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Survival Horror

Entry updated 8 May 2015. Tagged: Game, Theme.

Term used to describe a form of Videogame which, unusually amongst game forms, is defined by its tone and ambience rather than by its gameplay. As the name suggests, Survival Horror games are characterized by vulnerable protagonists attempting to escape from menacing and disturbing situations, almost always of a fantastic nature. The gameplay most often resembles that of an action Adventure, though in a Survival Horror game the player characters will be at much more frequent risk of death, dismemberment and crippling psychological injury. The form is dominated by Japanese designers, and is generally developed for games consoles rather than personal computers.

The term was first used to promote Resident Evil (1996), which is thus often considered to be the first game of its kind. Several earlier works could perhaps be classified as Survival Horror, however, notably the Alien-influenced Project Firestart (1989 Dynamix, C64) designed by Jeffrey Tunnell, Damon Slye and the Cthulhu Mythos-inspired Alone In The Dark (1992) (see Call of Cthulhu), created in France. Resident Evil itself was clearly influenced by Sweet Home (1989 Capcom, NES) designed by Juzo Itami, a Japanese haunted house game linked to the horror film Sûîto Homu (1989; vt Sweet Home outside Japan), which in turn bears some resemblance to the Steven Spielberg film Poltergeist (1982). While the Resident Evil series concentrates on visceral Zombie horror with an sf rationale, later members of the school have tended towards dark fantasy and psychological terror. Notable examples of the form include the serial killer-based Clock Tower (1998 Human Entertainment, PS1, vt Clock Tower 2 in Japan), Fatal Frame (2001 Tecmo, PS2; 2002 XBox, vt Project Zero in Europe and Australia) designed by Keisuke Kikuchi, in which a young girl must exorcize a house full of ghosts using a mystical camera, the Canadian game Eternal Darkness: Sanity's Requiem (2002 Silicon Knights, GC) designed by Denis Dyack, which involves elements based on the Cthulhu Mythos, and the markedly unsettling Silent Hill 2 (2001 Konami, PS2; 2001 rev vt Silent Hill 2: Restless Dreams XBox; 2002 Win) designed by Masashi Tsuboyama. Among the rare examples which can be categorized as sf are the UK developed game Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth (2005) (see Call of Cthulhu), Parasite Eve (1998 Square, PS1) designed by Hironobu Sakaguchi, Takashi Tokita – a game based on Hideaki Sena's eponymous novel of present day humanity threatened by rebellious mitochondrial cells in the form of Telekinetic women – and Dead Space (2008). At their best, Survival Horror games can be profoundly involving and remarkably effective at inducing emotional responses in their players, though in a somewhat limited register. [NT]

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