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.