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[PATV] Wednesday, October 31, 2012 - Extra Credits Season 5, Ep. 11: Horror Protagonists



  • DedwrekkaDedwrekka What Would Nyarlathotep Do? Registered User regular
    edited November 2012
    Actually, now that I think about it, the Silent Hill games are the biggest reason that I disagree with the thesis that the protagonist is somehow essential to horror.

    Yes, the player needs to feel relatively helpless and weak, but the character he's controlling doesn't have to be well-fleshed out. Amnesia is one good example of this. Granted, part of this is because first-person horror games don't need it.

    Often, the setting and antagonist are more important characters than the protagonist. This isn't really surprising since horror protagonists have to react to whatever conflict is dropped in their lap.

    The two games you mentioned actually disprove your hypothesis. In Amnesia, the protagonist is as well fleshed out through actions as any RPG character. The protagonist is an everyman who has no special abilities or talents. It's fleshed out because it's you. That may seem counter-intuitive, but if the character was not so well developed as to be anybody who plays the game, then it would completely fail as a concept. You say the character isn't flesh out or realized, but you know so much about the character just through gameplay that there's no need to go through dialog or backstory to learn.
    For instance, what happens when there's a creature near-by or you're in the dark? The character becomes scared, starts to breath heavily and lose focus. So you know quite a bit about their motivations from that; 1) They're afraid of the dark, 2) They run from fear instinctively. They could have reacted by becoming violent in the face of fear, they could have reacted by pushing forward, but instead the character runs rather than fights, and tries to seek out a comforting environment (a lit one) when frightened. The fact that the mechanics support that action doesn't change that it's what the character does and is.
    You also know that the character is intuitive rather than learned. In the game you have to constantly use intuition throughout to advance in the story rather than go searching for some lost tomes or instructions, or even trying to learn about what it is you're doing. Something burns you, you douse it with water, you don't try to figure out what it is first. Something runs at you, you run away, you don't try to fight it or get a good look at it or learn about it. You hear footsteps, you hide, not find out what it is.

    You know quite a bit about the protagonist in Amesia without ever needing a word of dialog. And besides, the protagonist knows nothing about themselves, so what's important is the character's motivation and actions, and not their history. But not having a history makes them no-less fleshed out.

    In Silent Hill, the attempts to use a non-fleshed out character and a protagonist that was not the center of the game turned the series into a survival game, and neutered the horror elements of it. When the game is about the monsters, it's not scary. When the game is about the setting, it's not scary. Dead Space was another attempt at the "survival horror" genre that completely failed by making both of those the subject of the game. You spent 1 second every 20 minutes for the first hour jumping when something popped out of a vent or behind you, and after that, it was a hack and slash gore fest. The protagonist rarely felt powerless, and often felt overpowered.
    You can track it to a single element within the game that completely changes the entire aesthetic of the game; Weaponry. This is what made Amnesia successful, the removal of weaponry. Because after you arm the protagonist with something useful as a weapon in a survival horror game, the protagonist becomes a moot point. After that, the protagonist defaults to "Gun". They have something useful so it becomes the answer to everything, and it's the shield they hide their personality behind. You stop playing a person and start playing a pair of shaky hands with gun instead of a head, and the answer to every question defaults to that head. Monster? Gun. Creepy noise? Meet gunshot sounds. Creepy kid? Meet creepy bullet.

    The reason Silent Hill 2 is held in such regard is that it understood exactly that. Once you hand the protagonist a weapon, you'll never see their character again. So it took that character and transplanted into everything else. That's why it was so good. Because even though the protagonists had weapons, they were fighting aspects of themselves, and there was nothing they could shoot or hit in front of them that would stop them from being any less reflections of what they were fighting. It took the weapons and made them useless to fight the horror, because the horror stopped being about the physical, the surroundings and the monsters, and became entirely mental and focused in the mind of protagonists and the player.

    But on another note, I was wondering how a horror game would feel if you played as something not human. Like a rabbit, or a shadow or some such thing, something not human but not powerful either.

    The necessity of it being relate-able would ruin it in some ways. You couldn't adequately provide the same kind of fear without some serious mental-anthropomorphizing. At which point it's still entirely about a human protagonist, just one in a different situation.
    Razaxx wrote: »
    I think that with technology evolving so quickly, the horror genre has huge potential. I think that this technology can open more doors than for other genres, but it will also increase the potential for failure.
    What I mean is that new tech can really bring the genre down in a huge element of horror: imagination. Unless the Devs can learn to TRUST it's player base, then everything would be spelled out for us. For me the biggest part of horror is stepping around a corner and knowing that I could be easily destroyed. The biggest fear is not of anything that I can see, it is what I can't.
    The way that this tech will improve the genre, however, is by cutscenes. I am NOT an advocate for cutscenes in RPGs or any other type of game really, but with horror it can work really well. With "protagonist as monster," we see how, when we have control, we work our hardest towards a happy end. With cutscenes, especially non-skip-able ones, it delivers the feeling of powerlessness. To see what you have created ripped away by your character can really be disheartening.
    I might be too old to dress up, but I am certainly not too mature...
    Halloween is almost over, so it is basically Christmas!

    The problem with tech in horror games is the same problem with tech in horror movies. The inherent issues with technology in 50s-80s horror films meant that, for the most part, you had to keep the monster hidden as much as possible or risk it seeming "cheesy". When that was overcome, you saw horror movies with more and more visible monsters, and it ruined the monster movie genre for some time (For a good example, see House on Haunted Hill the 1959 version and then the 1999 re-make). The same thing started happening with video games, and the loss of horror in many mainstream horror games more evident now that we have more old-school style horror like Amnesia and Slender to show us how you can feel fear without seeing the entire world around us and without ever seeing the monster.

    The problem with doing that through cut-scenes is that they break immersion. Once agency is totally removed from the player like that they break out of their world, and they'll often become angry at the game for yanking away the controls like that rather than frightened. If the game removes something important that way, it doesn't make the player feel scared, it makes them feel the kind of impotent rage that can only come from a game that acts like a bully. It doesn't make them fear the creatures or the story elements, it makes them hate the game.

    Dedwrekka on
  • ArchsorcererArchsorcerer Registered User regular
    Play Spec Ops: The Line people.

    XBL - ArchSilversmith

    "We have years of struggle ahead, mostly within ourselves." - Made in USA
  • Twenty SidedTwenty Sided Registered User regular
    edited November 2012
    Amnesia's protagonist is a blank slate, which is exactly my point. He isn't important. The darkness as an enemy, the main villain and the occasional super monster are bigger and more important characters than he is. His breathing heavily and wigging-out are more gameplay mechanics than an effort to characterize this person.

    Many people did find Dead Space scary, because fear is largely a subjective thing. So you're really just reminding me of examples where the protagonist doesn't even really need to be that powerless. I've known people who aren't able to control their panic reflexes when playing Dead Space and Dead Space 2. Really what gets people is fear of the unknown and being surrounded by dark spaces full of hostile monster. Having a plasma gun doesn't really seem to help some audiences deal with that.

    Dead Space 2 attempted to expand Isaac as a character (and I'd argue that they did it unsuccessfully). Many people complained that the action emphasis in the second game would ruin what makes Dead Space a true horror game. But again, people still freaked-out when placed in a dark room with things that want to kill them.

    While I did have problems with the clunky mechanics of Silent Hill, and I still felt pretty effective, it really wasn't for a lack of trying on the part of Team Silent.

    Intellectually, I don't have a problem with the monsters in Silent Hill being killable. They look and feel disturbing. I'm sure many people react viscerally to images of violence, even when directed against twisted abominations birthed from the darkest recesses of Freudian psychology. (I know for a fact that my mother was terribly offended when I started smacking around a child-like gremlin thing with a length of rusty pipe.) And generally speaking, there were situations where the hoarding-gamer in me found it more convenient to ignore monsters than to fight them.

    Anyway, SH3 had an incredibly memorable set-pieces with the mannequins and the mirror room. And the morgue. And the letters from your creepy stalker, Stanley. Heather as a character, powerful or not, is almost a secondary concern. She's only important to the story because of her tenuous connection to the history of the town itself.
    Because of magic. Literally. The cultists have faith that it is real and that makes it real. They believe Heather *is* Cheryl, therefore it is true. Heather gets all the dubious powers that the cultists ascribe to her, whether she wants them or not.

    I will also contradict you on the topic of SH2's success. It was a true dramatic tragedy. Nearly Greek. It's cathartic. To achieve this, you need to have characters you can identify with. This is makes it a shoe-in success compared to the more straightforward investigative-survival tales of the other three Silent Hill games. Three-of-four games make it clear that Silent Hill is not about personal and dramatic tragedy. People find SH2 more emotionally impactful. But Silent Hill is also about exploration of the supernatural mystery, which I enjoy just as much or moreso than the personal tragedy.

    Twenty Sided on
  • AkagiAkagi Registered User
    @ Twenty Sided

    Absolutely disagree with you. Of course there are people who nearly get a heart attack when they see a spider and for those kind of scaredy cats Dead Space may be a horror game, but aside from that horror only works when the character is weak.

    Personality doesn't really matter, but can enhance the experience, especially if other people are involved, because then you can understand their motivation to protect them or the grief they feel when one of them dies. Corpse Party is a good example of that.

  • trevoracioustrevoracious Registered User regular
    @Twenty Sided
    I'm surprised you found the Amnesia protagonist so vapid. One of the most compelling elements of that story, for me, was trying to figure out how complicit he was in the whole f-fest that was the castle. It colored him greatly, imo.

  • trevoracioustrevoracious Registered User regular
    Dat outro. Topical win.

  • trevoracioustrevoracious Registered User regular
    And I guess I get to see Wreck It Ralph now? So pro.

  • CuiasodoCuiasodo Registered User regular
    @Twenty Sided

    I would have to disagree (to a point) about the protagonist in Amnesia being a completely blank slate. Be forewarned, for beyond here there be spoilers!

    The protagonist from Amnesia starts out as a type 1 horror protagonist. He is, as you say, a blank slate, relatable because we can put whatever personality to him we want. I would argue that there's certain constraints on what sort of personality we can assign him, though, given his lack of combat prowess and his tendency to fall into pannic attacks when it gets dark.

    He's only blank for the initial hook, though. Though the game, if you're going around collecting the notes he left behind, you soon find that the protagonist is a type 3 in disguise. He's done these horrible, awful, evil things and there's no telling how much remorse, if any, he feels for doing them. I remember getting to that moment in the game and being very conflicted about the guy I was rooting for up until then. So, while character might not be the biggest thing in something like Amnesia, the three classes still apply here and are used to get a good reaction.

  • SleepIncarnateSleepIncarnate Registered User
    @SpyMaster356 I think Allison is dressed up as War from Darksiders. Daniel is very definitely Teddie from Persona 4, I think James is someone from Echo Bazaar/Fallen London but could be wrong, and I have no clue who LeeLee is supposed to be.

  • BlakenarrowBlakenarrow Registered User new member
    edited November 2012
    Leelee is Toph Beifong from Avatar: The last airbender.
    The t.v. series, NOT THE MOVIE BASED ON IT!
    Oh, and James is Professor Layton from the DS puzzle series.

    Blakenarrow on
  • TerriDTerriD Registered User
    Can the Extra Credits people give us some more examples of the third type of protagonist from video games?

  • SuperDVDguySuperDVDguy Registered User
    And here I felt as if Isaac might have been a bit of all three. Though first off I want to say when I played Dead Space, it was dark, my headphones were on and it was set to hard mode and there was no upgrading anything - self induced helplessness I know, but thats something it feels like you have to do in horror games these days.

    Anyway, spoilers ahead. Now, I felt, through the entire experiece, that Isaac was a blank slate, upon which I cast myself. The only thing that cast him as a type 1 protagonist in my experience was the chaper 12 notes in my new game plus. Now anyway, I think he was a type 2 protagonist- you think you've got everything handled, the Marker is destroyed and then there's Nicole. She was supposed to go with the Marker.

    I think though, more than anything, he's a type 3, and heres why: Everyone around Isaac dies, more often than not in his presence. Now, if you've seen The Uninvited or (I assume its the same in) A Tale of Two Sisters (which I, regretably have not seen), you know where I'm going with this. That would mean Isaac sees the people on the Ishimura as monsters, though if they see him the same way, is possible, at least part of the time. Though I get the feeling that Viceral thinks so too, if the begining of DS:Extraction is any hint.

  • MeaCulpa91MeaCulpa91 Registered User
    Is it just me, or are all the "artistic" games all brutally and horrifically depressing or terrifying?

    Any artistic games with the capacity to uplift out there?

  • GundiGundi Serious Bismuth Registered User regular
    I still say Silent Hill: Shattered Memories is a good game. Silent Hill 3 is... arguably a good game? I think the only real thing wrong with it is that Silent Hill 1&2 are more memorable. And yeah, Silent Hill 1 has a Type 1 protagonist, but that's the exception to the rule.

  • KristofskiKristofski Registered User
    Are you going to do a bonfire night special? I suggest making it about how awesome things are when they explode.

  • Aaron_OAaron_O Registered User regular
    I was only really afraid in Dead Space until after I'd died a few times. When that happens, the player realizes the protagonist is immortal and it makes the player feel invincible. In Amnesia, that simply doesn't happen. I'm halfway through the game and I've died twice, and only once was monster-related. That game still terrifies me.

  • Twenty SidedTwenty Sided Registered User regular
    edited November 2012
    Gundi wrote: »
    Gundi wrote: »
    I still say Silent Hill: Shattered Memories is a good game. Silent Hill 3 is... arguably a good game? I think the only real thing wrong with it is that Silent Hill 1&2 are more memorable. And yeah, Silent Hill 1 has a Type 1 protagonist, but that's the exception to the rule.


    But I've already argued that SH 1, 3 and 4 are "Type 1" and "Type 2" protagonists, so I won't belabor the point.

    I still tend to think that the "I'm the real monster" thing is overwrought and forced, even concerning the protagonist of Amnesia. Your protagonist is doing bad bad things on behalf of the main villain anyway, so really, it's his ball game.

    Twenty Sided on
  • Twenty SidedTwenty Sided Registered User regular
    edited November 2012
    MeaCulpa91 wrote: »
    Is it just me, or are all the "artistic" games all brutally and horrifically depressing or terrifying?

    Any artistic games with the capacity to uplift out there?

    No, because tragedy is uplifting and noble. Victory is cheap and saccharine. I say this somewhat ironically, but I can't think of an example to the contrary. It's tragedy versus comedy.

    Twenty Sided on
  • GenixmaGenixma Registered User new member
    So James is Professor Layton, Allison is War from Darksiders, Dan is Teddie, and Lee Lee is Toph, awesome.

  • toaster_pimptoaster_pimp Registered User regular
    @twenty sided

    i thot tragedy was supposed to be like, a cautionary tale - and by watching it we lived it, purged out similar emotions and desires through catharsis, and could thus avoid repeating the tragic mistakes.

    if victory is deserved, like a flawed person persevering against all odds, i think it can be pretty uplifting - unless u think that never happens in real life, in which case i guess it would be cheap and saccharine...but that's kinda depressing, nO?

  • toaster_pimptoaster_pimp Registered User regular
    but then i guess purging would leave u lighter, and thus be uplifting.....i'm over-thinking this.

  • Twenty SidedTwenty Sided Registered User regular
    A cautionary tale sounds like a morality fable. So no, tragedy is more like an outlet for life being basically unfair.

  • Sora112Sora112 Registered User
    And that's why Spec Op: The Line can almost be classified as a horror.

  • ZombieAladdinZombieAladdin Registered User regular
    Would the villains in many of Hitchcock's horror films be an example of a type 1 or a type 3? I can think of Psycho, Strangers on a Train, Shadow of a Doubt, and to an extent Rebecca having villains who are ordinary citizens of modern society--they just have fewer inhibitions. While these four all lose to the protagonist by the end, they still feel far more relatable than your typical horror villain.

  • ClomClom Registered User new member
    I love Lee lee's face when Dan throws her the head!

  • SlappyMeatsSlappyMeats Registered User new member
    The Type 3 isn't only relegated to the horror genre, but it certainly shines there. It seems to play on the idea of morality and whether or not the terrible things we're capable of and sometimes fantasize about are actually truly "terrible" in the objective sense. As in: "Are these things wrong, or does society/humanity just assume so and carry on? Are these rules to be followed, or can I operate above those assumptions?" Those notions scare us as supposedly civilized members of society, not only because of the admission of those urges, but also because of the difficulty in addressing those questions with objective depth and what cruelty we could be capable of in doing so.

  • SlappyMeatsSlappyMeats Registered User new member
    edited January 2013
    Oh yeah, and
    the real monster is man.

    SlappyMeats on
  • Gabriel94Gabriel94 Costa RicaRegistered User regular

  • NomudNomud Registered User regular
    Just want to throw out there that leaning more towards action and empowerment doesn't necessarily remove the horror from a game. Oftentimes atmosphere can override the other feelings and still make you feel uneasy or even scared. My example would be some of the levels in Painkiller--particularly the asylum level! You're never without means to destroy the monsters in this game, but they can still be so unexpected that your empowerment doesn't matter.

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