Personally, one of my favorite genres is Survival Horror, however like metal music, full of demonic imagery, skulls and bones, gore-fiends and moshpit-loving violence-craving thrill seekers, the genre is often interpreteted to be inherently Satanic.
And yet one who is in the genre or a heavy partaker of it, understands that glorifying the underworld and its manifestations of violence, blood, guts, blasphemy and filth; is not always the case for all bands who go the metal route. Beyond that, those listerns who love the headbanging world; are not always doing so as a full embrace of the antichrist-position that often spills from the mouths of secular metal bands.
Horror is much the same way, with the exception that most created horror IS not glorifying the light in any way… a notion that Christian metal bands convey to those willing to listen; while keeping the grotesque and violent motifs that are staples of the genre… only they twist it so it points to the Cross and away from the Pit.
It is hard to make that argument when discussing horror in either film or in gaming however.
But it is my belief that embracing horror videogames is not a full-out endorsement of what most of the games preach throughout the majority of the duration of said adventure through hellish imagery.
In fact, to write horror off as nothing but a pure act of grotesque blasphemy and filth with no redeeming factors, is to vastly oversimplify it. It is true that some horror does just that with no redeeming qualities, but NOT all of it. And that mindset does a disservice and writes off an entire complex genre made up of hundreds of thousands of different tales, characters, stories and worlds.
Like in the metal realm, there are plenty of smart, intelligent, horror-themed videogames that have many redeeming qualities. I believe horror and the desire to be scared can actually run parallel to the beliefs we as Christians hold. “As I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil.”
Ultimately horror, in almost ALL cases, is about overcoming evil, savagery and blasphemous beings bent on delivering grotesque hell upon others. Beyond the striking and violent imagery, much like the Cross itself, is redemption and horrific stories of those who conquered the arms of death and lived to tell the tale.
In addition, a smartly told horror story, will intersperse many other elements that elevate it above a simple gore-fest. Silent Hill for example is a dive into psychological horror, where demonic sights and sounds unsettle the player, and try to suffocate you in fear. The story however is extremely deep, vastly open to interpretation, and is ultimately a tale of love, sacrifice, overcoming fear and triumphing over the evils of Hell… literally.
The opening of Silent Hill 2, for example, tells the tale of a man named James, who receives a letter from his wife. His deceased wife. In it she talks of their “special place”, a town called Silent Hill. He knows she is alive, dead people cannot write letters? Right? So he seeks to find her, at the place where they’re love most blossomed. When he gets there a fog of hell envelopes the town, demonic beings attack, and the story twists and turns as you delve deep into the psyche of James. But ultimately, the story is about reality vs fantasy, life vs death, light vs darkness, and how love conquers all, even demonic hellspawn in literal form.
Resident Evil takes a more action oriented approach, where blowing off zombie heads with all manner of weaponry is the norm. However that is just a part of what makes Resident Evil great. In fact gameplay, as is the case with Silent Hill, is arguably it’s weakest element. What really makes Resident Evil come alive are the characters, how they’re individual objectives and agendas intertwine, and a storyline of corporations, greed, biological experiments on humans and animals, and the warring factions from all sides, corporate, police, government and citizen, as they collide and must contend with the evil wrath that a few key individuals have unleashed upon the world.
In every single Resident Evil game, the main characters overcome the resident evil, the biohazard, and come up for breath towards the light. Often quite literally (most of them end by exiting a tunnel and seeing the light at the end, or rising into the sunset, and the dawn of a new day).
The videogame Dante’s Inferno is one of my favorites, as it’s a game that does not shy away from Christian overtones and imagery, with a Holy Cross a devastating weapon that quite literally obliterates every demon in your path, and the game gives you the ability to turn lost souls from Hell and into the embrace of Heaven. The game even directly references Jesus Chris and God in multiple instances, while offering some of the most violent, disturbing and blasphemous imagery, meant to literally symbolize the circles and pits of Hell, as told in the literary masterpiece and first part of The Divine Comedy. This is one of the only games where the end boss is Satan, the devil, Himself. Whom you get to pummel into oblivion as good defeats evil and your character embraces the light over the darkness.
In a tale like that of Eternal Darkness, the game is all about making the player believe what is a lie. Believe that the darkness has overcome you, as the game spawns psychological Sanity effects in the dozens that attempt to make you believe things are happening that are really just hallucinations. Whether that is your Item Inventory disappearing, statues watching your every move, or the game making it look like the TV was just muted… eventually you learn to ignore these hellish deceptions and see them for what they are: fraud. The truth will set you free. And in the end, a tale is told that spans generations, from historic times to the modern era, as various characters of a lineage of men and woman who overcame the grip of Hell itself is told; and they triumph over its dark grip.
There will always however, be those who believe there is no redemption to be found within the horror genre. And one can hardly argue with the violent imagery being thrust upon your eyes and ears. However, like David slicing off the head of Goliath, or Sampson laying waste to legions of humans and murdering them all, sometimes shock factor is just that. Shocking.
It makes you take notice. But it’s the tale beneath the shock, the intelligence of the woven piece of entertainment before you, made up of all manner of different parts, that is the real treat beneath the gory, seemingly blasphemous exterior.
Like someone who looks at The Passion of the Christ and only sees a gore-hounds dream; a celebration of blood, guts, torture and agony, this position quite handily misses the point. Misses the bigger picture. Misses the redeeming qualities.
While horror media is in no way comparitive to the Cross, the point still sticks. Those who believe horror media is entirely without worse, may have not looked deep enough and unburied the core. Instead of judging a book by its cover, you ought to take a few trips through Silent Hill yourself, and discover why it is so compelling to so many.
The Bible talks about being all things to all people, and there are many horror fans out there who are looking for someone they can relate to. Showing interest in even the worse type of material, and being able to see beyond the rough exterior, is a discussion point that can often lead to greater things. Many of these games and other horror media relate the very subjects I’ve discussed in this piece, overcoming evil, defeating the darkness, love triumphs. These themes are universal, and while you won’t find them in everything, there are horror pieces worth exploring that are not a waste of your time and explore these themes. They just revel in the shock and gore factor to get your attention, but it is what lies beyond that they often worked much harder on. After all, only a story with deep character development and interesting twists and turns is a story that’s worthwhile, and many of horror media were built on them, just like any kind of story has to be.
So next time you find yourself dismissing horror, try to understand what about it interests and individual. Try playing or watching one yourself, you may come to see that they are more than meets the eye. Like the parables of the Bible, there are those who just come for the horror, and there are those who will interpret more from it. Strive to be latter, for everything made for evil can be twisted for good, and used to reach those who crave the darkside, but deep inside desire the light.
What are you thoughts on Christians and horror? I should note that there is one really big caveat, and that is the fact that I do not enjoy horror films. Of course, I have not watched many. I am more specifically talking about horror videogames, from Silent Hill to Resident Evil to Fatal Frame to Eternal Darkness, games I love.
Despite that fact, I believe the rest of what I’ve written still holds true, for many a piece of horror media, be it music or movies, books or games.