Call for Feature Essays About Any Aspect of Popular Culture, Present or Past

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Wednesday, Oct 31, 2012
I stared into a void. My eyes just could not comprehend the nothingness. Had someone walked up to me for whatever reason, I think that might have been it for my nerves. And I wasn't even playing Silent Hill 2 anymore.

Silent Hill 2 is regarded as one of the greatest games of all time. And until recently, it has been one of the gold stars on my pile of shame. What better time to play it than the end of October, the month of horror and dread? But then what can I say about the game that has not already been said.


Silent Hill 2 is one of the most picked over games in history. Everyone knows the themes, the meaning, and the more unnerving moments of the title. Likewise, the tenets of design are so well known that even people that haven’t experienced the game first hand can sing along. This was no more obvious than in Konami’s recent HD Silent Hill 2 and 3 collection in which they removed the fog. Nary a word of explanation had to be said before everyone scrunched their eyebrows together, tilted their head, and mouthed “what the hell?” However, to know is one thing, to understand first hand is another.


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Wednesday, Oct 24, 2012
Dead Space is too normal in video game design terms to remain scary.

I was a bit surprised when I looked into PopMatters archives and found nothing written on the horror of Dead Space. Then I played the game and found out why. Dead Space is a scary game, and it isn’t. It has its moments of truly terrifying brilliance, but that is all they are—moments.


Dead Space is ultimately crushed under the weight of it’s own design. It tries to do something new and terrifying but falls into the trap sticking to close to the typical video game formula. It tries to straddle the line between horror and action, but eventually one will subsume the other.


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Tuesday, Oct 16, 2012
It’s well known that horror works exploit the unexpected and unknown. The Cthulhu mythos thrives on that very premise. But where most horror stories try to conceal and hide their monster as much as possible to drive tension up. Cthulhu stories thrive on different methods.

It’s well known that horror works exploit the unexpected and unknown. The Cthulhu mythos thrives on that very premise. But where most horror stories try to conceal and hide their monster as much as possible to drive tension up. Cthulhu stories thrive on different methods.


Given that, I would like to quote the opening warning you get after booting up Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth: “Cthulhu will occasionally manipulate graphics, sound, and controls in an unusual way. This is perfectly normal, and it is unlikely to be a problem with either your game disc or your sanity.”


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Tuesday, Oct 9, 2012
Dear Esther isn't your traditional horror story because it isn't within the work itself that the scares reside. It’s what you bring out of this ghost story into the real world that scares the most.

Horror works by unnerving its audience. By taking them out of their comfort zone and presenting them something just a bit off. It creates a tension between the normal and the out of place. For every appearance of a monster, psycho, or ghost, there is the threat of death and harm. The threat creates fear, and the fear creates the tension.


So what happens in a game when that creates an unnerving atmosphere, but no threat?


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Tuesday, Oct 2, 2012
Zombies themselves don’t seem to be much of a creature of horror anymore. Is it even possible for something to remain scary through constant exposure to it?

Left 4 Dead is ostensibly a horror game. Upon its release, it was called the first true zombie apocalypse game because it actually created the feel of a zombie apocalypse. You are one of the last four people alive and have to make it to safety. Everything is so thoroughly destroyed that you can do nothing but move on. Even the safe houses aren’t places that you can survive. It has all the elements that make a good horror game: moody lighting, a thick atmosphere, unrelenting tension, a sense of danger, and a dwindling sense of hope that is finally replaced by despair. So, why doesn’t it stay scary?


Over time, Left 4 Dead ceases to be frightening. In the beginning, even in co-op, the game was terrifying to play. People didn’t so much speak commands as scream them out in terrified surprise. People could play the same levels over and over again and get different experiences thanks to the Valve’s AI director tailoring the journey depending on how you were doing in an effort to keep the tension high. But again, the terror didn’t last.


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