Friday, August 24, 2007

Leigh Alexander Explores Little Girls in Horror

You simply must check out this new blog post on GameSetWatch by fellow "Escapee" and widely published games journalist Leigh Alexander. In it, she discusses BioShock, little girls and horror gaming. The relationship between little girls and horror is an issue I've been meaning to think more about for some time, ever since I played Rule of Rose last year while reading Sharon Lamb's book The Secret Lives of Girls. Alexander does a great job drawing comparisons between current hot topic game BioShock and more general themes in horror gaming, focusing on the recurring image and ambivalent role of the creepy and/or vulnerable "little girl". Here's an excerpt:
It’s not unusual to see small, saucer-eyed children as conventions in the horror genre; in fact, it’s common. Young girls in particular make very good devices in survival-horror video games, either as archetypes of feminine vulnerability (for who needs you more than a damsel-in-distress except a little damsel?) or as strange aggressors, all the more fearsome for their innocuous appearance. The genre of BioShock is already the subject of much debate, but for the topics discussed here, it cleaves rather closely alongside survival-horror story elements.

The Little Sisters are preceded by a long list of girl-children in that genre. The desperate circumstances of Resident Evil 2 were accentuated with the pivotal appearance of Sherry Birkin, whose helplessness served to heighten the fear – and emotionalize the stakes. Of note was her child-like physicality when under the player’s control, the juvenile, vulnerable unease with which she climbed over too-tall obstacles and scrabbled through the dark.

The Silent Hill series, too, couldn’t do without its children – Cheryl Mason and Alessa Gillespie were the catalysts of the entire series’ events, and even in the canonically divergent Silent Hill 2, the mysteriously antagonistic Laura taunts the protagonist, unaffected neither by his guilt, his shame, nor the ghosts of the world. In another survival-horror title, Fatal Frame 2, a pair of twins are drawn into a nightmarish plot as they investigate the brutal religious sacrifice of orphan twin children before them.

Rule of Rose drew fire (and was prohibited from a UK release) for its use of children as aggressors – juvenile perpetrators of near-sociopathic crimes on one another, as well as some faint strains of sexualizing them. In all of the above examples, though, it was the appearance of the children that made the game truly frightening. Sherry, Laura, Alessa, Diana – all of them are both powerful -- because they motivate all of the game’s action, and appear to know things the protagonists do not -- and ambiguous, because their presence is as dangerous as it is useful. The same can be said for the Little Sisters.

Click here to read the rest of the article.

For more on BioShock, click here to watch a trailer, or here to read some first impressions of the game by The Escapist editor Russ Pitts.

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