A video essay on the film Unfriended (2014) that tries to mimic the style of the movie as best as possible.
Glitches and the Unknown: An Exploration of the “Found Footage” Trope in Horror
My name is Cameron. Before you start reading this blog post, I want to take you through a thought exercise. Think to the last time you took a picture that may not have turned out the way you wanted it to. Why didn’t it turn out the way you wanted it to? Was the lighting off? Did the picture not take all the way? Did the picture maybe crop in a weird way? Within the realm of photography and art, a glitch can mean anything that causes a product to not turn out the way the artist intended. However glitches don’t work the same way. For the horror genre, and found footage specifically, glitches are primarily used as points of entry for aspects of the unknown realm to enter the known realm.
Before we can define glitches, we must define what constitutes as “the realm of the unknown” and “the realm of the known.” In order to first understand this, it can be helpful to establish a boundary of difference between the two. “The realm of the known” within horror is the realm that houses the fictional world on-screen. While this can be a bit of a hazy definition within horror, this definition can be reasonably diluted to mean the world where the action takes place on-screen. For example, within V/H/S/2’s short “A Ride in the Park,” all of the action that takes place takes place inside a forest with hiking trails and picnic tables. “The realm of the unknown” is the realm that houses anything that is not established as a fact within the fictional world. It is important to note that “the realm of the unknown” is not simply anything that shows up in the fictional world without explanation. Rather, “the realm of the unknown” is the realm of explanations that happen outside of the fictional world. For example, while the audience knows that being bitten by a zombie will turn someone into one in “A Ride in the Park,” the audience does not know what originally started the zombie plague. Thus, the origin of the zombie plague in “A Ride in the Park” belongs to the realm of the unknown. The boundary between “the realm of the known” and “the realm of the unknown” in found footage horror is literally the edge of the camera shot.
Once one understands what constitutes the boundary, it is much easier to define glitches. Glitches are essentially points of entry for things from “the realm of the unknown” to enter “the realm of the known.” If “the realm of the unknown” houses the explanations for things seen on-screen, glitches are where those things enter “the realm of the known.” It is important to note that this definition ignores most technical definitions of glitches in order to allow glitches to better accommodate the horror genre. Continuing with the example from “A Ride in the Park,” glitches in this short are zombie bites. Zombie bites spread the plague from one person to another, working as an explanation within “the realm of the known” for the horror present within the world of “A Ride in the Park.” There is an important distinction between “the realm of the unknown” and glitches, though both work as explanations. The “realm of the unknown” is an explanatory location, while glitches are an explanatory force. Both are provide explanations for different aspects of horror within the horror genre; however, glitches function as essentially a tear in the boundary between “the realm of the known” and “the realm of the unknown” that invites horror on-screen.
In order to better define glitches, it can be helpful to think about how glitches work within V/H/S/2. Glitches within V/H/S/2 work primarily as hauntings and as visual obstacles, best seen within “Phase 1 Clinical Trials” and “Slumber Party Alien Abduction” respectively. In “Phase 1 Clinical Trials,” glitches are established as a literal tear in the boundary between the living and the dead. In this sense, “the realm of the unknown” contains both the realm of the dead and how they are able to return to the realm of the living. “The realm of the known” contains both the realm of the living and, technically, the technology that allows Herman and Clarissa to commune with the dead. “Phase 1 Clinical Trials” is technically the only short within V/H/S/2 to use glitches in the literal sense in this way; however, it is this simplicity that allows glitches to be so easily, cleanly defined. In “Slumber Party Alien Abduction,” glitches are much more disorganized. Within this short, glitches are primarily used to obscure visuals of the aliens. While this obscuration does make it difficult to clearly see the aliens, it also draws attention to them, effectively allowing them to enter “the realm of the known” through what the audience can see of them through the glitches. “The realm of the unknown” contains the aliens, and “the realm of the known” contains their intent to kidnap the children, as seen when the glitches obscure both the children and the aliens. Within V/H/S/2, glitches both obscure information and provide hauntings; however, in both cases, glitches allow aspects of the unknown realm to enter “the realm of the known.”
House of Leaves and its Metanarrative Nightmare
By Cassie Haas
“Justifications” of Sightjacking in Siren and Reimagining It in a Visual Novel or VR Game Setting
By Rida Zeng
After playing Siren (JAPAN Studio Project Siren, 2003) and its sequel Siren: Blood Curse (JAPAN Studio Project Siren, 2008), nearly everyone in the class reached a unanimous agreement on the tremendous confusion in navigating through the game. The game series’ signature mechanic, sightjacking, which is supposed to enhance the player’s chance of survival by equipping us with the nearby monster’s 1st person POV, with or without split-screen (respectively in Blood Curse and the original version), turns out to be a huge distraction. “The mechanic is not just illegible, it is actively unhelpful at best, and arguably even a hindrance at worst” (according to a much-reckoned discussion post by one of our frustrated classmates). Our second most shared complaint against the game is its multilevel map design and night space, whose complexity, instead of pairing along well with sightjacking’s extra POVs, mostly deepened the navigation confusion. Is navigation confusion a necessary tradeoff for the multilevel spatial experience? Probably not, as Murder House (Puppet Combo, USA, 2020) and countless examples have shown by delivering very successful puzzle-solving experiences without any extra POV incorporations.
Point 1: Siren’s incorporation of sightjacking is nothing incidental
However, though many of us, including Nitsche in this context, do consider sightjacking a “laudable” “interactive feature” that probably didn’t end up contributing anything good, I do think sightjacking makes a core part of the game as a befitting mechanic that pairs well with its story setup, thus essentially contributive to the narrative even outside the combat sessions.
One supportive example of this opinion is how sightjacking, and the intense puzzle-solving/ combat experience that accompanies a result, well complement the game setup as situated in a world with heavily distorted temporal and spatial elements. In Siren: Blood Curse, the surviving crew of outsiders find themselves wandering in the terrifying local architecture that was supposed to have disappeared dozens of years ago. And in both versions of the game, the village’s mountainous location is immediately switched into a helpless island surrounded by red sea. In a world where time and space are severely distorted, sightjacking offers a very intense and difficult combat experience that demands draining calculation. All play stations in the class report difficulty timing escape and memorizing the multi-floor space in order to pass the level (the one wherein a family group of shibitos roams around), which, although initially seems to be only creating hindrance for the gameplay, actually reckons with the distorted world setup in a legitimate way. To escape from a world with more distorted rules surely demands more attention and effort.
Another interesting feature about sightjacking that pairs well with the story setup is the characters’ reactions after being (presumably) “killed” by shibitos. When struck by the monster in Siren, the character doesn’t immediately die but rather holds his/her head in a squat position, as if experiencing an excruciating migraine. This seems to indicate the meta-setting of the world as a mental disarrangement, rather than something that actually takes place in reality: the shibito attack brings down not real health but character sanity and explains why the characters can automatically heal in a short time after taking a heavy blow. The suggestion that the whole perceived world is a psychological influence resonates sightjacking as the character’s special psychic power: the reason that the player-character is capable of entering the heads of shibitos could be that they’re all in the character’s head already.
Point 2: Imagining the adaptation of sightjacking as in a Siren visual novel or VR game & its potential deficiencies
Yet despite my efforts to justify sightjacking as a non-incidental design in Siren, I personally had suffered a ton from the navigation confusion and, finding it too much to bear, am provoked to think about potential adaptations of sightjacking in alternative versions of Siren a visual novel or a VR game and their possible deficiencies.
In the case we try to adapt sightjacking in the case of a Siren visual novel, if the players find it difficult to identify with the monsters despite seeing their 1st person POV, how about considering sightjacking another character in the game? The imminent question that arises is that of player control. As how Nitsche explains that the player’s ability to control is already detrimental with sightjacking in the first place – “Instead of achieving a spatial reinforcement, the comprehension of space is threatened. Neither the hero(es) nor the enemies can be directly controlled in that view [of sightjacking]” – it appears to be an extremely challenging idea to try incorporating real-time combat with both normal play and sightjacking on the same screen. This may be workable in Siren, wherein sightjacking takes up full screen, but how about Siren: Blood Curse which opts to split screen? As we certainly cannot manipulate both characters on screen at the same time, the best effect I imagine would be to align the sightjacked character’s movement with the main player-character, say, to have the main character walk towards a mission object while a villain character on the other side of the screen blows the head off another character whom we tried to protect. Such imagined scenario sounds appealing but risks reducing the game interactivity down to the level of a visual novel, where we gravely suppress the combat elements in the game to raise storytelling. Yet if Siren indeed wants to take down this path and beat other brain-consuming games that weave intricate interpersonal puzzles, do we really have enough thriller plots and character time parallels in this game to back that up? With tons of visual- or text-based games that invent the most unthinkable thriller mysteries out there, Siren would have to take a big leap and innovatively build on sightjacking to create a unique visual novel experience.
If we adapt sightjacking in the case of a Siren VR game, responding to the sole enjoyer of sightjacking/ the game in the class (perhaps the only one aside from Professor Jones), we may be able to bring the immersive, spooky experience onto the next level. Here sightjacking in the monster POVs in the original version of Siren (the full-screen version) seems more plausible since a split screen now creates an overly dazzling spatial split in 3D space, whereas only the immersive haunting experience will be left where the sightjacking POV appears full screen.
What’s discussed above may seem attempt to justify and rescue Siren and its sightjacking mechanic from the ruthless gameplay experience. But when I withdrew myself from the initial frustration with the gameplay, I did find sightjacking to be a very unique and deeply intertwined unit of the game, with its world settings and psychological implications. Reimagining the incorporation of sightjacking in a visual novel or a VR version of the Siren game further unveils the pre-intended balance between sightjacking as a peculiar mechanic, world setup, and agency design in the game. And intentions to tilt the genre of the same story propose new challenges to plot design and negotiation with three-dimensionality.
The War that Didn’t Scare the World
On October 30th, 1938, Orson Welles and the Mercury Theatre Company put on a radio broadcast that is still talked about till this day. The performance was based on an adaption of The War of the Worlds book by H.G. Wells, a story depicting Earth under attack by a martian army. The broadcast started with Welles introducing the program, encompassed several “eye-witness” accounts of the attack varying from news reporters to scientist, to then be followed by an intermission. The program finished with a more theatre-esq conversation between two characters before concluding with remarks again by Welles.
Contrary to popular belief, the broadcast didn’t cause as much panic as it’s known for today. To begin with, most people that night were not tuned into Welles’ broadcast at all. Those that were, weren’t very scared by it. I found the reactions to this broadcast to be both somewhat surprising and not surprising at the same time.
On one hand, I wasn’t super surprised that the broadcast didn’t really scare anyone because it was a story so unbelievable. Something discussed in class was the constraint that time played on the performance. For something so large scale like depicting an alien invasion and attack on Earth, less than an hour with commercial breaks isn’t necessarily ideal. I think about the idea of immersion (which I discuss later), and the effect commercial and intermission breaks might have on it. When watching a movie, if there were to be an intermission, I find that it would most likely take me out of the experience which I might not be able to re-engage with after. While commercial breaks were necessary for a radio broadcast at the time, I do ponder the negative effects it might have had on the believability or immersion of the performance.
On the other hand, I was very surprised that there wasn’t much actual, non-authenticated commotion after the broadcast. One thing that somewhat surprised me that there might not have been more panic from the broadcast was the war context going on in the world at the time. Given that WWI wasn’t too long ago at the time of the broadcast, I figured that the post-war jitters would still be fresh in listeners’ minds and that the thought of another war would stir up some sort of negative emotions possibly including fear. Another thing that surprised me stemmed from me trying to think back to my reaction if I had been in the shoes of someone listening at that time. In my opinion, the acting, for the most part in the first half of the broadcast, seemed believable. I think the actors did a good job fully getting into their characters resulting in a good performance. This alone I feel is something that is necessary at least for me to be immersed in a medium.
Immersion, for me at least, typically requires something along the lines of good sound, acting, story and visuals depending on the medium. When watching a movie, while I know it’s fake, if these things are done well, I’ll get rapped up in consuming the media so much that I kind of zone out of my actually location ad focus in more on the content. As far as audio goes, I think because there’s not a requirement for visual, that it can be hard to feel immersed exemplified by how some people like audio books and others don’t. Despite personal preference, I think it is possible for anyone to get immersed in audio as a medium by itself as shown through music. While music isn’t the same as listening to a radio play or an audiobook, it is something I think universally immersive hence why I think Welles’ broadcast wasn’t a failure because of a lack of immersion due to its medium.
As far as my experience went, I think there were several constraints that led to the lack thereof my immersion. I think it first and foremost goes back to cultural customs during their respective time periods. Back in 1938, it wasn’t uncommon to gather around the radio for entertainment, much less for the news report. Despite my efforts to try to put myself in the shoes of a listener during the original broadcast, I think because radio is not commonly used not, I wasn’t able to do so successfully. Hearing a radio broadcast the news, while something I understood to be realistic at some point in time, was not realistic for me now and days hence why I think it took away from my immersion. Another reason, related to the medium of radio, was the fact that we were listening to a radio broadcast in a movie theatre. Not only was it not the right setting in general, i.e. not a living room where a radio might have been listened too in the 1930s, but that theatre in my head is for watching movies. The only time I’ve been to that theatre is to watch a movie; therefore in my head, it seemed incorrect to be doing anything but in the space. Lastly, another thing that took me out of the potential immersion was the intermission. As I mentioned before, while I understood that this was necessary at the time, it was something somewhat unusual to hear. While I do think of intermissions as a theatrical thing, as far as other mediums, I don’t really consider them. I think that this intermission in Welles’ performance did take me out of what little immersion I might have subconsciously been able to grab.
While I think the idea of the broadcast was interesting and understand some of the limitations, I still leave with some questions I have yet to answer. What might have been Welles’ intent with the broadcast? Was he trying to incite some sort of fear into his listeners? Why might intermission primarily work for theatrical works and not other mediums? Even with time constraints and given a hypothetical bigger audience, could Welles’ performance have created more frenzy that night and therefore after? Some of these questions I’m not sure how to answer, others I think discussion would potentially create an answer. All in all, Welles’ broadcast was a creative endeavor, and criticism or not, it did accomplish some sort of fame as it is still talked about to this day. Despite not being a war that scared the world, it was a war that the world will remember.
A Sexy, Bloody Spectacle (Friday the 13th Pt 2)
Every artistic medium, including film, likes to tout itself as a space for intellectual and creative freedom, a place where there are no rules and where beauty and expression take precedence. However, in each of these mediums, despite objections, there does exist some semblance of “rules”. In film especially, there are certain conventions followed to make movies more consumable, enjoyable, appropriate, and intelligible for audiences. Although we may be quick to assert that projects that do not follow these rules are not successful, the slasher genre stands as an undeniable, formidable outlier. Slashers seem to break every rule of not just movie-making but storytelling in general. If stories are “supposed” to give viewers a main character to relate to, slashers give us a faceless, voiceless, personality-less figure and a group of one-dimensional victims. If they are supposed to approach sexuality and violence with nuance the slasher gives us a sexy, bloody spectacle. Friday the 13th Pt 2 is a prime example of a genre that, much to my own personal dismay, has been successful (at the very least at the box office) despite the odds. Upon analyzing the movie it seems to me that the reason for this success lies within the movie’s use of perspective and its voyeuristic implications, which allow for a reframing of the violence and sex.
Friday the 13th Pt loves to play with point of view. This is most often done through “killer pov” camera angles, as discussed by Clover in Men, Women, and Chainsaws. These shots put us in the shoes of what we assume to be the killer as he watches his teenage victims. Oftentimes these shots will reveal themselves to be a decoy, such as when the cop watches Sandra and Jeff sneak over the fence. But whether decoy or not, they force us to do what Jason is doing, watching. All movies, in some way, ask us to watch in on the personal and private lives of characters. Slashers, however, tend to force us to acknowledge what we are doing. As soon as we acknowledge it, are watching becomes in some sense non-consensual. In a movie like Friday the 13th Pt 2, we are not supposed to see what we get to see. Which, in my opinion, is the most crucial aspect of the film. The “unconsensualness” of our watching is what makes the spectacle a spectacle, like when we stare at the car crash, the idea that we aren’t supposed to be seeing something so intense only increases our want to see it. This aforementioned intensity in slasher films is most often found through two things, violence and sex, and this is no different for Friday the 13th Pt 2.
While horror is often filled with gore and violence, slasher violence seems to be characterized slightly differently. In movies we have previously watched in class, violence has been auxiliary. It has been a large part of the story but never the focus of the whole story. But, as would be implied with a name like “slasher”, violence is the central focus of Friday the 13th Pt 2. People seem to come to the theater for the kills. They seem to enjoy watching a new cast of characters movie after movie after movie, who they barely get a chance to know, get slaughtered. But, why? Are audiences really that sadistic? Well, in my opinion, kinda. While we are strangely entranced by the violence we get to see, the violence of slashers also doesn’t feel all that much like real violence. I believe that this is because of the aforementioned spectacle created by the POV. While in most horror movies we make connections with the characters, slashers do not ask us to do this. The characters, both killer and victims, in Friday the 13th are, with the exception of the “final girl” (Clover), Ginny, one-dimensional. It is not only important that we are looking it is important that we are ONLY looking, or, in other words, that we are not empathizing. Viewing the car crash is much more difficult when you recognize the car. In a slasher, we do not recognize the characters on any deep level and thus will not flinch at their proverbially crash. The spectacle reframes violence and allows slashers to be utterly ridiculous in their violence without majorly turning off their audience. The spectacle is slightly different for sexuality.
Friday the 13th Pt 2 is hypersexual and, perhaps this sexuality is intended to emphasize some puritanical message about sex and death or draw a parallel to the orgastic and phallic nature of death. While either of these might be true, I think the most important function it serves in the context of spectacle is creating “human” characters. As I previously asserted, it is not important that we empathize with the character, however, we still must see the humanity of the character in order to appreciate their systematic death. I doubt a slasher movie with androids would have the same effect as Friday the 13th. We must understand that the character is capable of doing human things like loving, caring, and emoting. The creator of the slasher must find a way to show this humanity without making us, the audience, get attached to the character or see them as too complex of a figure. It seems an effective way of doing this is by showing physical intimacy with other characters. When we see characters being physically intimate we understand their ability to love deeply, by the nature of sex itself, but are not yet persuaded to love them ourselves. In this way, sexuality completes the spectacle. As we stalk and watch the characters, their overt sexuality indicates to us that we are watching something uniquely human. What happens to them is not of much concern to us as long as it is exciting enough to hold our attention.
I find that slashers are a hard genre to discuss. Obviously, they raise dozens of ethical questions, but they also seem to function in such a flawed way. Many movies attempt to elude to a poetic theme or idea, like grief, but slashers rarely seem to do this, instead, this poeticism is replaced with excessive violence and sex. While I will happily cast the first stone at the slasher genre, it is important to consider why it is constructed the way it is. It seems to me that the slasher is about spectacle. It is about the shock and thrill of violence and being able to watch it all from behind a tree or bush. Perhaps the ultimate goal of Friday the 13th Pt 2 is for you to feel as Jason does.
Relic: Dementia Explored Through Horror
Gender and Identification in Slasher Films
By Kiana Carbajal
In an excerpt from “Men, Women, and Chain Saws: Gender in the Modern Horror Film,” author and renowned professor Carol J. Clover discusses the slasher genre of horror films and their representation of masculinity and femininity. In order to understand Clover’s analysis of slasher films, we must first understand the common trope of the Final Girl. Clover describes the Final Girl as the one character of stature who lives to tell the tale. In the midst of all the chaos and murder in a slasher film, the Final Girl remains “intelligent, watchful, and levelheaded.” Most importantly, she is the first character to notice that something is wrong and recognize the evidence. Because of her watchful eye, the Final Girl is essentially the “only character to be developed in any psychological detail.” For example, in Friday the Thirteenth Part 2, the Final Girl–Ginny–is the only character to recognize that Jason is a real and present threat. Her observation and perspective is unique because it accurately reads the situation and most closely resembles the audience’s outside view.
Clover expands the concept of the Final Girl by raising a question of who the audience identifies with while watching a slasher film. With the target audience for this genre of films generally being young men, it is assumed that the audience will identify with male characters. But with most of the young male characters being killed off early in slasher films, the only other option for a male character that the audience can identify with is the killer. Clover explains this through her claim that “point of view = identification.” Slasher films commonly provide scenes where the audience is able to see through the killer’s eyes. This is present in Jaws, where the audience becomes the shark swimming through the waters of Amity Island as it prepares to attack unsuspecting swimmers, and also in Friday the Thirteenth Part 2, where the audience is Jason as he hides behind trees and leaves as he quietly observes the teenagers in their summer camp cabin. With this first person POV, Clover suggests that the audience is forced to identify with the killer. However, as the film progresses, the audience learns more about the Final Girl, and the number of killer POV shots decreases, which alters the audience’s identification from the killer to the Final Girl. By the end of the movie, the audience cheers as the Final Girl takes control of the situation and takes down the killer.
With the switching of identification from a male character to a female character, Clover implies that character identification is not limited to a specific gender. Working under this claim, the number of characters that audience members can identify with increases, which brings into question how secure an audience member’s identification with the killer is. Even though the audience sees through the killer’s POV as they observe and interact with their victims, the audience may not necessarily understand or agree with the killer’s action, making this a very loose form of identification. This can also extend to identifying with characters of the same gender, considering a general young male audience. In Friday the Thirteenth Part 2, the audience follows Scott, one of the male counselors at the summer camp, as he watches Terry, one of the female counselors, skinny dipping and walking away from him (with her butt being the focus of the shot). Through Scott’s “eyes,” the audience also sees this, but they may perceive it as perverted rather than satisfying. The audience’s personal opinions and beliefs may not align with those of the person depicted in the first person POV, creating a disconnect in the audience’s identification with male characters in the film. As for the first person POV overall, it allows the audience to view the killer’s actions, but not the killer themselves. With the obstruction of the killer’s physical attributes, there is a part of the killer’s character that remains unknown and a mystery, preventing the audience from completely understanding and identifying with the killer.
Another aspect of slasher films that Clover addresses is the masculine and feminine qualities of characters in slasher films and subsequently the journey from childhood to adulthood being defined by the transition from feminine to masculine qualities. First, the Final Girl is obviously a female character, but she is different from the other female characters in a slasher film. While the other girls scream and hide from the killer as they approach, the Final Girl actively investigates and picks up weapons in an attempt to fend off the killer. We see this in Friday the Thirteenth Part 2 in Jason’s shack when Ginny wears his mother’s sweater and impersonates his mother to calm Jason down, or when she wields a pitchfork just before Jason crashes through the window. These qualities in a final girl are ones that one would typically see in a male character, and Clover claims that this is exactly part of the Final Girl’s design. The journey of the Final Girl is actually the journey of her growing from a child harboring feminine qualities to an adult exhibiting masculine characteristics. This transition is completed when the Final Girl kills the killer, which represents the castration of the killer and a complete phallicizing of the Final Girl. When the killer is finished, the community of the slasher film returns to its normal order, suggesting that the effective phallicization of the Final Girl is what completes the film.
However, there is still a lingering question regarding the Final Girl. Why is it significant that the Final Girl is a girl? Considering the earlier claim that audience identification may not be dependent on gender, there is clearly a possibility for Final Boys or female killers to exist and have an impact. Clover presents an answer: “[The Final Girl] is simply an agreed-upon fiction and the male viewer’s use of her as a vehicle for his own sadomasochistic fantasies [is] an act of perhaps timeless dishonesty.” Despite the belief that the Final Girl is a representation of a feminist icon, Clover suggests the Final Girl is simply a device crafted to generate action for a thrilling slasher film, but also restricted to be feminine enough to keep the young male audience engaged.
Is Devotion Scary or Unsettling?
By Leon Chen
At first glance, the apartment in Devotion might be mistaken for a haunted space. When asked about the setting, Red Candle’s PR director does not really suggest differently, describing the apartment’s “truly terrifying” nature as deriving from “hideous secrets” and a “dark history…created by its residents” (Nicole Carpenter, The Verge). Typically, a haunted space’s dark history is responsible for its haunting, with hostile entities threatening any who enters. However, Devotion resists the haunted space trope insofar as the supernatural phenomenon in-game are more metaphorical than literal. In the post-credits scene, the protagonist sits in front of the TV, offering what seems to be the first and only glance at the world as it takes place outside of the protagonist’s mind. The other, playable sections of the game make more sense interpreted as taking place within the protagonist’s mind as warped memories, a dream, or a string of hallucinations. Devotion’s setting, then, is not a haunted space, but rather a mind which takes the shape of a haunted space. Some of the more intricate and revealing aspects of Devotion’s horror derive from this endeavour to map the mind, or at least parts of the mind, in three dimensional space.
In more traditional haunted house games, it is the player’s survival instincts which account for the scare factor. The player character’s literal survival against hostile enemies prompt the player’s fear of death or danger. This isn’t really the case in Devotion, however, as the game features neither combat nor game over screens. Although P.T. (which inspired Devotion) is also a walking simulator, survival still features as a game feature, as the ghost can kill the player. This might partially explain why, as some people responded in class, Devotion is less scary than it is unsettling, atmospheric, or creepy. From a gameplay perspective, the imminent threat to survival simply does not exist, which is narratively consistent with the fact that the dark history of the house was created by the protagonist himself. The few exceptions are the occasional jump scares, which again capitalise on the player’s literal survival instincts to be scary.
So how does Devotion craft its unsettling, creepy atmosphere? As Devotion takes place in the protagonist’s mind, Freud’s interpretation of the oceanic feeling might be relevant here. Admittedly, Freud’s interpretation is vague–the ‘oceanic feeling’ seems to invoke religiosity, eternity, and a sense of reassurance which derives from “a feeling of an indissoluble bond, of being one with the external world as a whole.” What do we make of this? If we think of this ‘oceanic feeling’ as a sense of one-ness with the world, the converse must be a feeling of distance from that which is familiar to us. This is not too far off from ‘fear of the unknown’ or unfamiliar, but this wording is too vague, because the novel or unusual need not always be unsettling. Rather, we might think of the converse of the oceanic feeling–a disconnect from the things we take for granted as intuitive and knowable, temporally, spatially, and logically. Devotion systematically denies the oceanic feeling through ‘player amnesia,’ non-euclidean space, and non-linear storytelling.
I’d like to talk about ‘player amnesia’ in the context of Amnesia: The Dark Descent. This game achieves a similar denial of the oceanic feeling based on its premise. In Amnesia, the player wakes up in an unfamiliar place, in an unfamiliar body and mind, with no explanation. The player character’s amnesia is expressed through an entirely lacking exposition. Although playing the game gives more clues about the player character’s identity and backstory, these clues are often in the form of cryptic notes which grants this information piecemeal. More importantly, the introduction of a monster hostile to the player character happens before any clear picture of the player character’s memory emerges, denying the oceanic feeling we might feel towards possessing our memories and mental faculties. In parallel, the player in Devotion is thrown into the apartment with no exposition, and the story gradually progresses through screenwriter notes. In terms of setting, the game also interferes with our intuitive understanding of time and space. The non-euclidian nature of the apartment distances the player from an intuitive, familiar experience of space which might otherwise connect him, by common experience, with the knowable logic and rules which govern reality. This is exacerbated by a repeating, inescapable loop of the apartment in non-linear time. The horror that we might be trapped indefinitely contributes to an unsettling claustrophobia.
The last comparison I’d like to make is between the apartment’s loops and our discussion of mazes. In class, Aiden made a very astute observation about the linearity of the game. Deceptively, there is a ‘hub’ area which unlocks mid-way through the game, allowing access to the apartment at different time periods. These branching paths give an illusion of choice, but ultimately, the game can only be completed in one progression path, and there is only one ending. Thematically, this is consistent with an interpretation of the game’s events as a twisted recollection of the apartment’s history. Because the horror exists in the protagonist’s memory, it reflects an immutable past–there can only be one ending because the horror he committed is irreversible, despite guilt or regret. In some way, I think this is one of the most effective aspects of Devotion’s horror. If we interpret the maze as recollection, and by extension, life up until that point, we might question the teleology of progression. Devotion denies an ultimately ‘satisfying’ ending–if there is only one horrifying path and one guilt-ridden ending, traversing the maze was essentially hollow and meaningless.
Homes Made of Hallways
As the player traverses the endlessly looping hallways of P.T. Silent Hill, it is frighteningly easy to become desensitized to one of the first moments of the “uncanny” that the game presents us: our character limps. Players who are familiar with first-person games may be accustomed to a relatively steady camera, one that simultaneously contains enough movement to suggest a character’s embodied experience, but is specifically designed to be unobtrusive. Often, the camera only becomes noticeably unsteady when your character is severely harmed and you are potentially on the brink of dying. So, when the first steps you take in P.T. Silent Hill seem to lurch forward and the camera almost mimics the viewpoint of someone staggering, the player is immediately filled with a multilayered sense of unease. Through its camera work, P.T. is able to foster a sense of soft rejection—the player cannot effortlessly slide into immersion since the perspective they are inhabiting is a jarring reminder of the character’s own distinct body and identity. This furthers the environmental sense of the “uncanny” that we were discussing in class.
In my presentation, I tried to draw attention to two ways in which the spatial design of P.T. created a sense of the “uncanny.” I initially outlined how the infinitely looping hallways structure of P.T. perverts what the player would recognize as a home into endless liminal space. This reconfigures the players’ associations with the home as a safe space of dwelling, or residing, and transforms it into a hostile, transitional space. A second form of the “uncanny” that I thought P.T. was engaged with was a distortion of linear time into frozen, or endlessly repeating time. On this point, the class conversation seemed more divided and some people critiqued whether elements of time manipulation were actually salient in the gameplay of P.T. One comment that particularly stood out to me was made by Wes. He pointed out that although he was aware that diegetically time was at a standstill, his experience of time as a player remained quite linear, as he still experienced the passage of time as linear during each traversal of the loop. I found his comment interesting to consider in relation to Gazzard’s piece, Mazes in Videogames. Gazzard’s conception of time does seem to be space and player-centric. This idea comes up in her discussion of the loop-along, “The loop-along, however, is more cunning. It too acts as a spatio-temporal delay device, although this time it is mixed with some slight confusion on the part of the walker/player as he emerges from the delayed journey further along the original path” (54). In her argument, her references to time imply that the player’s perception of how long it takes to traverse space, which is influenced by how complex it is to navigate, becomes the basis of how time flow is experienced. This seems to resonate with Wes’ comment that his played experience of traversing the space was not fundamentally jeopardized or changed by the narrative implication that time has been distorted. However, others in class pushed back on Wes’ view and described that the looping nature of the hallway did foster a sense of being temporally “stuck” or that the game was able to effectively communicate the character’s own experience of being frozen in or forced to re-live a particular moment.
Personally, I was interested in how the conversation returned to themes of the character’s perspective and thinking about how this concept in P.T. Silent Hill functioned differently from the role of perspective in nana825763’s horror short film, My house-walkthrough. The basic premise of nana825763’s film is strikingly similar to P.T. Silent Hill. The audience is taken along on a narrated “tour” of the endlessly looping corridors of someone’s dilapidated Japanese-style home. Narration is delivered in the form of subtitles, with certain phrases eerily repeating, mimicking the looped nature of the visuals. Similar to P.T., the house slowly undergoes changes as the narrator continues to walk through the hallways and deliver the story of the house and his family.
Despite these similarities, the presence of this informed narrator and the medium of film makes the experience of watching this piece of media considerably different from the experience of playing P.T. Part of what is unsettling about nana825763’s narrator is his calm and undisturbed commentary and his way of navigating through the house. His intense familiarity with the space becomes juxtaposed with our discomfort and confusion. The film dramatizes the narrator’s own uncanniness by having him interact with the space as if it is normal, and thus, in the same way the limp causes us to be initially separated from the character’s perspective in P.T., we almost viscerally reject identifying with and immersing ourselves into the narrator’s perspective, despite the film being similar to an extended point of view shot. While players are able to acclimatize to the movement of the camera in P.T. and eventually immerse themselves into the perspective of the character they are playing as, the narrator of My house-walkthrough continuously maintains this divide. Our medium-specific lack of control over the camera movement and the rate at which the house is explored in My house-walkthrough presents new obstacles for our identification with the narrator.
Finally, to tie in our discussion of “sympathetic” identification in horror films, I find that My house-walkthrough cleverly subverts and reverses the concept that the audience can identify with a perspective while knowing more about the space than the characters do. Despite the film being framed as a “house tour,” the lighting in the film, the rapid pans, and the obstructed views that characterize the footage give the impression that the house is being shown without actually allowing the viewer to visually take in the space. Thus, the narrator walks us through the space as if we understand what we are seeing, but even after multiple loops, we remain helplessly disoriented and the space persists as an unknown and unmappable entity. Suspense is generated despite us knowing, and intensely feeling that we know, next to nothing about this house compared to the narrator. It is precisely because of this dissonance between being shown, but never really seeing, between being addressed as if we are also gaining familiarity, but never really understanding, that we are deeply unsettled and feel resistant to identifying the perspective presented by the point of view shot. While both P.T. Silent Hill and My house-walkthrough use infinitely looping hallways to transform the home into non-Euclidian spaces, the difference in medium and the perspectives in the two pieces generate ultimately different experiences of the uncanny.