Resident Evil, Silent Hill & Psychoanalysis

Slash.dot had up a link to my article on Resident Evil and Silent Hill in the Game Career Guide, an article which I realize is way too jargoned for mass publication. Oh well. This morning someone emailed me to ask a few follow-up questions, I figured I'd post my response. His questions were why we chose video games, whether we thought game makers consciously considered pscyhoanalysis, and whether we feel video game makers would benefit from an exposure to theory. To address your questions: this is our second article on the subject. The studies began in a Postmodernism and Popular Culture seminar offered by Dino Felluga at Purdue University. While many of our classmates looked at television and film, Sarah and I both enjoyed playing video games and thought that the multi-linearity of video games, the interactivity, was much closer to the core values of postmodernism than other mediums. I think George Landow's Hypertext series is illuminating here, as is Espen Aarseth's Cybertext. As we started reading, psychoanalysis seemed the logical choice (given its interest in death and the undead as the space between life and death--Zizek's introductory work on Lacan, Looking Awry, is an especially good text for someone who is looking for an introduction to this material) Our first article, "Playing with Ourselves," appeared in the edited collection Digital Gameplay and focused on how video games allow us to experiment and experience the internal struggles of our ego (torn between a desire to return to the quiet before birth and the enjoyment of life). As we played the games more, we became interested in the concept of save points... and then Silent Hill 4 came out and blew our minds. Completely. Your room, nicknamed "mother" both heals and hurts you? Lions, tigers, and psychology , oh my. So much for why gmes. As to if developers use theories directly: perhaps. I know that's a lame answer but... many game developers have a background in film theory, and film theory is heavily steeped in psychoanalysis. But I don't necessarily think that the developers are sitting down and intentionally attempting to create a game that represents Lacanian theory. These theories might be on the horizon of their minds, and influence what they do, but that influence might not necessarily be conscious. I do think a knowledge of theory and psychology can add to the horror of games--I think one of the reasons that Silent Hill is so horrifying is that we never have a stable grasp of what kind of world we are in--the technical term here would be a questionable diegesis. TV shows like X-Files (before we knew for certain there were aliens) and Lost excel at this tactic. In Resident Evil, we know that the "evil" resides in a multinational corporation researching bio-weapons. Stop the corporation, stop the evil save ourselves. Order assured. Not so easy in Silent Hill, how do you stop what may or may not exist outside of your own mind? How do you control "evil" if you can't control yourself? Derrida in Archive Fever: "Order is no longer assured." There is a moment at the end of Silent Hill 3 that epitomizes everything we have written about these games. Vincent, a shady character, asks our protagonist if she enjoys the killing she does. I forget Heather's exact response, but she comments something like why would she enjoy killing monsters. Vincent's response: "they look like monsters to you?" That did it for Sarah and I--that's when we knew we were onto something. What if we weren't really killing monsters--what if they only looked like monsters to us--what if our character isn't a hero, but a psychotic killer who has just murdered 30 people on a serial spree? Freudian and Lacanian psychoanalysis deal with what lies at the end of consciousness, underneath consciousness, and beyond consciousness. That stuff is always scary.

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