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Eroticism in Horror & Games
by Marc Bell on 01/13/13 01:15:00 am   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.


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 - AntichristBlack SwanMulholland 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)

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Daniel Accardi
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You might have missed one of the best "ahead of its time" examples in film - Alien, which as well know now is all about getting a faceful of alien wing-wong. It's that sort of thing that makes me wonder if there are two different directions to consider:

1) The best erotic horror often is subtle, not brazen, and that's often simply because horror is generally better when subtle, rather than brazen.

2) Eroticism itself is difficult to get right. Sexuality is so polymorphous that representing it in any medium is astoundingly difficult, and incredibly satisfying when done right. Especially when our industry is so concerned with inclusiveness towards women, ethnic minorities, multiple sexualities, etc., I think trying to access that emotional and psychological content through horror might be the wrong way to go, at the moment. It might be nice to see some healthier portrayals of eroticism before we go all the way to the other end of the spectrum : P


Luis Guimaraes
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Childhood, Pregnancy and Sexuality are sure some of the subject that, when subverted into art-horror, give the worst results. And by "worst" I mean "best", when talking about horror. They're undeniably everybody's weak-spots beyond personal phobias.

Joshua Darlington
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Two comments.

1. (S)exploitation is used as supernormal stimuli by the pulp (popular) fiction industry. It's an ancient tradition. Oedipus Rex could be considered a sex horror tragedy. He kills his father, has sex with his mother, and then stabs his own eyes out.

2. There is a synthetic biology revolution 30 years behind the computer revolution. DIY GMO data sets are the cutting edge area of reproduction and monstrosity. Games have only taken a superficial step into biohacking dynamics.

Joshua Darlington
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(You pulled your comment?)

"he doesn't spend 45 minutes being orally raped by an alien."

That sounds more like Lucianus Samosatensis. He's the only Greco-Roman writer working shock comedy, rough sex, and aliens themes.


"Lucian was also one of the earliest novelists in Western civilization. In A True Story, a fictional narrative work written in prose, he parodied some fantastic tales told by Homer in the Odyssey and some feeble fantasies that were popular in his time. He anticipated "modern" fictional themes like voyages to the moon and Venus, extraterrestrial life and wars between planets, nearly two millennia before Jules Verne and H. G. Wells. His novel is widely regarded as an early, if not the earliest science fiction work."

Ron Dippold
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'Are video games too immature a medium to tackle such concepts?'

Mostly. A single video game author with a clear vision could handle it, but in a major game you'll end up with something like Phantasmagoria, God of War, Heavy Rain or Far Cry 3. Silent Hill 2 got away with it because it was Japanese and subtle (yes, for the audience, making an aggressive walking phallus with a huge thrusting spear wasn't sufficient to give it away). Japan is of course very big on erotic/porn horror visual novels - it's an entire genre, with companies like NitroPlus seemingly making nothing else, though of course you won't see it on the major consoles.

I do think you're missing Catherine. Yes, a bit silly, and with some over the top sexual grand guignol, but it is definitely heavily story driven erotic horror that mostly ends up being sabotaged by its own gameplay. I think it's squarely in the category you're looking for.

There's no question at all though that Silent Hill 2 is the only game I can think of that handles it maturely, for lack of a better word.