A Cinematic Synthesis of Humanity and Monstrosity

Curator's Note

The space between the gamer’s chosen persona and the monsters they encounter continues to shrink. Humanity and monstrosity are blended together within increasingly complex narratives. Whether antagonist or antihero, monsters have evolved from the glorified targets of the 1970s to fascinating characters that gamers can occasionally assume for their own use. Goblins, zombies, vampires, and aliens have all become the protagonists of various video games. The shift is indicative of gamers’ fascination with the monstrous and their desire to deeply explore it.

The echoes of familiarity that reside in humanoid monsters like Pyramid Head make them not only terrifying but also fascinating. Players delight in the excitement of their own fear when it’s a fear that comes with stories. For example, the premise of the Silent Hill franchise is a town with the power to make thoughts come to life. Pyramid Head, with his strange helmet, represents repressed memories.

Such Jungian shadows made flesh engage players’ brains as well as their adrenaline-filled hearts. The gamer who battles Pyramid Head is told they are battling a part of their own subconscious guilt. Story blends with action, heightened by visual and audio effects. The effect is something evocative of cinema. As with cinema, the cumulative result is one of greater emotional engagement between viewer and object.

Modern video games are often vastly complex productions with scripts and credits that roll longer than a Hollywood film. Survival horror games like the Outlast franchise, Alien: Isolation, and Amnesia: The Dark Descent are often literally played in the dark to heighten cinematic immersion and the terror of encountering monsters. The “cinematic” is hard to define but easy to recognize. Cinematic effect is a confluence of separate factors that, combined, represent life better than life itself. These elements create a “hyperreality” and it is here, in the shadow of eclipsed reality, where players can fall in love with monsters they encounter.

As games become more like movies, monsters become more like people. Hyper-realistic monsters need only a glimmer of recognizable humanity to connect deeply with gamers, and hyper-cinematic games provide the perfect glue for the bond.

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