Storytelling in survival horror video games

Kirkland, Ewan (2009) Storytelling in survival horror video games. In: Thinking After Dark: Welcome to the World of Horror Video Games; 23 - 25 April 2009, Montreal, Canada. (Unpublished)


This paper looks at survival horror’s relationship with narrative and narration. Survival horror games remediate narrative cinema in their introductory sequences, cut-scenes inflecting players’ future actions with generic meaning. Diegetic media artefacts litter horror game environments providing narrative fragments. The dissection of gamespace through fixed camera points channels survival horror play in a particular direction, implying authorial orchestration for storytelling purposes. Game objects and adversaries often react to character movement in a scripted manner, as part of a pre-determined series of events requiring player participation. Moreover, gamespace is embedded with narrative information, revealing in often-bloody detail, frequently at the expense of interactivity. Various techniques invite the player into a narrative process involving sequential movement through space, the ordered completion of tasks, and the appropriate reading of gamespace. As such the survival horror game constitutes a story text reliant for its complete unfolding upon players’ actions being channelled in particular directions, an activity in which the survival horror gamer is wilfully complicit.

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