Spooky Spaces: The World Hunger’s For All
Resident Evil cemented the Haunted House into the mainline formula for Horror Games, it wasn’t the first but it definitely ensured it wasn’t the last. Resident Evil compensated with hardware limitations by employing the now-iconic fixed camera angles that enabled high-quality pre-rendered environments. Silent Hill at the time took a different approach relying on dense fog to compensate for the limited render distance. At the time established mediums had The Shining, Frankenstein, Psycho, and so much more to draw from. Where these games contrast is also what impressed on fans so well. That is the form of space around the player. Silent Hill maroons its characters within itself. Anyone summoned to Silent Hill finds it impossible to escape the town until it’s had its fill. Resident Evil encloses its inhabitants within the walls of The Spencer Mansion which as it stands is a blight upon the land and tunnels deep into the Earth.
In Art, there’s a lesser-known genre called Site-Specific Art. Where the artwork location is critical to it being complete. I know, feels like watching glue dry, honestly one of the dryest lectures I ever paid for but it seems to me as technology increases so do the arsenal of environmental artists.
Silent Hill is not just a place that houses monsters, the land itself is understood as a breathing organism that draws people into itself and crafts monsters in the shape of their fears. In contrast Resident Evil gives it away in the title, the Spencer Mansion was constructed deep into the earth below to create and contain the machinations of a mad scientist.
While the technique in Horror has transformed through generations like Stephen King and John Carpenter in North American cinema, the genre seems to embrace the iconography and let it mutate into new forms matching current culture. Respectfully in Stephen King’s The Shining The Overlook Hotel is not wildly different than a haunted castle or mansion that claims the lives of its victims, neither is the Antarctic research base in John Carpenter’s The Thing being the only thing able to contain the viscera doppelganger. The base has the same stock of medical contraptions, chemicals, machinery, and even sporadic layout akin to the chaos of Frankensteins Castle. The Biological lab hazards in the depth of Resident Evil or the nightmare world reality within Silent Hill are related to these titles in the same way. Ultimately the formula and shifting iconography all play into this same fear. Fear of places weighed with great purpose, a greater purpose that overpowers its inhabitants and consumes them.
Motive or meaning has not been spared in the transformation of horror. Silent Hill which draws on the trauma of the visitors can kill them but instead of the slasher-styled execution, it acts more to accelerate the conclusion of their pain. In Silent Hill 2 the grim reaper is not monsters but the characters either killing each other or themselves. Similarly Resident Evil isn’t necessarily concerned with death per se, the conflict exists to manipulate the characters and test the monsters, death is just a likely outcome. This doesn’t stay the same for the Horror Game genre. Instead of seeking to correct the path of tragedy or command violent power the murder becomes self-serving. Take say The Evil Within or Resident Evil 7, instead of purposeful pain it’s meaningless. The villains have already claimed their prize, now with no goal left they see the stragglers as hunting trophies. From this point on it’s the sadist’s gambit.
The maliciousness of these worlds and wills twist reality into flesh along with its bodily desires. When these places were first explored they were rooms and corridors. They were places to occupy, places to hold sustenance, to refuge. Once the anglerfish bares its fangs the halls turn into a barbed gullet drawing them only deeper, monsters spew like bile from the cystic chambers, clawing and knawing on the residents to be digesting. What I hope to see in the future is how hunger mutates once again. From purpose to meaningless, what lies beyond even that? I don’t mean chaos, entropy, or apathy, what I fever of is a challenge to our appetite for meaning and our dismissal of cruelty.