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Emotional Baggage
by Kimberly Unger on 09/06/10 07:15:00 pm   Featured Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.

 I have to admit, the Silent Hill movie scares the crap out of me.
Which is kind of a strange thing, when i think about it. I'm a big fan of the game, in fact, the whole silent Hill series remains one of my favorite survival-horror games of all time.
So why does the movie, a 2hr, linear horror experience, freak me out much worse than a 40 hour monster fest? In fact, one might argue that the horror movie experience is somewhat "safer" simply because it is not as interactive an experience, that there is an element of passivity, that elements in the film are not directly within my control, therefore, I should just be able to go along for the ride.
But see, therein lies the rub. That right there is a core difference between a gamer and a viewer. We can't stand it. We can't stand the idea that there is nothing that we can do, that theres no way to change the story, save the girl or the puppy or the horrible green mutant.
Within the confines of the game, these is always the perception of opportunity. That if you can just find the right combination of actions and ins actions, you can beat the story and make it all come out all right. And even if you do lose, or if the ending of the game is not something you would have chosen, you at the least have the satisfaction of knowing you beat it, of knowing you did everything right, that you stepped into every perilous situation, that the horrible ending came about anyway, but dammit, you fought that bitch to the end.
So that, of all things, brings me to that ever pervasive idea about how the player makes a connection to the game. There's a lot of noise these days about the ability of games to make you "feel", about whether or a game can give you the same sort of emotional tie in you might get with a piece of literature, or with a piece of film.
More specifically, can a game make you feel the subtler emotions, not just fear or anger or the adrenaline rush of gunning down a million semi-dismembered zombies?
The fact that I am notably more affected by a film than a game, particularly in the case of a strong emotion, like terror, might suggest that the game might be affecting me *less* deeply than the film might be.
But games, as a class, allow you to do the one thing that film and literature *do not* allow you to do. They allow you to act. They allow you to do that one thing that has been proven, time and time again, to allow you to "counter" your fear through action, rather than sitting on your hands for a few hours. You can turn off a film, you can put down a book, but those avenues do not empower the reader or the audience the same way that games do.
So at the end of the day, despite the numerous comparisons out there, games are a different animal than films or books, and comparing them, comparing the experiences of the player/reader/viewer very rapidly becomes an apples to oranges type of situation.
The way in which the different media interact with their audiences is so different that the content, even the same content translated into each of those different media, is ultimately going to be affected by the nature of that interaction and empowerment given through that interaction.

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Dolgion Chuluunbaatar
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Hey, that's an interesting topic. Weird though that I'm feeling exactly the opposite. I have no problem watching horror movies, but playing them scares me so badly that I have to quit the game before even really starting off. I'll write a related piece soon

Ben Lewis-Evans
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I have the same experience as you Dolgion. I can watch the most scary movies out there with hardly a blink - yet scary games will have me tense and jumping.

For me its the fact that in a game I have to do something. I am the stupid idiot who has to walk through that door, even though I know there is a huge evil monster on the loose. In a film, it is just happening to other people.

Krishna Israney
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I would say the same about my experience as well.

I could connect more with the first game than the movie .

The Dream sequence really scared me enough to stop playing the game.

Its quite difficult for me to place myself as a character in a movie than a character in game.

Jonathan Jennings
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this is an interesting topic, I both agree and disagree. for example one of the most terrifying stories I have ever read is " I have no mouth , and I must scream" a story about a few human survivors who merely act as toys to an infallible artificial intelligence. that book is a perfect example of what oyu mentioned a story about how I wish so dearly I could help these characters but I can't.

With that said the fear I have felt from games like condemned where I can hear things running around me, where I have literally walked with my back to the wall just to have some sense of protection are arguments against why I feel gaming can also be scary in its own right, but in a very different sense. I will admit interaction does make gaming less scary in some ways But it also projects that fear you have for the main characters onto yourself.

I think heavy rain would be an excellent game to study because it combines the emotions and cinematics of film with of course gameplay elements. there are numerous times in that game where I truly felt bad for the main character and his quest to find his son. once agian though that game manages to both support and be against your argument. there is one portion of the game where a tragedy strikes without the player being able to do anything, and it truly is heart breaking, there are also tons of other moments that I know really touched me as a player, they put you in a desperate situation and force you to make a quick decision.

It's very interesting, you've made me want to look into the differences between horror fils and horror games lol.