THE EVOLUTION OF EARLY HORROR GAMING (1974-1991)
a patreon preview
Hey everyone! As you may have guessed due to the shaky nature of these last few months, I’ve been going through a lot of life changes lately, including a new full-time job, which is a bit of a double-edged sword as the trade-off for increased financial freedom and stability is less time to focus on creative endeavors. However, it also means that I’m more free to write about literally anything I want without being too worried about alienating long-term subscribers, so to celebrate, I’d like to offer the first installment of a long-form piece I’ve been working on for a while now about the evolution of horror gaming, a topic that is very near and dear to my heart. If this whets your appetite, I hope you feel more than welcome to head over to my Patreon and consider contributing on a regular basis to see the rest of this post and future iterations. I hope everyone is staying safe.
Horror has been a huge driving force in innovations within gaming in general, and breakthroughs in horror gaming often fed back into the genre at large. For example, as noted by George A. Romero, one can credit Resident Evil and House of the Dead with helping to revive interest in zombies after that subgenre had mostly faded into commercial irrelevance, starting a domino effect that eventually resulted in a huge resurgence by the mid-to-late 2000s. Other examples include Doom revolutionizing online gaming as well as establishing the popularity of the first-person shooter, and Castlevania: Symphony of the Night taking influence from Super Metroid and The Legend of Zelda to cement the blueprint for the “Metroidvania” style of game design, which has since infiltrated games as diverse as Control, the Batman Arkham series, and the Pokemon series.
Additionally, horror elements in gaming have been a huge driving force in redefining video game demographics, and have always been a huge source of controversy and a flashpoint for discussion of censorship and freedom of speech within video games and within pop culture at large. When it comes to retro gaming in particular, the line between horror aimed at kids and horror aimed at adults is especially blurry. Even game developers often seemed unsure of who exactly they were making games for. But this uncertainty slowly gave way to deliberate progression, and horror was embraced as a tentpole genre within gaming, as well as a genre that was especially suited to using ludic narrative to explore dense, dark, mature themes.
Games are such a natural progression for horror fans: even more than movies or books, what could give you a more immediate and visceral thrill and adrenaline rush than putting yourself directly into terrifying situations? What started as a small group of developers and genre fans slowly grew into a rabid fanbase of people who were sick of only being able to experience horror in their minds, on the page, or on non-interactive screens; they wanted to be able to truly live through a nightmare, and they fought against everything, from concerns of commercial failure to technological limitations to overwhelming moral outrage, to do it. This is the story of horror gaming.
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