Monthly Archives: September 2011

Cross to Bare

Boobs. I’ve talked about them before, and had argued the case for context providing legitimacy for nudity in video games. Critics and gamers alike are too quick to call foul and point the finger when the bare female form appears on screen, yet happy to look the other way in the case of the odd sex bonus stage; a quick romp amongst a few hours of bloodshed is just a bit of fun, right?

Can the medium of video games show a bit of skin without being criticised for immaturity? In my previous piece linked above, I posit the view that it is the gamers and critics themselves who lack the maturity and level of professionalism to feel comfortable with the mature themes increasingly penetrating the hobby. Indeed, we are so caught up with being taken seriously that we are far too reactionary and therefore seen as argumentative, exclusive, and bratty. How can an artist appease an audience of children?

Nudity can be done badly of course, and most often is. In film the horror genre is full of skin-flicks and a shower scene or torn shirt is par for the course. It is here in the horror genre of film and video games, and specifically Shadows of the Damned and Splatterhouse, that the topic has been brought back to mind. As both have their own flagrant propensity to sling the odd boob around and both, at first glance, with no reason to do so.

Shadows of the Damned sees Garcia ‘Fucking’ Hotspur attempt to rescue his love Paula from the clutches of demons and chase them all the way to hell. Here, Paula traipses around in lingerie teasing Garcia onward. Further, in one particular chapter a giant representation of her is the ground for which Garcia walks, topless, moaning and generally conveying eroticism.

Splatterhouse has Rick attempt to rescue his love Jennifer from the clutches of a doctor gone mad (though as a doctor of necrobiology that was never in doubt), and along the way collect parts of photographs depicting Jennifer nude. The photos will show her in various poses and attire, and are scattered throughout the mansion of which Rick journeys.

Why the nudity here? Is there a particular point this is attempting to convey?

As mentioned previous, horror has an affinity to nudity and there are valid emotional responses that the creator wishes to tap into, beyond the surface level titillation. I did specifically mention the common shower scene before, and many horror stories will feature something happening in at least a bathroom environment. Why? The reason is simple; it’s where we are at our most exposed. Clothes-less, defenceless, sight can be obscured by water, shower curtain or mist, mirrors provide windows into nooks and crannies in the periphery. It is very easy for a story teller to project urgency and unease in the viewer using these environments that we all understand and find ourselves in every day.

Another common tool used to create such feelings in the viewer is sex; two lovers engaged in the act of sex being crept up on by a would-be murderer. The victims here are utterly distracted, exposed, and defenceless.

Abstracting these concepts further, the more basic visage of a woman topless will again heighten the feelings of vulnerability as the heart lay bare. Innocence too, flagrant in the face of violence. The viewer knows there’s reason to be cautious – it’s a horror film after all – yet the victim openly displaying how unaware they are.

So there are reasons for nudity in horror; It’s not just a bit of fun, but a conduit of emotion from creator to viewer. But that’s not to say all attempts work.

Shadows of the Damned and Splatterhouse? Not so successful. Obviously Paula was exposed as she traversed her way through hell, but no sense of urgency passed on to the player. Likewise, the assumed attempt at projecting innocence and intimacy between Jennifer and Rick a more miss than hit affair. The view into their playful relationship providing little back story needed to foster empathy or connection.

Regardless of the quality of the implementation present in the video games highlighted, the approach can be reasoned. Instead of dismissing these as immature and throw away, there are lessons to be learned. One; that video games have a ways to go in maturity of technique compared to film. And two; boobs and horror are like spaghetti and meatballs – they work better together.

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Filed under digital romance lab, dirolab, horror, shadows of the damned, Splatterhouse

Like A Man Possessed

Coincidence. An event which coincides with another similar event, can be seen as suspicious by some, supernatural even, hinting at greater meaning. Others can find such uncanny occurrences as a peculiar point of interest, remark as such, and move on.

More aligned to the latter, I was humoured when over the course of a day two forms of media converged on my screen that spanned a good 50 years of separation but with the same influence, and the realisation only setting in a good way into the second.

The Haunted Palace, directed by Roger Corman and starring Vincent Price. A 1963 film based on the H.P. Lovecraft novella The Case of Charles Dexter Ward. And Splatterhouse, developed and published by Namco Bandai Games. A 2010 video game remake of the classic and seminal game of the same name from 1988, also based on the H.P. Lovecraft work.

Within both film and game the characters bear witness to their own set of coincidences and here the ramifications not so perfunctory.

In The Haunted Palace, Charles Dexter Ward travels to the town of Arkham to claim his inheritance – the former manor of Joseph Curwen, a distant ancestor who was burned alive by the villagers a century ago for practicing necromancy – where the villagers become alarmed to find Charles is the spitting image of Joseph. To them, this could only mean that Joseph had returned from the grave to exact his revenge as he had threatened to do during his killing.

In Splatterhouse, young couple Rick Taylor and Jennifer Willis travel to the town of Arkham and the manor of Dr. Henry West, a necrobiologist, for an interview. Here they find that Jennifer bears a striking resemblance to Dr. West’s long deceased wife Leonora, and soon Dr. West attacks leaving Rick mortally wounded and Jennifer taken away.

With these beginnings both will draw upon similar themes and plot points, with Charles Dexter Ward becoming possessed by the ghost of Joseph Curwen, and Rick Taylor possessed by a demon promising revenge. The two necromancers of Joseph and Dr. West have the same ultimate desire – to resurrect their former lovers. Murder and the summoning of demons just steps and tools needed to arrive at that same ultimate goal.

Love. The most possessive of emotions.

Loss of a love and the grief that follows is often used to drive a narrative. To create a sympathy for one’s insanity. While possession by ghosts and demons is fantastical, personality changes, depression, and other symptoms are certainly comparable. Are our friends Joseph and Dr. West just grief stricken and love sick medical practitioners misunderstood by society at large?

If they hadn’t succeeded in their plan, perhaps.

The Haunted Palace is a great film and comes recommended, especially if you enjoy classic horror and an excellent Vincent Price performance (I’m quite partial to both).

Splatterhouse showed promise and could have been a contender for horror game of the generation given more work. Instead, it suffers from instant death traps, bad checkpointing and extraordinarily long loading times. Unfortunately, with these combined, the game is left almost unplayable in some instances and better left for the most patient gamers only.

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Filed under H.P. Lovecraft, Splatterhouse, The Case of Charles Dexter Ward, The Haunted Palace, Vincent Price

JASNA Call for Papers

So I really want to submit something to the Jane Austen Society of North America’s call for papers for their conference (in Brooklyn!) in October 2012. The conference theme is: “Sex, Money and Power in Jane Austen’s Fiction.” What better way to explore the interplay of those three elements than with an interactive experience? I’m thinking of proposing a playable experience for conference attendees to participate in, to really illuminate how a game can most effectively explore complex systems such as the web of social expectations, relationships, and hierarchies that governed Jane Austen’s world.

I’m having a little trouble with the game design portion itself. Any ideas of how to get started on it? Any good essays about designing real-time participatory games I can check out?

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The World of Shadow Emotions

I finally had a chance to read Danc’s essay on game emotions in which he draws a distinction between primary emotions (your dog dies) and what he terms “shadow emotions” (you watch a movie of a dog that dies). One affects you more strongly with personal consequence while the other affects you because you construct a relationship to it, but other than the emotional response, the event may not have any tangible effect on your being.

He argues that games are better than other media at evoking primary emotions although he is careful not to place one set over the other as being more importance. He gives compelling examples such as the emotions evoked by: being asked the join a guild, experiencing player-character perma-death, frustration at a camper at a spawn point, etc.

What about in romance? We’ve seen that people can actually form real attachments to non-human and non-animal objects. And in fantasy at least, we accept that one may fall in love with a digitally driven construct (see: Holodeck romance, Riker and Minuet; Geordi and Leah; Janeway and that faux-Irish guy; etc.) As a younger, more impressionable day-dreamer I developed many a crush on non-real characters in books and those emotions were just as “real” to the teenage me as crushes on a real boy. I’d like to suggest that romance in an interactive experience can begin to blur the distinction, perhaps, between “primary” and “shadow”.

Hm, this bears more thinking and research. Thoughts?

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Towards Greater Diversity in Female Character Design

I really enjoyed this thoughtful article by Shaylyn Hamm on The Aesthetics of Unique Character Designs, in which she takes on the project of designing female characters for Team Fortress 2. Sadly TF2 didn’t take advantage of the opportunity to design female characters as fun and iconic as their male characters, but Shaylyn fills in for them. Her article contains insightful gems as she analyzes the elements that make the male character designs strong, and applies them to female characters.

All too often, as she points out, female characters in games are all cut from the same cloth, with only their hair and dress colors to tell them apart. This happens even in a game that delves deeper into individual character design, like Dragon Age 2, which at least has older women — although they sport the same improbably slim, buxom figures of a 20-year-old.

In any case, Shaylyn proves that there is still a lot to be mined in female character design. And I would play the female medic in a second!

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