Horror, Mystery, and First-Person Perspective

I started up a new file for Bioshock, which I’ve never played before, and the first thing I noticed was how “janky” the camera movement was. I normally play third-person games, because I like being able to see the character I’m playing and what’s around them. Bioshock doesn’t give players that freedom. They’re locked into…

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I started up a new file for Bioshock, which I’ve never played before, and the first thing I noticed was how “janky” the camera movement was. I normally play third-person games, because I like being able to see the character I’m playing and what’s around them. Bioshock doesn’t give players that freedom. They’re locked into a first-person perspective, which limits what they can see at any given time. This adds a new layer of challenge and intensity to the game. Intensity because as a player, you cannot see what’s lurking around every corner; you expect enemies at every turn. It adds a challenge because enemies can sneak up on you, attacking you from behind and gaining an advantage because you don’t see them coming. In a third-person game, a player generally has free movement of the camera and exists in a sort of “God-space” above the player-characters head, which makes it difficult to surprise a player if they see an attack coming. Essentially, Bioshock uses a limited perspective to heighten the horror-esque elements of the game.

In Bioshock, the player can only see directly in front of them, which makes for a more intense experience

In Bioshock, the player can only see directly in front of them, which makes for a more intense experience

The first-person perspective in Bioshock harkens back to horror-films. Often, these types of films will feature a shot of the villain approaching a victim, carrying a weapon that can be seen on the camera, like most standard first-person shooters. Silence of the Lambs famously uses this method as “Buffalo Bill” stalks Clarice Starling around a dark basement using night-vision goggles.

Silence of the Lambs uses a first-person (shooter) perspective to heighten the scene's suspense

Silence of the Lambs uses a first-person (shooter) perspective to heighten the scene’s suspense

The difference is that in horror films, the first-person perspective usually comes from a “bad guy,” not the “good guy” protagonist of videogames. However, in both cases first-person perspective forces an element of mystery. For film, the mystery often comes from not knowing who the attacker is. The film then goes on to explore that mystery, with the villain reveal as the big surprise. In videogames though, the first-person perspective creates a mystery around the environment. The players must move around and explore in order to uncover the mystery. While the first-person perspective elicits horror and mystery in both media, it does so in different ways.

Watching the Last of Us

As the Last of Us begins, one does not play the game for a considerable period of time. We watch an apocalyptic tale unfold as a father loses his daughter, merely clicking a few buttons and running for a little. As a player, we are given time to settle into the world of the game rather … Continue reading “Watching the Last of Us”

As the Last of Us begins, one does not play the game for a considerable period of time. We watch an apocalyptic tale unfold as a father loses his daughter, merely clicking a few buttons and running for a little. As a player, we are given time to settle into the world of the game rather than being thrown into challenging gameplay. Due to this viewing rather than playing, we begin to empathize with the various characters more so than controlling them. Joel is a faithful father and relentless survivor, not the back of someone’s body that we control and kill with.

Throughout the beginning of the game, there are poignant moments that allow the player to pause and reflect. For instance, when Joel and Tess reach the roofs of the buildings, the camera pans to a view of a modern city, which has been destroyed. The two characters reminisce on what used to be. As a player, one knows nothing of this previous world besides the night 20 years prior to the majority of the gameplay. Yet, due to this break in gameplay, we get an insight to that prior world.

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Joel and Ellie

Why does the The Last of Us make this choice and what impact does it have on the gameplay?

Firstly, it is a choice that most video games do not make. Games like Call of Duty and Halo only stop when the player pulls out into the menu or pauses. This choice therefore sets the game apart from other video games just by the fact this difference in relation to other games.

Secondly, when The Last of Us gives a panoramic view of the city, the game is still happening. While you aren’t clicking any buttons during these shots, you are gaining information and learning more about the characters. You are caring about the game more than you would if these shots did not occur during gameplay. Playing without clicking is a seemingly novel concept within games. This mode occurs in other places in the game when Joel does actions on his own without any input from the player.

As I continue to play this game, I want to further explore what these mimetic breaks mean for the game and the player. Does these breaks continue and evolve as the game continues or are they a tool used at the beginning of the game to introduce the player to Last of Us’s world?