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by Eric Swain

5 Nov 2013


Cinematic video game is somewhat of a misnomer in video game parlance. It refers to a style of game like that seen in Uncharted, The Last of Us, or any other similarly constructed game in which the intent is to have a sense of presence be evoked by the game, making the player feel like they are participating in the action of a movie. But these games don’t really take advantage of the techniques or ability of that medium.

The basic unit of film is the shot. Where the camera is in the relation the set, the actors, and the action is paramount, not only as a way to deliver its content, but as the artistic soul of the medium. All experimentation and technique is fundamentally about manipulating either the camera or the image in front of the camera. Video games don’t have that ability. They give the player the power over the camera because the player needs that control so he can see what he’s doing. Given that action in video games is not predetermined on a moment by moment basis like film there needs to be that leeway.

by Eric Swain

29 Oct 2013


The horror genre is in part built upon the notion of upending expectations. It’s similar to comedy in that regard. The end goal and therefore methods for achieving it, of course, being somewhat different. In comedy, the interest of the artist is in subverting expectations and changing directions at the last moment. In horror, the interest lies in twisting and prolonging expectations, all the way to their breaking points.

At a more fundamental level, the mediums in which a particular work is a part of have different methods for conveying meaning. One of the less acknowledged forms in games is the feel of play. Video games in particular are tactile in nature due to a constant connection to the controller or other input device that connects the player to the game. It is important both how it feels for the player to input commands as it is to how it feels to receive a response in moment to moment interactions. However, due to the nature of the interactive cycle, there is a limit to how much you can upend the expectations of input and output.

by Eric Swain

22 Oct 2013


This post contains spoilers for I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream.

I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream has been re-released on Good Old Games and Steam, so go check it out if you haven’t already. The writer of the game and the original short story, Harlan Ellison, didn’t think much of video games, but regardless wanted to make a work in the only medium that he hadn’t yet tried his hand at. In doing so he wanted to explore mature, controversial themes like guilt, rape, and the Holocaust. Few games since have really dealt with these as themes as themes. They may be included in them as a historical detail or plot point, but with most games, the focus is never directly on these concerns.

That alone sets I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream apart from everything else. The game also brings another issue to the forefront of my mind. We toss around the term “horror game” rather liberally as a genre, but we don’t often stop and consider what we mean by the “horror” in “horror game.” As a genre we attribute the title to anything we might find that attempts to be scary, but that isn’t what horror means. Often what we mean in context is “terror”—a strong feeling of fear, a cause of anxiety. Whereas ‘horror’  is an intense dislike, an abhorrence or painful feeling of repugnance. We mean the term as a description of how the work makes us feel, yet we use a word that describes the work itself.

by Eric Swain

15 Oct 2013


Everyone has their limit in terms of what what they can tolerate in the horror genre. There is only so long that a person can play in a world defined by horror before the atmosphere begins to wear on them. Sometimes, the “creepiness factor” is just turned up passed someone’s personal threshold. For others, it is the type of horror that tests their tolerance. For one who can’t stand the site of blood, shlocky slaughter fests are more than they can, though others may find them fairly tame or even uninteresting. For that matter, for some members of an audience the simple inclusion of spiders may be enough for a movie or game to go unfinished.

It’s odd how much power in the moment that the fictional can have over our physical being. We know what is being represented isn’t real. We know that for a fact. We are holding the controller or mouse & keyboard in our hands. We are looking at a screen with borders. The graphics, no matter how realistic, we can see isn’t like the real world. Yet, there comes a point when a person just has to stop. Their limit has been surpassed. Maybe they stop for good or merely to regain their composure. Interestingly, this is the recognition of this need is a dynamic that Amnesia: The Dark Descent adopts in its design.

by Eric Swain

8 Oct 2013


Silent Hill 2 is one of those games that has entered the gaming canon as not only one of the scariest games ever made, not only one of the best games ever made, but also with the distinction of being one of the most aesthetically resonant games ever made. This last accomplishment is quite an achievement, especially for a game released nearly a decade before a sizable amount of gamers even cared about such things.

Twelve years later, games at all levels of the industry are created with an eye towards art, the discourse surrounding games has advanced quite a bit, and the craftsmanship of virtual game design has likewise advanced. The unspoken question in light of such advances is: “Has Silent Hill 2 held up over time?” Has it held up for newcomers to the title with over a decade of expectations to contend with? Is it only a product of its time and has it therefore aged poorly?

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