Jill Sandwich: The Cinema and 'Resident Evil'

Curator's Note

Games have always been about mechanics, the getting from here to there, the mastery of skills required to win, the negotiation of the rules, and it is in the first, earliest iteration of Resident Evil that we have our example, in retrospect, of the key differences between the filmic and the ludic. I want to lean on a particularly tantalizing, oft-made critique of "terrible" films: they are like "video games," sacrificing psychologically motivated actions to increasingly difficult and spectacle-driven challenges in a linear march to the "final boss." In turn, we have an oft-made critique of "terrible" video games: that the incorporation of filmic visuals disrupts immersion in the diagesis. Thus, Resident Evil-the-film is "terrible" because it is too much like a game, and Resident Evil-the-video-game is laughable because it cannot be a film.

Because cinema occupies a "higher standing in our dominant cultural hierarchy"1, these criticisms of games and films intersect in a strange way, but games always seem to be on the losing end of what could be understood as a crisis of realism. Resident Evil-the-film could more accurately be portrayed as problematic because the truth that it claims to mediate seems implausible and incoherent. Resident Evil-the-game, however, is something I love dearly because it simulates an experience (being trapped in a house of horrors) that has already been mediated via our understanding of cinematic horror.

Three game mechanics immediately stand out to me as extraordinarily of their time, and unlikely to be replicated with such success ever again. The first is resource management: this ain’t no horror film-you’re gonna run out of bullets. The second is the oft-maligned fixed camera: no cinematic, generic cues for you, buddy — you will see what we want you to see when we want you to see it! The final mechanic, is, simply, and beautifully: fear. Because you will run out of bullets, and you will not see "it" coming, you will have to surrender to the reality of all these truths. The determination to at least delay the loss avoidance mechanic is what makes fear so effective in "Resident Evil" — a game which has an almost anti-cinematic aesthetics, but purely ludic aspirations.

1From ScreenPlay: Cinema/Videogames/Interfaces, edited by Geoff King and Tanya Krzywinska.

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