OK, now that I got the frightening round out of my system…
esper How do video games evoke horror in a way other media cannot?
I’ve been playing Metroid Dread and the EMMI sections reminded me quite a bit of SOMA, a flawed game that I nonetheless loved a great deal. This question brought to mind my conflicted thoughts about the common horror-ish thread these games share–that of lonely, foreboding exploration punctuated by encounters with unfeeling patrolling automata that you are powerless to defend against. Both situations evoked authentic feelings of (ahem) dread, at least for the first few encounters.
Where this begins to break down, however, is immediately after you first fail one of these encounters. Dread gives way to trepidation which gives way to frustration and, before you know it, the spell is completely broken and you are Super-Meat-Boying your way through the encounter and the mechanized terror becomes no more than a cartoonish buzzsaw you are splatting your Meat Samus again over and over until you thread the needle and continue on your way (at least, this is extremely how I felt the first time I had to evade an EMMI while under water). It’s a real double-edged sword here: games are unique (as was stated in the episode) in that you are the animating force that must subject the protagonist to these encounters. The state of learned helplessness becomes much more profound when you are a mechanical part of it. However, the nature of the mildly inconvenient fail-state of both of these games eventually undermines the whole endeavor. I don’t really know how to best solve this issue (and there is a good chance many other games have…I haven’t played either of the RE2 or 3 remakes yet, for example) but I am fairly certain that more stringent punishment for failure would not make me want to play them.
Since I mention SOMA, by the way, I would say that the entire rest of the game (the exploratory walking simulator outside the harrowing stealth encounters) is a truly excellent example of horror in gaming. The existential body horror and lonely desolation could definitely be represented in film, but they hit much harder in this medium. I highly recommend it as a spooky time game if anyone hasn’t played it!
esper How do you create good interior design for locations in video games?
Staying on the spooky theme, my answer is do exactly what Castlevania 64 is doing: