Horror Video Games: Essays on the Fusion of Fear and Play
Edited by Bernard Perron
McFarland & Co, 2009. ISBN 978-0786441976
As a fan of horror video games, the rush of being low on ammo in Resident Evil 2 is something that academic texts usually don’t live up to. However, Bernard Perron’s edited collection Horror Video Games: Essays on the Fusion of Fear and Play (2009) is about as close as it gets. Perron, the author of Silent Hill: The Terror Engine (2012) and The World of Scary Video Games (2018) as well as the co-editor of The Video Game Theory Reader (2003) and The Video Game Theory Reader 2 (2009), weaves together both academic and industry voices into the first horror reader for Game Studies. We’re fortunate that the first, and as of this writing only, game in town is a real horrorshow.
Perron’s collection is led by an essay not from an academic, but from an industry professional. Not only is Richard Rouse III’s paper, “Match Made in Hell: The Inevitable Success of Horror Video Games,” meritorious of this inclusion, but also represents a closing of an artificial divide. Rouse’s expertise as the designer of The Suffering series of video games gives him a unique insight into videoludic horror. Game Studies has the advantage of being yet small enough to still see strong overlap between academics and artists. Seeing that crossover supported marks a strong start for the essays in this collection.
Perron’s text is divided into two sections: “Approaching the Genre” and “Encountering Games.” In addition to Perron’s own entry, “The Survival Horror: Extended Body Genre,” the first section contains fantastic essays that deal with the interconnected nature of genre across medium. Laurie N. Taylor’s “Gothic Bloodlines in Survival Horror Gaming and Ewan Kirkland’s “Storytelling in Survival Horror Video Games.” The later section tightens the focus to specific games with Simon Niedenthal’s “Patterns of Obscurity: Gothic Setting and Light in Resident Evil 4, and Silent Hill 2 and Tanya Krzywinska’s “The Ludic Paradox of Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth” providing innovative and focussed reads of these games-as-texts. While reading through these articles, an interesting trend began to emerge.
The spectre of teleology has haunted video games criticism and study since it’s earliest moment. It is refreshing to see a text exercise these short-sighted demons in favour of a more holistic approach to the medium. Horror Video Games includes titles ranging from, relative to the publication date, the very modern Resident Evil 4 to the classic DOS game Alone in the Dark. Each game being discussed as more than an emblem of the technological limitations of their time. More work is definitely needed to address horror in earlier times, and “indie” games that transcend the march of technology, but this text lays a solid foundation for that work.
It’s been nine years since Horror Video Games was released, but no hot-fixes or patches have been required. The works in this collection have stood up over the near-decade and remain close to the bleeding edge of the spookier side of Game Studies. This is the best text around to find your feet in the field. Decades of survival horror have taught us that inventory slots are precious and whether your fleeing zombies or writing an article, Horror Video Games is worth the space.