You might not have realised, but it's almost a sure bet you've played the finest example gaming has seen of the erotic horror genre. It happens to be one of the most critically acclaimed and talked about survival horror games of all time: Silent Hill 2.
Did you notice? You could be forgiven. Silent Hill 2 was subtle in its eroticism yet painted in broad strokes. It hid many of these aspects by using the elephant in the room syndrome, staring you in the face unaware until someone points out the bigger picture. Pyramid Head - the ever haunting menace of the game - was perhaps the clearest and most obvious metaphor. He is after all, a giant walking phallus.
Maria, representing James' pent up sexual frustrations, is constantly murdered by Pyramid Head, over and over again, yet always comes back for another impaling. She taunts James, Basic Instinct inspired scenes where prison bars add yet another layer of untouchability.
Angela, sexually abused as a child, literally faces her demon; a bed where the sheets writhe and dance as if someone's inside. When James kills this demon, in a room where the walls are adorned with poles pulsing back and forth, Angela is set free.
One can delve into the mysteries of Silent Hill 2 for days, there's certainly a lot of material to digest. It's an adventure I'd encourage as there is such a wealth of imagery and themes that it is clearly the work of artists at the top of their game.
Sadly, besides Silent Hill 2, there's not much else in the genre to get excited about. Silent Hill 3 delved into these themes as well, but more from the perspective of a woman coming of age than a sexual exploration (a female gamers favourite as it deals with many aspects of young womanhood, menstruation cycles, fertility, etc). Silent Hill 4 was less subtle in its approach with peep holes into neighbours bedrooms, and unlockable costumes for the non playable female characters. Unfortunately, from there, the series continued its slide from erotic context aware themes and into blatant sexual imagery. Nurses no longer make sense in the context of the narrative, instead placed about the world for titillation; breasts and butt cheeks becoming more exposed as each new game arrives.
Where are the others? Clive Barker knows a thing or two about erotic horror, his Hellraiser series of movies sees characters seeking out sexual pleasure in pain and unleash demons on the earth who specialise in just that. But he hasn't explored this much in his games. Jericho had a couple of sexual themes but not much more than your run of the mill shooter.
Monolith, the developers of Condemned and FEAR, some of the best horror games of the last few years, has hardly gone near the racier end of the genre. FEAR 2 had a bare (and thankfully all grown up) Alma taunt you throughout the game, concluding in a rather uncomfortable situation, but none of these were positioned as particularly sexual in nature.
There's a lot of space to move and grow in the erotic horror genre, with films way ahead of the curve - Antichrist, Black Swan, Mulholland Drive, the list goes on. Are video games too immature a medium to tackle such concepts? Are they too controversial? In a world where publishers fold under the brunt of media backlash, is there any hope of seeing more brazen attempts than Silent Hill 2's subtle approach?
I'd like to think there's some budding indie developers out there willing to take more risks and push this genre forward. But until someone steps up to the challenge we will have to endure the endless crude imaginings akin to low budget skin flicks.
(This post was originally published on Digital Romance Lab)