I love this quote with all of my heart:
“One thing that you have to keep in mind is that, if a game is too scary, people just won't play it. In movies or attractions…if it gets too scary you just keep your eyes shut and soon it will be over. But if it's a game, people will just stop. So that's why there's a limit on how scary you can make a game.
"But in this case we're totally ignoring that and, you know what? If you don't want to keep on playing through the game, so be it. We don't care."
That’s Hideo Kojima, discussing his team’s plans for Silent Hills, the latest game in long-running series. He confirms a fear that I’ve had regarding both horror films and games for a long time — that even some of the scariest ones still hold back, or simply don’t have the right twisted minds at the helm. Games are pretty scary, but they could be way more horrific, and Silent Hill is the perfect series to carry that torch.
The voluntary horror conundrum
I used to be one of those horror game quitters. Back in the day, with games like the original Resident Evil, Silent Hill, and Shadow Man, I’d stop to take breaks for days, weeks, or even months; dreading the next time I’d have to pick up a controller. One particularly nasty section of Shadow Man involving the sounds of a dentist drill and an innocent puppy left me unable to proceed through the game for months. It didn’t help that I was stuck, forced to comb over the same disturbing areas over and over.
These days I’m still capable of being scared by horror games. Stuff like Amnesia: The Dark Descent required the occasional break to catch my breath, but the feeling of wanting to drop the controller and run away has left me. More often, I find a lot of horror tricks don’t work on me anymore. I’ve built up a tolerance to games designed to make YouTubers scream on camera.
A game for survival horror veterans?
Far too often I find myself poking at the seams of a horror game, dancing at the edges of scripted events, entirely aware of the carefully orchestrated traps the designers have in store for me. P.T. was exciting because it was unpredictable. It successfully lulled me into a false sense of security, and worse, I often didn’t know how it was going to try to scare me.
That may be the greatest takeaway from P.T. going into Silent Hills, and I sincerely hope that the unpredictability finds its way into the final game. If Kojima truly wants to ignore the self-imposed scare limit in horror games, he’ll have to employ his surprise tactics throughout Silent Hills.
Hideo Kojima has his pros and cons as a game designer, and they’re well-documented. That said, some of the rules he breaks for games like Metal Gear Solid don’t work the same way in horror games. Brutality that may come off as offensive and tasteless in Metal Gear Solid may be the perfect, twisted fit for a game like Silent Hills. One thing Kojima has proven lately is a knack for combining realism and surrealism in some dark and disturbing ways, something the Silent Hill series is known for.
On the other hand, his tendency towards talkative, narrative-heavy stories is a bad fit for Silent Hill. It’s a series that’s generally best when the characters aren’t saying a word, so unless he can make the writing more compelling than its been in the past, we’d probably be better off without it.
Time will tell if Kojima’s signature touch meshes with Silent Hill’s psychological horror pedigree. The series needed a refresh, and one way or another he’s sure to provide it. Whether it’s the refresh we want is a different story entirely. That said, his expressed goal to scare with impunity leaves me no choice but to vouch for him. You hear that Hideo? I’m trusting you to scare the controller out of my hands — don’t disappoint.
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