With the release of Bloodborne, the gaming community has once again been talking about about Survival Horror in a AAA market. I’ll be upfront with this, I have not played, nor do I own, Bloodborne, Dark Souls, Dark Souls 2, or Demon Souls. If I am wrong about the games, which I probably am, well then fuck me. But hey, maybe this isn’t really about any particular games, and more about general thoughts on gameplay, genre, and the art in player-media interaction. Or, you know, fuck me.
While I haven’t played Bloodborne, I have watched a fair amount of gameplay of it, and I don’t think the Survival Horror designation fits. That’s not to say Bloodborne is bad or doesn’t deserve its high praise- perish the thought, and if I had five hundred dollars that I had to either burn or spend on a PS4 I would at the very least seriously consider the PS4 thanks to Bloodborne– it is just to say think Survival Horror refers to something that Bloodborne is not.
For a set of three first-stage unique pokemon, let’s look at what is horrifying about the game. Other than the loading screens, the first thing that comes to mind is the assets, the enemy models and environment themes. You’re faced with monsters and demons, and it’s always dark out. it’s a creepy atmosphere. But I think gamers have, at this point, learned the difference between art style and genre. When asking what makes a game what it is, the most important thing should usually be the gameplay.
With the survival Horror Genre, I think the essence of the gameplay is largely in where the challenge comes from. These are not necessarily difficult games with complex, difficult to master combat engines. In fact, many Survival Horror games have no combat at all. No, the gameplay is straight forward and easy, as long as you can execute it properly. The challenge comes in keeping a level head, and responding while under pressure.
When I die in a Survival Horror game, I don’t think, “Wow, this part is tough, I need to get better.” I think, “Dammit! I messed up! I should have done this or that, but I freaked out and went the wrong way.” This is the essence of Survival Horror. This is how the game beats you, by playing mind games, by getting that horror aspect creeping around your head. It doesn’t set up something difficult to overcome. It sets up something relatively easy, but makes you make it harder on yourself. It uses your own fear so you destroy yourself. That is the art of Survival Horror.
Meanwhile, looking at Bloodborne, I don’t see that. There’s certainly some small amount of it- you’re terrified of dying because of the harsh consequences and that puts a lot of pressure on you. But for the most part, it does use a skill based combat system and the challenge comes from mastering it.
Again, I have not played the game, so correct me if I’m wrong about the mental states it puts you through. But my point is, this is what I consider to be Survival Horror. More head trip than combat system.
Don’t Lose Your Way