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SPOILER WARNINGS: Silent Hill: Downpour, Silent Hill 2, Outlast 2, Resident Evil 6, The Evil Within, The Evil Within 2
A trope is defined by good ole TVTropes.org as "more about conveying a concept to the audience without needing to spell out all the details." However, the very concept of a trope couldn't have been named without cliché. Clichéd concepts within media, such as video games, have been happening since their inception. Heck, Nintendo makes their billions with one of the most famous cliché characters of all time, but Mario is very much an icon of the culture of gaming.
But when do the repeated tropes get especially annoying? Horror games. Sometimes, a game can weave in a cliché for good with an intriguing twist (à la Silent Hill 2) or completely troll players with a lame demo for a game that would actually turn out to be excellent (Resident Evil 7 Biohazard). But some games incorporate clichés like they're meeting a quota. So, without further ado, let's countdown 5 Horror Clichés I Wish Game Developers Would Stop Using.
5. Obligatory Creepy Child
I tend to roll my eyes when there's a mysterious child character in a horror game. Because more often than not, in this modern age of gaming, the child will serve no purpose to the story, they're just thrown in for a predictable "scare factor." Perhaps the most horrendous use of a creepy child had to be Silent Hill: Downpour in which protagonist Murphy Pendleton goes to a combination church, orphanage, and morgue. Yeah, that game was confusing.
In a jail cell, for some reason, two children are playing. If you can find any symbolism matching Murphy's backstory, please let me know, I still don't know why they were in the game in the first place. Anyway, Murphy's tasked with finding a nursery rhyme...a very screwed-up nursery rhyme that I think alludes to child sexual abuse. And at the very end of the segment is a baffling scene where Murphy's reciting the poem while Pyramid Head Archetype No. 394 chokes a little child to death. Again, this has no bearing on the story, it was just put in to be scary which, in my honest opinion, is reprehensible. That leads me to my number 4 entry...
4. Unkillable Guilt Monster
The big unkillable monster, shockingly, wasn't introduced by Silent Hill 2. I would argue that the trope originated from Resident Evil 2 and Resident Evil 3 with Mr. X and Nemesis or maybe even the Clocktower trilogy. But a monster designed to be a manifestation of guilt...yep, it's Pyramid Head Syndrome. The Evil Within even introduced the trope of Object Heads, because the very concept of a monster with a messed up head became a trope in of itself.
If it's not the Silent Hill series biting itself through its last few mediocre installments featuring their own brand of guilt monsters, it's modern horror titles. Outlast 2 introduced a feminine unkillable executioner type that kills by slicing her victims from crotch to neck. Oh, I wonder what that symbolizes *eye roll*. Then, if that's not laughable enough, there's the many handed phallus creature lurking the halls of a demented Catholic school. What does THAT mean? Oh, it so mysterious and subtle! Oh, look, an excellent segue to my next bullet.
3. Child Abuse/Rape Backstory
Now, I'm not saying that rape shouldn't be a topic for discussion or incorporation into plots of a video game. I'm just saying that it shouldn't be done so poorly. Big surprise, I did not like Outlast 2's seeming light-handed portrayal of rape and sexual assault as a means of just terrifying the player.
If you will now allow me to fangirl over Silent Hill 2...this is quite possibly the best usage of a rape backstory. It wasn't blatant and the character's admission wasn't overall explicit. Silent Hill 2 was a game where the surroundings and atmosphere told the story more than the dialogue. And meeting with Angela Orosco in the labyrinth is one of the most powerful scenes in video game storytelling, in my opinion. The fleshy walls, the pistons moving, the horrid abominable creature called the Abstract Daddy...my theory is that this room is a mocking representation of Angela's bedroom and how her father used to repeatably invade her personal space and body.
I wish I could like Outlast 2. I weirdly liked the cultish backstory though I wish it could have been less clairvoyant. But the overreaching story elements, baby killing, and explicit scenes of graphic sexual abuse just don't sit well with me. I play games to play games, not watch torture porn.
2. "They're not zombies, they're ______"
Were they dead? Yes. Are they moving now? Yes. Do they look like zombies? Yes. Then they are called zombies to me. "Oh, but they're not virus zombies, they're haunted because they were corrupted by a serial killer mind-meld device." Then why don't you call them Corrupted or The Corrupt?
Even Resident Evil had us changing the dichotomy of zombie virus mutations. Did you bother to look up any of the actual canon names for the zombies and BOWs in Resident Evil 5 and 6? NO, they were just Worm Zombies, creepy bat thing, and rabid spaghetti dogs. Also, that very racist part where there were tribal African zombies turning into hideous crab things. Though that squiggly Jello creature from the third half of Leon's campaign in RE6 was kind of cool. Mostly because they Alien'd your face if you died and there'd be a long death scene where new Squigglies were born from Leon's face.
1. Convenient Plot Amnesia
So, you get a letter from your dead wife, what do you do? I'd personally check myself into a mental hospital because 1) I don't have a wife 2) Who's wasting postal stamps to talk to me? Oh, no! Must be that plot amnesia. That explains the blood on my shirt and bracelet made of strange teeth.
How many games can you recall that have started with a generic character seeking their lost family member? Like I said before, there are games that incorporate clichés into a very well-written narrative. Then there are games that do the same but then forget to expound upon the lacking backstory or leave it to a sequel (The Evil Within 2). I could understand a character not having a backstory because the game's more about the antagonist (the first Evil Within, Silent Hill 4: The Room). I could even understand a character merely being a means to explore a broader game world (Fallout 4).
But the cliché of amnesia has been infecting horror games since the early 2000s. Sebastian of The Evil Within is given a predictable cop out — he has a drinking problem. A detective with a drinking problem...whose daughter and wife died in a fire. I wonder if this game's going to be about his redemption arc or just going to be a maze of fire and crayon drawings. We even get weird flashbacks of our wife and daughter who look just as rubbery as Sebastian's personality. You can say he's supposed to be drunk, but his voice acting is B grade at best. Maybe I am too desensitized to video games these days and maybe I am over-critical. Is it too much to ask for games to be good, though?
Thank you very much for reading this article. Stay tuned for lists, articles, commiserations, maybe game reviews? We'll see.