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Jason Pook's Games Design Blog

Dead Space and Outlast Psychoanalysed.

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The two video games I will be comparing by using psychoanalysis will be “Outlast” and “Dead Space” on the characters of Miles Upshur the reporter on Outlast and Isaac Clarke a space engineer in Dead Space both are the main protagonists.

Outlast is a first person horror game set in a mountain asylum, you the player are a reporter who has received a tip of suspicious goings on at this location anonymously. By the time you realise to abort this case it’s too late your trapped and have to find a way out through many jump scares and monsters or crazy people running around. The story behind it is contextual to the real MKUltra experiments conducted by the CIA in the 50s, 60s and 70s in the U.S. and Canada. Those experiments, which are still shrouded in secrecy and that some think continue to this day, dealt with drug use, torture and some form of mind control. Instead of a narrative to the story the game is run by individual investigations throughout by the player using his video camera which engages you in the story to try solve the madness. It’s purely designed to make the gamer suffer as you only have three options told to you at the start of the game “Run, hide or die” no combat skills or weapons to assist you which just fuels the fear. The “Walrider“ is the main antagonist of the game who causes the sacrifices of the mental patients and worship as it is all powerful apart from the machine which allows it to live and host a body.

Dead Space is a 3rd person futuristic horror game set in space on a malfunctioning mining ship called the usg ishimura which is used for new resource gathering planetary methods called “Planet cracking”. Isaac Clarke a space engineer is sent to fix the ship, to find the ship is thriving with an undead species called the Necromorph. Isaac is also looking for his girlfriend Nicole who is assigned to the ship, he received a confusing message of “I wish it didn’t have to end this way”, throughout the battle of uncovering what’s behind the Necromorph he is also going through his own battle with sanity as the “marker” which controls the Necromorph also causes Isaac’s hallucinations and visions which constantly freak out and confuse the player. The psychological battle with the church of unitology the cult behind the Necromorph’s and his nightmares are the driving force of the plot. You fight to fix all this and your own problems it’s a truly on edge game with plenty of jump scares.

I have chosen outlast and the main character Miles Upshur as I want to analyse how the character is used to make you feel as a player like you are in the game. You never see the face of the character you instantly place yourself due to the 1st person view as the character despite the name which is easily overlooked. “That’s the thing about survival horror: if you’re empowered, then the threat is not as big…you feel you have to be proactive to fight back. But if you know there is no way you can fight back, then that’s when I think the horror is most effective.” This is a quote from co-founder of Outlast Philippe Morin describing the mindset behind the mechanics of the game, I read into this further and found out they got inspiration of this from a game called “Amnesia” this game released in August 2010 was a clear inspiration for outlasts game play style of a huge focus on psychoanalysis and how they can engage the player into the world of horror, with quotes like this “I think it is safe to say that Amnesia is the most successfully frightening game to have been made.” – Rock, Paper, Shotgun so basing the game on this was a solid bit of context for a successful horror. With that in mind it really helps assist the player’s engagement with the character, you feel his vulnerability, his fear and his desperation throughout various escapes and pitch black navigations. The feature that supports this the most effectively I feel is the 1st person view, this places you immediately in the mindset that you are Miles Upshur, you experience and consider all the notes and video clips he records throughout the game like a detective to try figure out where to next or what’s around the corner. The use of 1st person is supported by the camera you use to record the happenings of the story, but the battery life on this camera is reliant on you finding batteries which are scarce causing missed clues and some scary no night vision glowing eyed enemy moments. Its features include whilst running away you can look behind to see how close your pursuer is, if you approach a corner your hand will rest on the wall so you can peak round and the options to bust open doors or be silent in your stealthy movement depends on the situation its truly immersive and slowly engages your connection with the characters physicality as the game goes on, not forgetting the increasing audio of Upshur’s breathing if people are spotted or noises are made which automatically engages you to do the same. “While there’s rarely any let up in the tension, it always feels like you’re in the hands of a developer at the top of its game, revelling in making the player uncomfortable, but never forgetting to delight at the same time.”- Edge review online. This quote from edge’s review rated 4.5stars of 5 sums up the intentions of the designer they love making you believe it’s you but don’t neglect some breathers so it’s not overwhelming tension. Although everyone around him is mentally unstable with signs of dementia and insanity miles manages to keep mental stability until becoming the host of the antagonist the walrider in the end when he disconnects its original host’s life support system causing Miles to be in the end the cause and reason behind his investigation so you the player are essentially mentally stable but end up the cause of the insanity through digging into something you shouldn’t have. The player never loses touch with the game as there are no cut scenes in the game so you are purely playing and stopping the take notes then back to the madness, no breakages in the plot means smooth game play that doesn’t disengage you at any point and never reveals the appearance of Miles.

I chose Isaac Clarke the main character in dead space as I want to question the player’s engagement into another person’s journey of both mentally and physically how they use realism of the story and backstory with cut scenes to emotionally attach you to this character. Isaac had previously been living with Nicole Brennan prior to her assignment to the usg ishimura 2 years before the blackout of communications, so when assigned to go fix it the mission became much more personal and also engaging as despite a alien outbreak there is focus to be achieving that “epic win” that Jane McGonigal talks about in her TED talk on “gaming can make a better world” as you the player want Isaac to succeed. Only to be dragged along his path of insanity when he contracts dementia, you are witness to this man’s mental torture which the ‘marker’ uses Nicole to haunt Isaac despite the actual truth being she died at the start of the outbreak taking her own life which is the end of the video clip that he is sent, so the marker uses her to try destroy him and you which several frightening hallucinations and very eerie voices in his head. This powerful narrative really drags you deep into someone’s mental instability and you connect the protagonist Isaac strongly creating your own mistrusts and views on other crew members when separated who also seem to use “We will find Nicole” to manipulate Isaac further into helping them. The key to Isaac’s recovery was acceptance and letting Nicole go after the shocking realisation of her suicide, you the player witness all this as a 3rd person party this gives you the opportunity to derive your own theories on what has actually happened and what hasn’t, in some cases you are wondering what is a hallucination and what isn’t, this psychological journey is of Isaac’s mentality but also your depiction of the actual events. By designing the game in this way you the player naturally try to predict what is coming next or who did what, as soon as that kicks in the writers grip you with many twists and shocks you never saw coming like Kendra a crew member betraying Isaac trying to escape on her own to her own peril. As the 3rd person view with many means of killing these necromorphs it gives you chance to appreciate the world around you more you pay more attention to the finer details in the scenery for example in one of the elevator hallucinations where Nicole’s eyes look like they are beaming right through you the effect you can see on Isaac really immerses you in his feelings of what horror he must go through and how you have to get him out. Also 3rd person allowed me to see the physical exertion going into the character when taking hits or dealing damage, he hobbles on low health grabbing his stomach breathing heavily that engagement of visuals supports the emotions you are supposed to feel for the protagonist further supporting his cause. But they do not give him a voice “the original which features no voice acting for the character and is only seen out of his helmet at the very beginning and ending of the game” (giantbomb.com article) so by doing this you the player make your own assumptions on his personality and all of his features due to the majority of the game he is just a suit.

I want to contrast the differences between the user experience of 1st person in outlast to 3rd person in dead space and how it makes you feel. This is a much debated topic in gaming culture of which is better for a horror genre game 1st person or 3rd person. Multiple blogs I have sourced have different views here are some “First person, hands down. Instead of being some bodiless entity floating over the left/right shoulder of main protagonist, you ARE the protagonist seeing what he sees through his eyes.”- (horrorgameforums.com) that is in support of 1st person but on the other hand “I feel third person would be better because you can see your character, which makes you more immersed in the game and feel the horror that the character is experiencing. Also, you can see yourself get attacked”- (yahoo.com reference question) but then there is the middle ground of “I think that 3rd person tends to emphasize the player’s sense of vulnerability via the visible exposure of the player character, whereas 1st person emphasizes the sense of viscerality by situating the player as the direct recipient of attacks. 3rd person horror = exposure, 1st person horror = enclosure. Each perspective has its respective strengths, but given that ‘horror’ tends to encompass a range of emotions, it’s hard to say any one is better than the other.” (idlethumbs.net/forums Walter). Many views can be taken on this from let’s say quote 1 the capitalised “Are” emphasises his point that you are the character you see through his eyes so you experience his fear. Whereas the contrast quote 2 references to having a connection to the character and seeing pain through emotion or physicality it’s like you’re on a journey together. Then quote 3 sums up the differences and how you pick specific ones to portray specific styles of horror game exposure or enclosure. My personal view is that 1st person is lots more engaging so I was alot more scared of outlast than i was of dead space purely down to it felt like I was the main character throughout you could be stood still in a narrow corridor thinking im not going down there and have no idea that a 8ft hulk like monster is behind you towering over your body that’s the mindset I was in. Yes I did feel a connection to Isaac as a protagonist and that I was there to guide him with weapons but I can’t think of anything more scary than 1st person realistic horror with no means of fighting back relating back to outlasts co founder quote of “That’s the thing about survival horror: if you’re empowered, then the threat is not as big…you feel you have to be proactive to fight back. But if you know there is no way you can fight back, then that’s when I think the horror is most effective.”

 

The comparison of the two games I would have to go down the path of the usage of mental instability to drive or coincide with the storyline. Outlast uses it alot being set in a ‘mental asylum’ but it did have some contextual reference to it as explained before in mysterious CIA conspiracies of mind control and dementia. Whilst your character isn’t mentally unstable everything around him seems to be crumbling all of which you are trying to get to the bottom of with many scary obstacles and strange sacrificial occurrences going on. I feel the use of mentality in outlast is key to capture it correctly in the game if they hadn’t have possibly gone over the top in some cases with the doctor taking a few of your fingers you might not have believed the scale of the madness which then loses interest.

Whereas in Dead Space not only is Isaac fighting a alien outbreak you are being affected by the ‘marker’ which caused the outbreak and is now making Isaac lose his sanity taking the form of Nicole his loved one in hallucinations a side effect of dementia. It’s a real exhausting journey for you and Isaac slaughtering countless necromorphs and dealing with what is real and what isn’t as his condition escalates. This is vital in the storyline you really gain connection with Isaac it’s like you are on this journey together but you’re not sure what is what or who to trust as nobody seems to be trustworthy as they use Nicole as a driving force for Isaac to keep going thinking he will find her and repent for telling her to take the job here in the first place. Most people said on the blogs I read for 3rd person horror vs. 1st person that the 3rd person narrative does sometimes heavily rely on strong narrative and dead space really pulled it off “An incredibly atmospheric and disturbingly gruesome deep-space adventure that will haunt your dreams and leave you begging for more.” – (LarkAnderson on October 13, 2008 gamespot.com review 9/10).

So in both games this feature is a key factor of the narrative and has been pulled off successfully enough to make the different interpretations of dementia and insanity believable for the player so that they can truly engage in the game.

In conclusion the topics I have discussed behind the psychoanalysis of main protagonists of Dead Space Isaac Clarke and Outlast Miles Upshur is that both games have different styles of engaging the player into the horror by means of either game play realism or gripping narrative throughout. If I have to pick my choice of which did the better job of getting into my head it would have to be outlast purely on the basis of the 1st person view I can’t help but feel that when the character Miles is attacked that I sit there and say “that monster just hit me run!” emphasis there on ‘me’ whereas with Dead Space it was “Isaac run keep going its behind you” or “he’s dead” not im dead so it was more a personal engagement to believing it’s me that made it more scary. But to keep it neutral ground for their different but also similar styles of horror game you can’t say either one had done a bad job at making the player engage with the game in some way that would grip them to the screen begging for more.

 

References

Butler, M. 2014. Interactive Nightmares: A History of Video game horror. Kindle ed. Amazon.

GameSpot. 2014. Dead Space Review. [online] Available at: http://www.gamespot.com/reviews/dead-space-review/1900-6199349/ [Accessed: 30 Mar 2014].

Giantbomb.com. 2014. Isaac Clarke (Character) – Giant Bomb. [online] Available at: http://www.giantbomb.com/isaac-clarke/3005-1197/ [Accessed: 30 Mar 2014].

Horrorgameforums.com. 2012. First Person vs. Third Person?. [online] Available at: http://www.horrorgameforums.com/public.html/showthread.php?95-First-Person-vs-Third-Person [Accessed: 30 Mar 2014].

Idlethumbs.net. 2014. Horror games, 1st person or 3rd person? – Video Gaming – Idle Forums. [online] Available at: https://www.idlethumbs.net/forums/topic/962-horror-games-1st-person-or-3rd-person/ [Accessed: 30 Mar 2014].

Krawczyk, M. and Novak, J. 2014. Gave Development Essentials: Game Story & Character Development.

Official PlayStation website. 2014. Outlast. [online] Available at: http://uk.playstation.com/ps4/games/detail/item620625/Outlast/ [Accessed: 30 Mar 2014].

Official PlayStation website. 2014. Outlast. [online] Available at: http://uk.playstation.com/ps4/games/detail/item620625/Outlast/ %5BAccessed: 30 Mar 2014].

Outlast Wiki. 2014. Miles Upshur. [online] Available at: http://outlast.wikia.com/wiki/Miles_Upshur [Accessed: 30 Mar 2014].

Polygon. 2014. Outlast is a stealth horror game designed to make the player suffer. [online] Available at: http://www.polygon.com/2013/6/19/4444548/outlast-is-a-stealth-horror-game-designed-to-make-the-player-suffer [Accessed: 30 Mar 2014].

 

 

 

 

 

 

Author: Jason Pook 3D

Current student at Hull School of Art and Design studying Games Design.

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