February 8, 2012 by aakang
Article source – http://www.gamestudies.org/0301/carr/ “Play Dead: Genre and Affect in Silent Hill and Planescape Torment by Diane Carr
Other sources: Extra Lives by Tom Bissell and Understanding Video Games by Simon Egenfeldt Nielsen
The article uses the videogames Silent Hill and Planescape Torment, which appear similar at first, in order to depict genres and the means they employ to create different effects. The article specifically investigates the ideas of spatial navigation, an avatar who interacts with the fictional world, and its players. Planescape Torment employs the rhizome through experience and smaller quests, which rewards wandering. The text has more variability and rhizomic elements such as the ability to make moral decisions. Finally, the player controls an avatar known as the “anti-death double” that fits one’s personal game style. On the other hand, Silent Hill varies by having solvable mazes that urge the player to keep moving forward without gaining character experience. The text is more static and creates tension by having monsters in normal places like hospitals. Finally, the avatar is more of an “uncanny double” or a vehicle with extreme yet normal and set attributes used to penetrate 3D space. Because of these methods, Silent Hill differentiates itself as a game in the survival-horror genre while Planescape Torment sets itself as a bizarre RPG.
The analysis discussed in the article falls under the realm of genres. Numerous criteria can be used to categorize a game into a genre, but Chapter 3 of Understanding Video Games defines it as what it takes for a game to succeed. It further classifies them into the following categories: action, adventure, strategy, and process-oriented. The criteria relates to the class discussion of the mechanics, dynamics, and aesthetics model. Although mechanics is very relevant in this discussion, dynamics and aesthetics are crucial. Dynamics is also known as gameplay, which includes solving mysteries in adventure games and the system of the world in process-oriented video games. Aesthetics are the emotional responses of players and the video game effects such as fantasy in Planescape Torment and fearful excitement in Silent Hill. Looking at the qualitative criteria for a game to be considered a certain genre, one can appropriately differentiate Silent Hill and Planescape Torment from each other and compare their different effects. Another question that is asked in Understanding Video Games is what are the goals of the game?
Planescape Torment relies on wandering and rhizomic elements in order to function as a game. In this game, there are many possible criteria for success based on the central theme of wandering. Gaining experience and improving one’s party of characters, finishing all the quests and sub-quests, and figuring out the main character’s identity and history are all possible goals of players. Although the importance players place on these goals may vary, players generally have these goals in mind. Even though the game has attributes of action, adventure, and strategy genres, the numerous goals make it clear that it is a process-oriented game, which involves having players engage in a changing world and being in charge of important variables such as reaching higher levels.
On the other hand, Silent Hill relies on a sequential system of puzzles and mazes that ultimately leads to the final resolution. The game relies on player experience, reflexes, and mazes that lead towards an exit or resolution. The actions of escaping from danger, finding clues, and killing monsters ultimately converge towards the end goal of getting to an ascertainable ending of the game. Ultimately, this game is best classified as an adventure game based on this goal and the requirement of deep thinking, patience, and solving puzzles.
Based on these goals and qualities, the games fall under these genres and in turn have different effects. Silent Hill more falls under the horror and adventure genre striving to scare gamers through its sequential mazes and hidden zombies. Planescape Torment aims to intrigue them through interesting creatures and motivate them through leveling up characters and wandering.
The genre classifications, attributes, and effects of the two games accurately portray its subject. From personal experience, I feel that Silent Hill belongs to the horror-adventure genre. The mazes and search for clues do justice in propelling me towards the ultimate resolution while instilling fear in me. For instance, I am always fearful of being attacked by a zombie lurking in a dark corridor. On the other hand, I feel that RPGs like Planescape Torment belong in a completely different genre despite having eerie creatures. This RPG creates a feeling of vastness and flexibility without evoking fear; it intrigues me through its deployment of unique creatures and the availability of quests and experience allowing me to customize my avatar.
This article advances the study of video games by providing a backdrop for classifying them as part of a genre, which is based on certain qualities, and analyzing their effects. Future video games, whether they belong to current or emerging genres, can be assessed based on which qualities have certain impacts. For instance, although Resident Evil as mentioned in Extra Lives and Plants vs. Zombies are both zombie-themed games, Resident Evil, like Silent Hill, has a horror-survival, adventure genre formula, which evokes fear. For example, Resident Evil has familiar environments such as mansions, which are intruded by nightmarish creatures. On the other hand, Plants vs. Zombies is an action game with strategic elements in which players must use plants to defend themselves from a zombie attack; this zombie attack fails to be menacing because of the bright colors, predictability along with the absence of mazes, and caricature-like designs. Instead, the game amuses players. However, Plants vs. Zombies is unlike Resident Evil, Silent Hill, and Planescape Torment because of its mild violence, absence of exploration, downplaying of death, and childish peril.
Just because two video games contain zombies and peril does not qualify them as being under the same genre. Other signaling attributes such as expansiveness, linearity, and the avatar’s interactions with the game and players distinguish two different genres from each another. Silent Hill, within its genre of horror-adventure, creates a sense of fear, while Planescape Torment belongs in the process-oriented genre and gives players a better sense of magnification through quests, experience, and customizability.