Games Round Up: Black History Month

As part of my work at the Woodrow Wilson Center’s Serious Games Initiative, I will be writing blog posts about serious/impact games. These write-ups will get cross posted here with a link to the original  on the Wilson Website.

This blog post was written in collaboration with Evaniya Shakya. 

You can find the original post on the Science and Technology Innovation Program website.

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Year Walk: One imposter syndrome-filled designers take on production.

The game Year Walk (Simogo) is a point and touch adventure game initially published for iOS devices on February 21st, 2013. It would then be published through Steam on March of the same year and Nintendo’s WiiU in September. The game put the player in the shoes of Daniel Svensson who, after finding out his lover was to marry a suitor picked by her parents, decides to go about the process of arsgang, otherwise known as “year walking,” to see what the future holds in store for them. On his journey, he meets, and is tested by, several creatures from Swedish folklore that lead him to a devastating truth. The story for Year Walk was originally supposed to be a short film written by Simon Flesser, but after deciding that the act of year walking was a perfect fit for video games, he partnered up with Simogo games to develop the haunting adventure game. For the purposes of assessment, I will do my own take on developing year walk and then going through the steps to publish the game on the PlayStation store.

Continue reading Year Walk: One imposter syndrome-filled designers take on production.

The Decline of the AAA Horror Genre

This is an essay written in April/May of 2016 on the trajectory of horror video games in the AAA space. As such, some of the data in this essay may be outdated. If there is an interest, I will update with new data and revise my conclusions to reflect it.


“Games have inhabited the horror genre for as long they’ve been in existence” So writes Richard Rouse III in an essay for Horror Video Games: Essays on the Fusion of Fear and Play (Perron et. Al., p.15). Many of the authors in this book talk about how video games is a more perfect medium for horror in that you get a deeper connection to the story than you would if you were, say, reading a book or watching a movie. In those flat mediums you lay witness to others getting chased by the big bad. The story relies on your empathy for characters to create a truly emotional connection to the people. However, in the game you are in direct control of everything that happens to the protagonist. “Indeed, this is a new type of horror, because death would no longer be something happening to someone else, but instead to you. Any chance of redemption and eventual success would involve you facing down death again and again and somehow, finally, emerging victorious.” (15) The horror genre, for a long time has been a cult affair, with those who admire it doing so to the point of obsession. But going to those forums or blogs that specialize in talking about the genre tend to look at the games of old like Resident Evil (Mikami) and Silent Hill (Toyama) reminiscing about how good the old days were. This presented a quandary; what was happening to the genre that there was rarely buzz about its future? The short lived Playstation demo PT (Kojima) sent a shiver through the entire gaming community, that helped spark a desire for more atmospheric horror games. And independent titles like Amnesia: The Dark Descent (Frictional) and Outlast (Red Barrels) changed the genre by leaving the player completely vulnerable, but those games were not triple A (AAA).

So where did the AAA horror genre go?

This paper seeks to investigate the possible reasons why there are so few AAA horror titles being released into the video game market in two ways. First it will look to the past and see what horror titles have come out that fall under the AAA and Indie areas. Then a survey and its participants will be analyzed in order to get a sense why people may or may not like horror games.

Horror Games: A History

            Before diving into the data on the genre, a better picture needs to be painted. Horror in video games has always been a common staple, starting with the game Haunted House (Atari) where one player played detective while the other played a ghost trying not to get caught. This simplistic design would slowly evolve with the Atari, where the genre would take a “decidedly sci-fi feel.” So says Jon Newcombe in his Gamereactor article The History of Horror: A Video Game Retrospective (Oct. 2013). He notes several games where the main antagonist was an alien presence that must be avoided and eventually defeated in order to win the game.

Soon with the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) and Master System came a slew of new horror titles. “This was the era of the licensed move tie-in that saw horror films like Friday The 13th, Nightmare on Elm Street and Bram Stoker’s Dracula get video game makeovers.” (Newcombe) the bit generations evolved with titles like Castlevania and soon gave way to Playstation and what is said to be the Golden-Era of Horror video games. While there will be other games that start the ball rolling, this all truly kicks off in 1996 with the release of Resident Evil where you are stuck in a mansion fighting off hordes of the undead with bad camera angles, stronger enemies by the room, and very limited ammo. “The formula resonated with players. It was dread-inducing in the best of ways—a thrill to explore this mansion, a fright to face those increasingly bizarre monsters, the best of challenges to do speed-runs and gather secrets. It appealed to players in different ways, from the unique atmosphere to the layered gameplay. Even its B-movie campiness, with a bad live-action intro and Engrish dialogue, only added to the overall charm.” Writes Bryan Cebulski on the golden era (“Horror”). With the game being such a huge success in several countries, it brought with it the desire for large companies to get some of the profit. Games started to come out that were seen as hits. This time brought with it Silent Hill, Parasite Eve (Squaresoft), Dino Crisis (Capcom) and Clock Tower (Agetec). All games that are, to this day considered classics in not only the genre but video games as a whole.

However, the magic started to slow down and the genre again experienced a shift. In the AAA space the genre slowly moved to a more action style of play, with games like Dead Space (Electronic Arts) and F.E.A.R. (Monolith) allowing the player to shoot their problems away with bullets to spare. The indie space became the place for horror fans to go to get the horror experience the sought. Amnesia: The Dark Descent became the new way for horror to be played, and more and more interesting indie games became the way for people to experience fear. As the indie space continued to grow, the AAA space began to move towards a more action oriented horror game.


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Whistleblower and the Female Gaze

Back in my undergraduate days, I lived in a cozy 3 bedroom apartment with 3 other girls few minutes away from the Staten Island campus of my school. Unfortunately for all four of us, we ended up having to commute to the Queens campus of our school which meant getting up early in the morning to catch a bus at 5 AM. More often than not, all four of us were able to make the trek together, but there were times when others chose not to go or our schedules weren’t in sync to go together. On those early mornings, there were two choices when getting to the bus; a long walk around the neighborhood that often led to missing the bus or a short 5 minute route that took you up a long staircase and through two alleys. Those early mornings could be a little frightening on the right days. During our last two years of undergrad, there was a person going around to different apartments and looking into the bathrooms while women were showering, even trying to grab some women as they tried to run out. Couple that with the fact that reports had been going around of a man grabbing women’s private areas and a strange clown that would show up random places on the Island (as local Staten Islanders used to call it) and more often than not my roommates and I left early to take the long way to the bus. But that often didn’t work out when late night papers and much needed talks had you running around the apartment to get where you needed to go. The alley route was not fun at night. There were only two lights that gave you any idea of what was ahead of you and lots of places and corners where anyone could jump out at you. The only real comfort were the feral cats that would pop out to check who was approaching before meowing and walking away.

My roommates and I would often talk with our male friends about how scary the alley route could be. That you were always looking behind your back, and if any other girls were walking behind you they would announce their presence as not to scare you. They often retorted that we were just being paranoid. Nothing ever happened in those back alleys and nothing ever would. We were just inventing stories to scare each other and get attention. While we ended up going unharmed through graduation, is common among many women who need to get where they’re going. I have heard and read and watched countless stories where women held their purses a little closer to themselves or turned their keys into weapons when passing by men that stared at them for too long. And while it’s true that not every man on the planet is a sex-crazed beast ready to attack, the facts prove that women have the right to be concerned. No matter the time of day or year, no matter if the place is familiar to them, women will become the victims of murder, harassment and sexual abuse simply because of their gender identity.

But often when women tell people of their concerns, they are often dismissed. The list of excuses is endless; “That could never happen to you,” “You’re just talking crazy,” “Well maybe if you didn’t dress like that there wouldn’t be a problem,” “Not all men are like that.” The list goes on and on, and only allows for the voices of women that do get harmed to get silenced when they so desperately need to get heard. But there may be a way to change all that. Videogames as of late are growing into a powerful platform. Numerous developers have entered this space in order to shed light on issues that both the world and they themselves face in order to shed light and bring justice to the matter. However, the industry still has a lot to learn; it is in a constant struggle to find equilibrium on the issues of race, sex, and gender with large and vocal opposition on each side. Those who realize that some of the content can be insensitive say that if the genre wants to be taken seriously, it needs to stop playing up old stereotypes and reinvent its old ways. Those who cherish the genre as it is think that these ideas are all a part of the art form, and to get rid of them is to stifle the artist. Regardless of both opinions, if the medium is to be taken seriously as it so desires, the video game industry and community have to start looking at games with a critical eye, and just like most other forms of entertainment, the medium suffers from a perspective that is slanted by men. This causes the stories of women as the basis for video games to be unfathomable and perpetuate the sexist tropes that already flood the media.

In this essay, I will be analyze the male gaze and how it dominates the media, while trying to prove that the female gaze is also something that exists and can be used to tell the stories of women. I will do this through a critical analysis of the game Outlast’s (Red Barrels, 2013) downloadable content (hereto after referred to as DLC) Whistleblower (Red Barrels, 2014) and how it can be interpreted as using the female gaze to give men a perspective on the fears of women.

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