The Transience of Survival Horror

Be prepared. This is more of a meandering enigma I wish to solve than a real observation, but why is the survival horror genre so rare in video games? I wouldn’t call it an unpopular genre, not with all the zombies gnashing thick bundles of brain everywhere. You can find a plenitude of survival horror books and films in both zombie and non-zombie flavours. So why not games? Nobody seems to make them often anymore, and the older ones developers made have become impossible to get, or were a rarity in the first place.

Survival horror video games strike me as a barren garden – a lot of seeds of potential but few fruit. Most will be familiar with forerunners Resident Evil and Silent Hill, which I’d call “similar opposites”, or semi-horror series like Bioshock. You might find someone familiar with Clock Tower, but you’d be much harder-pressed to find anyone who can tell you what Rule of Rose or Ku-on is about. Oh, and good luck finding print copies of those two, too! There’s… ironically… a huge demand for them after the fact. I’d just love to know why there was none before! If you wrote a book with their same plots, it’d sell like mad, so why not the interactive format?

What’s frustrating is a lot of survival and by extension, psychological horror games are stunningly beautiful and immersive, making them more like art you could live out through the characters’ haunted eyes. These were amongst the first in the medium to attempt intense themes like abuse, mental illness, and so on, and unusually were heavily female-driven. Clock Tower had entirely female protagonists. I thought this was awesome personally, but I can understand criticism that it’s rather like the “final girl” stereotype in films. Still.

Horror games tend to get poor marketing, perhaps because no one in corporate thinks this is valuable. Or just can’t be arsed with it. I suppose this is what actually makes them so prone to falling out of print instantly, but I’m not sure about that.

Some were hardly perfect. I have to admit gameplay-wise many horror games could be difficult (Rule of Rose), obfuscating (Siren), or straight-up poorly executed (Clock Tower II and its infamous, embarrassing English release). You can call me an obsessive art snot for it, but I still think they’ve got a huge appeal and cultural value that ought to be recognized and remastered, like they do with films. I have a soft spot in my tentacled heart for visual monstrosity and biological horror common to the genre.

Again, good luck with getting that to happen. It is truly a genre that buries its own body as soon as it’s reborn.

If you’re looking into survival horror, I’m sorry. It becomes something of an addiction with no satiation, but if thou must
I’d recommend the posterchildren first off, not only because they’re great but they’re easy to find – Resident Evil 4 if you favour action and the first four Silent Hills if you favour atmosphere. I genuinely don’t recommend Siren unless you’re up for beating your head against a wall in frustration. Siren is my eternal disappointment. It just sounded and looked so amazing and was… baffling, to say the least. Lots of others worth a try out there, but you might have to look somewhat harder.

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