There are places I don’t want to be. Places I don’t even want to dream about. Places where there is nothing but hostility, existential fears, physical danger and psychological trauma. And yet, I’ve played almost every installment of the Resident Evil series, and even devoured the series’ latest spin-off, Resident Evil Village, in one long sitting. What’s wrong with me?
Okay, I do have a certain affinity for scary narratives. As a kid I loved Ghostbusters, Alien and It (the version with Tim Curry), as an adult Get Out, Midsommar and It (the remake with Bill Skarsgård). Yet I can’t even stand jump-scares and omnipotent ghostly creatures. On the one hand, because they are cheap effects and lazy screenwriting. But for another, because they scare me.
What makes one’s own fear so thrilling has already been explored by wiser analysts, I assume. Probably something to do with adrenaline and dopamine, or at least bizarre escapism and morbid pleasure in the bizarre. I’d sign off on that as long as it’s movies. After all, they’re over in a few hours and I’m a spectator at best. The engaging nature of a video game, on the other hand, snatches me away from the comfortable observer perspective and makes me the protagonist of horror, the prisoner of the ghost train. And I am in for hours, sometimes days. In places where everyone would turn on their heels if they were real. Am I still all right?
I had barely survived the village square scene of the fictional Pueblo in Resident Evil 4, fought the first Las Plagas mutations in disgust, and freed Ashley, the president’s daughter, from a basement. From now on, there was only one thing to do: get out. But instead of heading for the horizon, I slid deeper and deeper into the swamp of hyper-aggressive brain dead, psychotic Napoleon wannabes and megalomaniac pharmaceutical companies. Again and again I asked myself why Leon didn’t just try an elegant jump over the next fence and hurry away through the woods. If you can make heads explode with roundhouse kicks, you should be able to do that. The game alone, if you can call it that, wouldn’t let us.
Even the iconic merchant’s island could only improve my mood from high-paced panic to depressed hopelessness. I was secretly looking forward to the time when I would again be allowed to carefree jump on turtles with Mario. But before that, I had to get out of this deadly escape room in one piece. Could I still be helped?
I’m sure there’s a better word for it than self-mortification, but that’s how every meter gained felt. When it all finally stopped was not determined by me, but by Capcom’s level designers. Perhaps I believed that the pain ennobled me, or that in the end all superhuman efforts would be rewarded. But aside from an awkward conversation on a jet ski and a long credits roll, not much was to come in that regard.
As trepidation bored into my mind, a realization pressed through the cracks of immersion into the light of day: perhaps I play these games not out of joy, but out of defiance. Out of a positive kind of defiance, mind you. And I imagine I’m in a dialogue with the designers: You think you can shock me? You can shake me so that I want to run away? I don’t run away from your silly fantasy. I defy it. I am not afraid! Do you hear me, fear, I laugh in your face!
As a meta-game in a horror game, my inner dialogue with the creators lets me endure even the worst moments, even enjoy them. And I know that designers and writers are more than aware of this. It is their craft to put me in this mode. And because I want to know what we have to tell ourselves in the future, I will also brave the horror of the next Resident Evil. With horrorfying pleasure.
Resident Evil is perhaps the best-known zombie-influenza simulator from Capcom. Part 4 was initially released exclusively for the Nintendo Game Cube in 2005 (but is now available on countless platforms) and said goodbye to fixed camera angles, which were still commonplace in the previous parts. It is considered a pioneer of over-the-shoulder shooters, as they were later made presentable by Gears of War and its ilk. With part 7, the series reinvented itself a bit and relied on first-person perspective and VR, which clearly brought the fear and horror aspect to the fore again. Part 8, subtitled “Village”, stays true to this approach and enjoys what feels like the biggest media buzz a Resident Evil has ever received.
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