen a movie that was actually scary, since most of the horror fare these days consists of loud noises and spooky things jumping at the screen super fast.  But Paranormal Activity was different.  It kept you on your toes by not having anything happen for a good deal of time, and even when things happened they were slight enough that it didn’t outright shock you.  But by the end of the movie, it dropped all pretenses and everything went straight up crazy.  It was so effective because it knew about the importance of the buildup.

This physical aspect of horror is what most people think of when they think horror.  They think of the monsters that go bump in the night, the things that stalk us in the darkness, the fear of the unknown.  These fears are very powerful, and can make for some very effective and memorable stories.  We’ve all had that moment of childlike terror when an unknown sound in the darkness triggers your fight or flight response, and your eyes dart about looking for some bastion of light.

But physical horror is not all there is to it.  The best way I can put it is that, in the broadest sense, there are two types of horror: physical and psychological.  Physical horror deals with the types of things I listed above: monsters, fear of the darkness, and so on.  Psychological horror deals more with matters of the mind.  Stories about serial killers and mental insanity generally fall under the psychological category.  But these two types are not mutually exclusive.  In fact, you are likely to find aspects of both in most, if not all, horror stories.

A good way to demonstrate the difference between the two would be to compare the two Amnesia video games.  Amnesia: The Dark Descent is primarily about exploring a creepy, Gothic castle while being chased by horrific monsters.  Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs is more about the dark corners of the human mind, and proves that sometimes the most horrifying things come not from our nightmares, but history itself.  For those of you who aren’t knee deep in video games, it would be like comparing The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Silence of the Lambs.  Both deal with similar subject matter (serial killers), but handle it in very different ways.  Texas Chainsaw Massacre is more about the terror of being chased by a killer whereas Silence of the Lambs is about the inside of a killer’s demented psyche.

Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs

Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs

Both of these types of horror are good at tapping into different fears.  Physical horror is great at tapping into those primal fears we have, those instinctual terrors that are still a part of us from our early days as nomadic tribes.  We no longer have to fear being hunted by a superior predator, because at this point we’ve practically conquered the world.  But despite all the technological and societal advancements we have, we still have innate fears of silly things like spiders, bats, and even the dark itself.  Physical horror takes advantage of this, placing characters in situations where they can’t rely on the safety net of society, and have to fend for themselves against supernatural, and sometimes, horrors more natural than we’d like to admit.

Psychological horror is more like the fear of ourselves, of what we are capable of as a species.  This is the type of horror that really deals with the mind.  It doesn’t outright scare you, but it can be just as effective.  If psychological horror is done right, it sticks with you for some time.  It taps into those fears of our capabilities, of what we could do to each other if left unchecked.  Serial killer stories tend to fit this style of horror.  It’s what makes these killers tick that becomes the primary interest of the tale, and oftentimes the main character gets too deep into the killer’s mind and is mentally scarred as a result.  Insanity is often a trope of psychological horror, that fear of being unable to control oneself or being unable to remember where and what one was doing in a certain time frame.

I like both types of horror for different reasons.  Physical horror I like because I enjoy being scared.  It sounds almost masochistic in a way, but it’s true.  Many people who are really into the horror genre enjoy the feeling of being afraid in a context where it’s not dangerous to you.  Playing a video game or watching a movie is a good way to scare yourself without being in a situation where you could die.  Psychological horror I like because it exposes certain innate truths about ourselves as a species that we are not always comfortable with.  For example, the Amnesia franchise of video games deals with the idea that we are capable of utterly horrible acts if we can convince ourselves that there is no  other course of action.  It’s that fear that we will go to extraordinary lengths to either save ourselves or fulfill our goals.

While I like both of these horror types, I prefer psychological horror.  I’ve always loved getting inside a character’s head space, to know what makes them think and act the way they do.  It’s why the plot of Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs sticks out so vividly in my mind (spoilers incoming).  We get to know the main character, Mandus, extremely well.  He is a portrait of a man whose spirit has been crushed, who feels nothing but despair for the future of the human race.  When Mandus encounters a strange artifact on a trip to Mexico, it shows him the future, the horrors of World War One.  It destroys him, knowing that all the posturing of king and country doesn’t really matter in the end (the game takes place in London).  We’re all animals, and we are more than capable of great evil.  Mandus’s actions in the game certainly prove that.

Despite my love for horror, I have to admit that I am disappointed with where the genre has gone, not just in games but in other media as well.  There’s a distinct lack of originality in horror these days, and an over-reliance on cheap scares.  It’s fine to throw something at someone real fast to try to scare them every once in a while, but when it’s the primary tactic, it becomes old hat really fast.  This problem is particularly evident in movies.  I can’t count the amount of times I’ve rolled my eyes when a scene plays out like this: the main character moves slowly through a darkly lit hallway.  The music is foreboding and rises in pitch as they move along.  Then suddenly, the music cuts out.  A few seconds later, whatever nasty thing is stalking the character makes itself known by bursting through the wall or jumping out from some dark corner.

It’s a shame really, that horror has become stuck in this rut.  There are still plenty of interesting plots and ideas to be found, don’t get me wrong.  I must give a shout out here to the TV show American Horror Story for managing to take an over-used setting (a mental asylum) and really turn it into its own thing throughout the course of its second season (each season is a completely new story).  There is still life to be found in these tropes, but it is fading fast.

Video games in particular are known for an over reliance on what are known as jump scares (sudden loud noises and such).  Most horror games developed by the indie community (developers or people independent of big companies like Nintendo or Electronic Arts) tend to follow the same pattern laid out by a game called Slender.  The player walks through a dark environment of some description, searching for X amount of whatever random object the developer feels like having you collect.  Eventually, something pops up in front of your face, usually with sudden, loud music.  The majority of the game plays out like this, with you searching through a maze-like environment trying to find all of these things before the monster kills you.  To put it simply, it gets boring fast.

Slender

Slender

Part of the problem is due to the fact that most of the people developing these games don’t have the requisite knowledge to make something more interesting, and so they use what they have to create something they know they can do.  The other problem is just that it’s become the popular thing to do.  Thanks in no small part to Youtube, videos of people freaking out while playing Slender have bred this culture where cheap jump scares are king.

It might not be my place to judge.  I am only one person after all.  However, it frustrates me that horror has been reduced to this state where we keep going over the same things in the same way.  Part of the reason I liked the Dark Fall games so much was because they dealt with fairly typical subject matter (ghosts and the paranormal), but did it in a very different way.  They didn’t rely on jump scares.  There weren’t any cheap “BLARGH” moments where something jumps at your screen.  Instead they built up an atmosphere, with the little touches such as disembodied footsteps or a piano playing in the distance.  But horror these days seems to be all about these sudden, loud events that are supposed to be “scary”.  They can be, but they have to be done right.  And I haven’t seen one done right in a long time.

Dark Fall: The Journal

Dark Fall: The Journal

It’s a shame, because I find the idea of horror very fascinating.  There’s so many different ways it can be taken.  You have your typical creepy castles, mansions, mental asylums and so forth, but there’s so much more that can be done with it.  There’s an untapped well of potential in the genre that modern movie and game makers are neglecting.  One of my favorite video games of all time is a game for the Nintendo Gamecube called Eternal Darkness.  This game was amazing for its time, and still is in a lot of ways.  It had your typical horror scenarios (creepy church, creepy mansion, etc.), but where it differed was that the game consistently messed with your head.  At random points it would toy with you, making you think your TV turned off, your controller was no longer working, or even that your save data was being deleted.  Things like that made the game so memorable to many people, myself included.  But ideas like this are a needle in a haystack, especially today.

The problem as I see it is not that horror is a dead genre, but that people haven’t found the right means to tap into its potential.  Some have the right ideas, taking things that we find conventional and turning them on their head.  But until people in the movie and video game industries stop drawing ideas from the same old well over and over again, horror will be stuck in a rut for quite some time.  There’s still room for these familiar scenarios, but something has to be done to make it feel creative again.  Paranormal Activity took the found footage trope and made it new by having the characters set up a camera to record themselves while sleeping, which is when most of the spooky things happen in movies of course.  Eternal Darkness took a conventional horror game story, and made it memorable by breaking the fourth wall and messing with the player’s mind.  There exist ideas that can revitalize the horror genre, but they don’t get nearly enough attention.  Until we take risks and try new ideas, we will keep visiting the same castles, the same mansions, the same asylums over and over and over.

I love the idea that horror can make us realize that part of our nature that is sometimes dark and self-serving.  I love that horror can make us fear things that we didn’t even know were scary.  I love that horror can spin a tale of such incredible woe, and then bring it back to the point of redemption.  There’s so much potential there, if only people could see it.  Horror isn’t dead, but it is stagnant.  Something will have to change eventually.

And that’s all for this week.  There’s so many more horror games and movies I could talk about, but that would be too much.  My point in writing this was to give my own take on the horror genre and how I feel about the path it’s on.

A new post will be directly injected into your eyeballs next Wednesday.  Until then, have a lovely week everybody.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Horrors of Humanity: Story Analysis of Amnesia A Machine for Pigs

A bit of forewarning, the following post is going to spoil the entirety of Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs and a little bit of The Dark Descent as well.  If you haven’t played through either and want the plots of one or both to remain unspoiled, avert your gaze now.  If you’ve already played through them, or just don’t care, then read on.  This is not a review, this is my personal analysis of the game’s story.

“This world is a machine, a machine for pigs, fit only for the slaughtering of pigs!”

This line is only said once in the game, but it’s a powerful and important line.  It has multiple meanings, multiple interpretations, and ultimately is  as complicated as the game’s plot.  But before we jump into A Machine for Pigs itself, some background is necessary.

Background

Amnesia: The Dark Descent was a video game released back in September of 2010, and was a horror game predicated on the fact that your only defense was running away and hiding.  It was made by a company known as Frictional Games, whose previous efforts, known as the Penumbra franchise, had a small cult following.  Using their knowledge of spooky things happening in spooky places, Frictional took what they learned from the Penumbra games and created a totally new world.  Frictional Games wasn’t super well-known outside the indie world, but Amnesia would change all that.

When The Dark Descent hit, it sent a tidal wave through the gaming community.  Here was a game that, instead of relying on cheap jump-scares and loud noises, built up an atmosphere and generally terrified people by forcing them to look away from the monsters to spare their character’s sanity.  The game jump-started the career of many a let’s-play channel on Youtube, with it being the first game many people played on their channel.  The multitudinous screams of “OH GOD NO” while barreling through dark castle hallways soaked up the views, and a new video phenomenon was born.

Fast-forward three years later, and another Amnesia game was on the horizon.  Would it be as good as the first one?  Would it set off a new wave of terrified let’s-play videos on Youtube?  No one really knew.  What no one could have predicted was the incredibly polarizing effect A Machine for Pigs would have.  Some loved it, taking note that the story it told was far more complex than The Dark Descent.  Others hated it, citing that the shift in gameplay style and simplification of game mechanics betrayed what they loved about the original.  Despite the differing opinions one truth stood out.  A Machine for Pigs was a different beast than its predecessor.

So join me as I explore the tale of insanity, greed, and woe that is Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs.

New Years Eve

“Daddy, daddy, please don’t kill me.”

Something sparks to life in the darkness, something that is, but should not be.  A low rumbling can be heard as it begins to stir.  Red lights begin to flip on as the sparking increases, foretelling its activation.  And then, with a loud clanking, something spins to life, shattering the air and shaking the ground.

The game opens on New Years Eve, 1899 in London.  Our protagonist, Oswald Mandus, wakes up in bed with a fever and haunting visions.  Pulling himself to his feet, he can hear his children calling to him from somewhere off in the darkness, his only company aside from a diary page filled with incoherent rambling.  How much time has passed?  What has happened?  Why can’t he remember? Steeling himself, Mandus pulls open the bedroom door and ventures out into the hallway.  The game begins.

The story starts up similarly enough to other horror stories.  There’s a vague call to action (in the form of Mandus’s sons) and a strong sense of foreboding.  The game doesn’t take long to show us that things are not exactly good around here.  For example, why are there cages on all the beds?  And why are so many doors barred shut?  Where is everyone?

Certainly not a standard feature in Victorian-era houses.

Certainly not a standard feature in Victorian-era houses.

One of the first things we learn about Mandus is his wife’s death.  “You lived long enough to see Edwin, but not Enoch,” Mandus solemnly intones as the player walks in to another bedroom down the hall.  Evidently she died during childbirth, giving birth to the twins Mandus now journeys through the darkness to find.

Continuing onward, we go upstairs and into the attic, where we find a diary entry from Mandus’s sons.  The page adds further fuel to the idea that things are not alright in the Mandus household.  Apparently they’ve heard their father crying a lot, and there’s a creepy reference to a pig in the backyard.  Grabbing a lantern, we continue through the attic, accompanied by the teasing voice of the children and a rather creepy music box tune rippling through the walls.  Floorboards creak and things go “thump” all the while.

Everyone's favorite dark happy place, the attic!

Everyone’s favorite dark happy place, the attic!

We find another page a minute later, this time from Mandus’s diary.  In it, he recounts a snippet of a trip he and the children went on to Mexico.  Mandus had been in search of some kind of financial opportunity, apparently in the form of some old ruins he believes to be buried deep underground.

Going downward we get our first glimpse at another common storytelling tool, the audio recording.  Lying on a small table is a little hand-crank machine that looks almost like a tiny phonograph.  Interacting with it causes a conversation to play back, one between Mandus and a character known only as the Professor.  This one really only serves to highlight Mandus’s intention to record their dialogue, hinting at further recordings down the line.

Honey, the piano's playing itself again!

Honey, the piano’s playing itself again!

The Machine Stirs

Continuing through the house we start to get a sense for the immensity of the machine below ground.  Several times the house begins to quake and shudder as something below begins to turn on.  Chandeliers sway back and forth, paintings fall to the ground, and in one instance a piano slams shut as the entire house feels like it’s about to come crashing down around Mandus.  Whatever lies below the house must be massive in scale.

Going forward we learn several things.  We learn that this Professor character was sent by some institute, or group, to check out the work Mandus has been doing ever since he returned from his trip to Mexico.  We also learn that his trip to Mexico ended in tragedy, but of what kind we don’t know yet.  We also get a glimpse at another character, a voice heard only over a strange intercom.  This voice directs Mandus to restart the machine because his children are trapped below and that’s the only way to free them.  Someone has sabotaged the machine and Mandus must fix it.  Mandus knows the voice somehow but can’t place him.

There’s also a network of secret passageways strewn throughout the house that (in true creepy fashion) have one-way mirrors that are situated, among other places, right behind the bathrooms.  Yep, that’s a thing.

Oh Mandus, you rogue.

Oh Mandus, you rogue.

After turning some valves we descend into some kind of steam-punk underground room that leads outside.  Once outside we are treated to an audio flashback.  Mandus’s children are telling him to come see what they’ve found: some kind of stone egg.  Those who know the story of the first Amnesia game might make the connection here, but we’ll explore this at a more opportune time.

The steam-punk level design is truly something.

The steam-punk level design is truly something.

After an accident with a falling pipe and collapsing stairs, we find our character wandering in a cellar filled with some strange and unknown chemical.  After fixing more of the saboteur’s handiwork, and progressing through the dark and dank cellar, we find ourselves in a deserted factory area.  Not much new information is gleamed here, but it is at this point that Mandus’s diary entries begin to take on the tone of a demented philosopher, frustrated with the world at large and striving to change it somehow.  He also refers to some kind of “product” that his factory is making, but there’s no clue yet as to what it is.  Of particular note here is an entry about the idea of a machine that could think like a man.  Mandus rejects the idea, saying that such a machine would be nothing less than a god.

These paintings are always so creepy looking, or maybe it has to do with the FOOT IN THE COOKING POT.

These paintings are always so creepy looking, or maybe it has to do with the FOOT IN THE COOKING POT.

The Descent Continues

After a near-encounter with some monster lurking in the dark of the factory, and solving another puzzle,  we set our eyes on the church, searching for a path underground.  Inside the church we learn that Mandus was known for some charity he began rather recently (after the Mexico trip most likely).  People revered him, and he walked among them almost like some kind of messiah.  The altar, complete with creepy dead pig, is revealed to be hiding some hidden passage downward into the depths of the church.

Hee hee...blasphemy......

Hee hee…blasphemy……

Oh and what’s down there?  Cages, lots of cages.  Oh god, so many cages…

It’s a literal dungeon.  Are these the “product” that Mandus’s diary refers to?  One of the cages lurches forward as we pass, its occupant screaming for freedom.  As we descend further, we have a run-in with one of the monsters.  And it’s the first time we get a good look at it.

It looks like some kind of bipedal pig abomination, squealing and roaring if it gets too close.  It trots around slowly, almost pathetic looking in a way.  Narrowly escaping it takes us outside again.  After another stroll through an outside area, we enter into the heart of the factory.  Another recording further cements Mandus as some kind of demented philosopher.  He rants and raves about people in authority, calling them hypocrites and liars.  “We can bring forth paradise now,” he exclaims.

We continue onward, stoking the fires of the machine and plunging headlong into the dark depths of the factory.  After a close run in with more of those pig creatures, we find ourselves in a dark lower area of the conveyor belts.  And it is here that we find a diary entry which finally connects the two Amnesia games in a significant way.

Little piggy ain't little no more...

Little piggy ain’t little no more…

This entry details the arrival of some corpse to Mandus.  This body is described in such a way that it perfectly resembles one of the monsters from the original Amnesia game, leather straps binding the chest and all.  Those that remember the original game’s story might remember that the antagonist, Alexander, created these monsters to do his bidding.  And to do so, he used something known as an Orb, a sphere of incredible supernatural power that the protagonist Daniel haplessly stumbles upon, triggering a chain of events that leads him to Alexander.

This orb could also be described as, oh I don’t know, a stone egg.

So now the earlier reference to the stone egg takes on a much more sinister light.  Apparently Mandus’s children found an Orb while on their trip in Mexico.  Not only that, but Mandus refers to the body in the entry as being the work of his great-uncle.  Presumably that would mean that Mandus is the descendant of none other than Alexander, the big bad guy from The Dark Descent.  And if he discovered an Orb while in Mexico, it’s no wonder something went wrong.  Things always go wrong when one of those things is involved, and I mean always.

Going forward nothing much happens.  We solve some puzzles, run from some piggies, and generally creep ourselves out.  One bit of information that comes up is that Mandus embarked on whatever task he set himself to with someone referred to only as the engineer or the visionary.  Astute players will likely connect him to the voice over the intercom, as he is the only unknown character at this point.

So we travel through some sewers, drain some water, and hear the children calling from off in the darkness.  Nothing much new is gleamed, but there is one scene I want to call attention to.  It takes place in what I can only call the “holding pens”.  And oh boy, is it mighty freaking creepy.

UH NOPE!  NOPE!  COPIOUS AMOUNTS OF NOPE!

UH NOPE! NOPE! COPIOUS AMOUNTS OF NOPE!

It’s a large holding area for the pig creatures.  They wander around in a downstairs area as you look down from above.  There’s even a table set for them, smeared with blood and littered with what I can only assume is food for them.  Going further reveals row after row of little cells, each containing one of the things.  Mandus himself even notes that the creatures seem almost childlike (couldn’t have found a creepier adjective myself).  Moving on we find ourselves crawling through some large pipes until we get to a new area.  We descend a long staircase to an elevator.  We’re almost there now.

Revelations

We’ve fixed the damage.  Now all that’s left is to turn the machine on.  Descending in the elevator, the background walls give way to reveal a gigantic underground chamber.  And in the center of it is some kind of giant metal orb.  This must be the machine.  Everything has led up to this point.  And I must mention that the haunting music here (complete with epic choir singer) is just downright awesome.  In fact, most of the music in this game in general is awesome.

“Oh dear god, dear Christ what is this place,” asks Mandus as he emerges from the lift.

The machine at last.

The machine at last.

Finding one last bit of sabotage we fix it and return to the main chamber.  Climbing a set of stairs takes us to what appears to be some kind of control room.  Inside are two levers.  One is lit green, the other is red.  Throwing the first one causes the giant metal ball to light up.

“Now Mandus, set them free.  Set them all free!”

The other lever turns green, and we grasp it and pull.  The doors behind us slowly close as a massive ear-splitting rumble rips through the air.  A gigantic shock wave sends Mandus flying backwards as the window in front of him shatters.  And it is then that we learn the truth.

We’ve been lied to.

The lever of epic plot twists.

The lever of epic plot twists.

“I live, I breath again!  I rise, I will rise to bleach the sky and still the water!  I will spin the world wheel and set the future on the path to redemption!”

Two things become readily apparent.  The first is that the voice over the intercom urging you onward has nothing but bad things planned.  Apparently this was the voice of the machine itself, leading Mandus on to its own twisted ends.  It cackles madly as Mandus screams at it.  “You promised me my children,” he cries.  But there is the second truth we learn, and something we probably already suspected.

They’re dead.  They were always dead.

“I’m so sorry,” Mandus says softly as he picks himself up off the floor to see their bloodied faces looking down at him.  In one swift act they reach inside their chests, and rip their hearts out right in front of him.  And then, everything goes black.

Determination

“And, emerging, I raised my head to an uncaring sun and I cursed this world of pain and despair.  This civilization built on the ricketed bones of the unfortunate, on the greed and swell of Mammon and Empire.  Cradling a stone egg in my jacket, I kissed my children farewell and I crawled my way home.”

The twist involving Mandus’s sons is admittedly a bit obvious, but maybe that was the point.  Maybe Mandus was so far gone into his fever dream that he couldn’t see what should have been right in front of him.  Whatever the case is, we find ourselves in another elevator suddenly.  Picking ourselves up, we move onward.  We hallucinate the children again, and find a note that reveals something else.  Mandus is the saboteur.  Realizing all that he had done, he tried to destroy his machine in one last frenzy before he succumbed to the fever.

AAMFP

But even now, Mandus cannot accept the truth.  He still asks for his children.  “Why do you ask Mandus?  You know the answer well enough,” the machine says to him.  I feel this gives more credence to the idea that Mandus is completely blinded by the fever and the loss that he suffered that he just cannot or will not see what he knows is true.

But Mandus is not done yet.  He dons the role of saboteur once more, taking apart what he put together again, ripping out fuses and breaking steam pipes.  After a harrowing run through a gigantic steam pipe, we find ourselves at another elevator and with it, return to the surface.  But all is not well, as the machine’s plan is revealed.

London is burning.

AAMFP (16)

The earth shakes underfoot.  Explosions rip through the air, casting glaring orange flashes onto the brick walls and pavement.  Shrill screams intermingle with horrid squeals as people are dragged away from their homes, down to the processing plant to become part of the ever-growing mass of “product”.

“Oh no, oh god no.  What have I done?!”

Mandus is in horror.  The ramifications of all that he has done surrounds him.  And it is with that realization that his path is set.  He is determined to end this.  He will find his way back beneath ground, tear apart the machine with his own hands, and end the madness of his own creations.

An End to All Things

After the harrowing moments above in the city, we return below ground, destroy vital components of the machine wherever we can.  The last part of the game really reveals the depths of Mandus’ insanity, as we see objects in places where they shouldn’t, and couldn’t, be.  Toy letter bricks and a little paper house pop up, which we have seen before in the nursery back at the Mandus household.  Things really go off the rails at this point, as we even jump forward in location a few times without understanding how.

And we also get a glimpse at the fate of the Professor character.  An audio flashback reveals that Mandus locks him in a dark room somewhere, after promising to introduce him to his engineer friend (who by now we know is the machine itself).

“We are the pig professor.  We are all the pig,” Mandus says darkly.  So what happened to him?  If I had to guess, I would say that he became a part of that “product” Mandus was making.

But something else comes to light as well.  As we travel below into the heart of the machine compound, Mandus asks why his children died, and the machine tells him the truth for once.  “Of all the blood we have spilled together, the first drops fell from your hands alone,” it says.

“Then I am damned for a filicide and everything is lost,” is all Mandus can say.

So now the truth comes out.  Some players probably guessed that Mandus killed his children, but this is the first time we get confirmation on it.  So we know basically all that Mandus has done, but we still don’t know why yet.  Going further into the labyrinth prompts the machine to try to reason with Mandus.  And it is here that we find another wrinkle in the story.

“You may hate me Mandus, but I have seen the future, your twentieth century and let me tell you this: a far greater slaughter awaits you there.  I seek to save the world by blood now, before millions fall beneath history, pushed under by blade, bullet, and gas.”

Oh boy, this just got complicated.  He’s talking about war, and most likely World War One (WWI) in particular.  If you know history, you know how damaging World War One was to the psyche of the world as a whole.  Entire worldviews were shattered and re-shaped with the onslaught of this brutal event.  But how does this connect with Mandus?  We have to push on further to find out.

We're getting closer to the end.

We’re getting closer to the end.

Much of this last stretch of the game seems to deal with Mandus coming to terms with all he’s done.  “I would have given my soul to spare you this world…” he quietly cries as he walks among the emblems of his children, lying on a walkway far below ground where they shouldn’t be.  Knowing all that he has done, and what the fruits of his labors have come to be, he is absolutely crushed.  But he is not beaten.  He quietly vows to make things right, and proceeds onward.

After a couple run-ins with a freaky teleporting electric pig (that’s a thing now too), we find ourselves in another area.  This has some creepy machination with what appears to be a heart or something held aloft by metal pincers.  We activate some odd-looking devices that light up, and then we experience another strange jump in location.  The end is at hand.

AAMFP (18)

The Final Moments

We find ourselves on a walkway proceeding towards a giant conveyor belt.  We can hear the machine shutting down slowly, as different parts along the conveyor belt power down as we pass.  The machine pleads with Mandus, begging him not to do it.  “I am no more evil than you,” it says with a hint of desperation.  And then, the full truth, the reason why Mandus killed his children, comes to light.

“Your sons with drown, lungs full of mud and shrapnel, on the banks of the Somme.”

Epic monologues abound.

Epic monologues abound.

“This is the vision we shared…”

We now know why, and we can begin to understand the chain of events.  Connecting the dots, we can guess that the Orb that Mandus found showed him a vision of the future, a vision of such horrific intensity that it completely destroyed his psyche.  Knowing what the coming century would bring about, and knowing their fate, he sacrificed his sons in an effort to spare them a horrible and likely slow death in the trenches of war.  The vision resulted in Mandus becoming greatly dissatisfied with the world and civilization at large, knowing the face of the world was about to change abruptly.  He suffered a fever of not only physical but psychological torment as well.

And this is why I find this game’s story so much more intriguing than the first game.  In the first Amnesia, Daniel’s motivation for doing all the horrible things he did was to try to save his own life.  He sacrificed possibly innocent people in an attempt to prolong his life until he could appease the shadowy monster that pursued him and the Orb he stole.  But in this case, Mandus had a goal not of self-interest, but of twisted salvation.  He wanted to save the world, but couldn’t figure out how without destroying it completely.  He does horrible things, but his reasoning for doing so is almost…understandable, in a way.  He is a man caught between centuries, knowing how the world will change with the advent the twentieth century and the horror of WWI.

Emerging through a set of spinning doors at the end of the conveyor brings us into a massive chamber with some kind of giant temple in the middle.  We have seen the scale model version of this place lying around before, and it is presumably a re-creation of the kind of place Mandus saw in Mexico.  But none of that matters now.

“Daddy.”  A final cry splits the silence after the music fades.  It’s time to end this.

The final ascent...

The final ascent…

“I have stood knee-deep in mud and bone and filled my lungs with mustard gas.  I have seen two brothers fall.  I have lain with holy wars and copulated with the autumnal fallout.  I have dug trenches for the refugees; I have murdered dissidents where the ground never thaws and starved the masses into faith.  A child’s shadow burnt into the brickwork.  A house of skulls in the jungle.  The innocent, the innocent, Mandus, trod and bled, and gassed and starved and beaten and murdered and enslaved!  This is your coming century!  They will eat them Mandus, they will make pigs of you all, and they will bury their snouts into your ribs and they will eat, your, hearts!”

I could analyze this speech by the machine and make it into its own blog post if I really wanted to.  The complexity of it is amazing.  There are so many different allusions here.  I put it here because I feel it is a very powerful and pivotal part of the game.

Mandus says nothing.  His course is set.

As we approach the top of the giant temple staircase the screen goes white.  Suddenly, Mandus finds himself next to a chair.  The machine begs, sounding absolutely afraid now.  Climbing into the chair, Mandus is surrounded by strange metal things that look sort of like pincers.  A large button glows in front of him, prompting Mandus’s final act.  After the button is pressed, a metallic roar is heard as something seems to charge up.  The pincers suddenly close in on him, and everything cuts to black.

It'll all be over soon...

It’ll all be over soon…

Epilogue and Closing Thoughts

“I lay there and watched the god I had created die.”

The game ends with Mandus and the machine dead, entwined forever in the dark underground.  Up above, the city merely turns over in its sleep as the twentieth century dawns.  The factory doors close forever, and Mandus’s tale concludes.

There are still a lot of uncertain variables in the story.  The purpose of the machine and the reasoning behind Mandus’s experiments with pigs are still unclear as the game comes to a close.  But perhaps that’s for the better.  From a story standpoint, the overall thematic point the game sends off is far more important than the little details if you ask me.  And besides, horror isn’t horror if everything is wrapped up in a neat little bow.  Horror works best when it leaves certain details up to you, when you have to fill in some of the blanks.

The machine itself is also representative of something, or maybe many things.  The primary thing seems to be a metaphor for Mandus’ conscience.  Several times Mandus makes reference to a moment when the world seemed to split in two for him.  My theory on this is that the Orb somehow split his consciousness into two halves.  The one became the machine, that side of him that has so deluded itself into thinking that the path he has chosen is the only way.  The other remained with Mandus himself, the part of him that loves and cares for his children, which would explain his obsessive behavior in pursuing them throughout the game even though it was obvious they were dead.  It could also just be a metaphor, who knows?  That’s the nature of stories, and horror stories in particular.

Overall I loved the story in this game.  It was gruesome.  It was complex.  It was mysterious.  It had a lot of the things I want out of a horror story, and even threw some things at me I never expected.  The WWI aspect of the game really took me by surprise.  This game manages to capture the horrific effect World War One had on the British.  I took a British Literature class in college, and one of the things we talked about was how damaging to English moral WWI truly was.  No longer was war this dutiful thing you did for king and country.  It was horrific.  It was bloody.  It meant the end of so many young lives.  And nobody really knew why it happened, it just did.  Even today trying to study WWI leads to confusion.  We know the event that triggered it (Franz Ferdinand’s assassination), but it’s extremely difficult to figure out the “why”.

Mandus reacts to WWI in much the same way as the historical British do.  His worldview is completely shattered, his faith in humanity gone.  He felt hopelessness, frustration, and anger all it once.  He felt that the world was no longer just.  All in all, he reacts in much the same way people who actually experienced the war did.  Writing and art were transformed into a movement that acknowledged the horror and pointlessness of war and death.  There is a reason why WWI was called “the war to end all wars”.

And they say video games can’t tackle deep subject matter.

If you got this far, thanks for sticking with it and reading the entirety of this long analysis.  I truly do appreciate it.  Tune in next week for another (and probably shorter) post coming on Wednesday.