It’s election day here in the States and also the first day of the hearing for Schwarzenegger v. EMA, the United States Supreme Court case which will potentially decide the legal status of video game regulation in the country. Much of the game industry and blogosphere has come out against the bill at the heart of the case, which industry spokesmen say will not just regulate sales of games in stores but effectively censor game content.
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The weekend probably saw its share of ghosts and goblins dropping by your doorstep. Those same little ghouls have inspired the Moving Pixels Podcast crew in a discussion of horror games.
Each of our contributors put together a list of their top five horror titles, judging them by their ability to scare, repel, and otherwise provoke. Our lists are surprisingly eclectic and may at times challenge what constitutes horror in games altogether. So, join us for a discussion of slashers, things that cannot be named, and other things that go bump in the night.
Editor’s note: There are spoilers below.
Rule of Rose is a unique sort of survival-horror game. This genre has always been slow paced and has never focused on combat, but Rule of Rose takes this to an extreme. Enemy encounters are rare throughout the first half of the game, and while they do become more common during the second half, there are still long stretches of time in which you just wander the dilapidated environment with your dog, sniffing out potential gifts for the Aristocrat Club, which is the true source of horror in this game.
Warning: This post contains some widely known albeit significant spoilers for Halo: Reach and Left 4 Dead 2’s “The Sacrifice” campaign.
Anyone at all familiar with the lore of Bungie’s Halo franchise already knows the fate of the Spartan heroes of Halo: Reach. Not a single Spartan makes it off Reach alive save the Master Chief, savior of the universe. Similarly, Left 4 Dead 2 fans already know Bill’s fate, the grizzled old man of the first Left 4 Dead, before playing through “The Sacrifice,” the game’s latest DLC that features the campaign that leads to his fateful demise. Knowing the tragic outcome of both Halo: Reach and “The Sacrifice” allows players to experience a unique and potentially powerful finale. Yet, in arriving at their respective conclusions, Reach and “Sacrifice” both take significantly divergent paths, each of which has its own strengths and weaknesses.
Knowing their audience would (by and large) be aware of the fall of Reach, Bungie flaunted the imminent threat of death throughout their game. Reach creates dramatic tension by having players wonder not if the Noble Team crew will die, but how and when. The titular planet is utterly enveloped by Covenant forces. The amount of slaughter visited upon Reach and its denizens is readily apparent in nearly every level. The tone of the entire game is somber, contemplative, and bleak. If it were not for existing knowledge about the Master Chief’s fate, I dare say that few players would walk away from Reach inspired to continue the Halo experience. And rightfully so—there are more than a few occasions where all hope seems lost for Noble Team.
My favorite moments from Fallout 3 came out of a collaboration between the creative output of the designers and my own imagination. The game set up situations in which moral decision was entirely in the hands of the player: help the slavers or fight them, save the villagers or exploit them, the good of the many or the good of you. In one quest I recovered a pristine, powerful rifle that belonged to Abraham Lincoln. I held onto this gun, not using it but hoarding ammunition, until I’d leveled up to the point where I felt strong enough to take on the slaver camp head on. I attacked at night, and the only weapon that I used was Lincoln’s rifle. I freed the slaves and literally blew the head off the slaver bastards. The game gave me the requisite XP and rewards, but the greatest pleasure I got from the whole experience was the symbolism that I’d laid upon it.
For all it’s bugginess and slightly outdated graphics and stiff animations, this is the area where Fallout: New Vegas shines most brightly, presenting you with compelling moral quandaries and letting you make decisions. Having added a nifty Reputation system into this game, the consequences of those decisions now vary across the wasteland. Some will love you, while others will hate you for what you do, as is the way in the real world, where the moral landscape is a jumbled mass of prejudices, preferences, and pretensions. Even so, the game’s options usually come down to questions that the vast majority of people would agree upon about what is moral and what is immoral (killing innocents for your own gain is bad, killing psychopathic killers is good). However, there are a few exceptional set-ups where morality is much less clear, and the ones that fascinated me the most were a pair of quests centered around sex slavery and prostitution.