WHY I LOVE... MEAN­ING­FUL MON­STERS

How videogames use ef­fec­tive mon­ster design as a way of ex­ter­nal­is­ing a char­ac­ter’s in­ner tur­moil

XBox: The Official Magazine - - EXTRA - RACHEL WATTS

Videogames are crawl­ing with ter­ri­fy­ing, spooky and won­der­ful mon­sters. Hordes of ghastly flesheat­ing zom­bies, oth­er­worldly fan­tas­ti­cal fire-breath­ing dragons and an­cient beasts with dag­gers for teeth are all the rage for play­ers to have a good brawl with. But what makes a mem­o­rable videogame mon­ster? Is it the chal­lenge, the adren­a­line of fight­ing one, or the sat­is­fac­tion that comes when de­liv­er­ing that killing blow? Or, how about the mon­sters that cause your stom­ach to tighten, your hair stand on end, and the ones that make you feel the most vul­ner­a­ble?

They are crea­tures that do not fit into what we un­der­stand as a stereo­typ­i­cal mon­ster, like vam­pires, were­wolves and zom­bies. These beast­ies, demons and ghoulies hit a nerve that no amount of blood, gore and vi­o­lence could ever touch upon be­cause they come from within. There’s some­thing particular­ly dis­turb­ing about fac­ing off against a foe that is an ex­ten­sion of the main char­ac­ter, be it their psy­che, per­sonal strug­gles or dark past.

Try­ing to un­der­stand the mean­ing be­hind the con­torted fleshy be­ings or de­ci­pher­ing the logic be­hind these ter­ri­fy­ing demons, hor­ri­fy­ing as they are, is re­ally in­ter­est­ing. They cap­ture some­thing that would take pages of writ­ten di­a­logue to com­mu­ni­cate, and are a great op­por­tu­nity for de­vel­op­ers to con­vey a game’s trou­bled char­ac­ters. The dread that these mon­sters con­jure is grounded in hu­man emo­tion and rep­re­sent an un­set­tling look in­ward, un­veil­ing a char­ac­ter’s sub­con­scious fears.

From within

This is the driv­ing force be­hind many hor­ror mon­sters, and a se­ries that uses it mas­ter­fully is Silent Hill. The tit­u­lar fog-cov­ered town is a breed­ing ground for grue­some crea­tures that have ma­te­ri­alised from each pro­tag­o­nist’s mind. With ev­ery grim en­counter, you start to re­veal the ori­gin of each crea­ture and be­gin to bur­row deeper into each char­ac­ter’s hid­den fear and trauma.

Try­ing to de­ci­pher these crea­tures is like a psy­cho­log­i­cal puz­zle, and the most well-known en­emy of the se­ries, Pyra­mid Head, has inspired dis­cus­sion years af­ter Silent Hill 2’ s ini­tial re­lease. This mass of meat and metal is a bringer of pun­ish­ment for James Sun­der­land to con­front, and is a pro­jec­tion of how the weight of his guilt still sits on his shoul­ders. Grotesque mon­sters can also be found in TheEvilWit­hin’s night­marescape of dis­torted me­mories that its char­ac­ters would rather for­get. In puz­zle game Cather­ine, Vin­cent is plagued by gi­ant un­dead brides and ba­bies, ex­pos­ing his de­spair about com­mit­ment, par­ent­hood and in­fi­delity. Many games that use this sto­ry­telling tech­nique have cre­ated com­plex psy­cho­log­i­cal por­traits of their char­ac­ters. In Fade ToSi­lence, an ap­pari­tion scoffs at your at­tempt at sur­vival in the win­ter apoca­lypse. It be­rates you and sug­gests that you give up in a cruel and mock­ing tone. This mon­ster is un­set­tling in that it’s the one con­stant voice you hear in a lonely world of frosty si­lence.

Other games have re­pur­posed the mean­ing found in mon­sters and have used it to in­form play­ers on un­der­stand­ing hu­man psy­chol­ogy. Hell­blade: Senua’s Sac­ri­fice uses Norse mythol­ogy to help frame its mon­sters, and de­vel­op­ers Ninja The­ory worked along­side a team of men­tal health spe­cial­ists to help con­vey Senua’s ex­pe­ri­ences of psy­chosis. The demons and pro­jected il­lu­sions that Senua must bat­tle are more than just im­i­ta­tions of Norse gods, they in­ter­weave mythol­ogy and metaphor to cre­ate a por­trait of a young Celtic war­rior’s strug­gle with men­tal health.

Sea Of Soli­tude ex­plores a new ap­proach to mon­sters in that pro­tag­o­nist Kay’s blood-red eyes and black fur are traits that she shares with the gi­ants she faces. And the con­nec­tion runs deeper than a shared ap­pear­ance, these mon­sters are not only pro­jec­tions from Kay’s mind about her iso­la­tion and lone­li­ness, but also be­ings who have their own sto­ries of soli­tude. She is a part of them just as they are a piece of her.

What makes these mon­sters mem­o­rable is that they evoke a feel­ing of re­flec­tion in­stead of just scar­ing us. Their ter­ror lies in the re­al­i­sa­tion that be­neath their sur­face is a hu­man core built from emo­tions like greed, guilt, an­guish and loss. They en­com­pass an as­pect of our­selves that we can’t deny or es­cape, and our fear comes from the un­der­stand­ing that some­thing so mon­strous could come from a place of hu­man­ity. n

“Be­neath their sur­face is a hu­man core built from emo­tions like greed, guilt, an­guish and loss”

RIGHT Mon­sters that have a more hu­man theme to their design are much more un­set­tling.

ABOVE Kay’s re­sem­blance to the mon­sters in Sea Of Soli­tude al­ludes to a deeper mean­ing.

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