The very nature of the horrible is to transgress, to delve beyond what is acceptable.
In February 2022, the release of the controversial indie game. Martha is dead provoked giddy jeers from critics, prompting rock, paper, shotgun to wearily describe it as “the game where you take the face off a dead woman”. But while the shocked talk surrounding the game’s release may have fizzled out, there remains a larger issue that allows games like this to exist in the first place. The implied threat of monstrous violence against women has been a prominent video game trope ever since Mario first rescued Princess Peach from Bowser. As the medium has matured, depictions of that threat have become even more explicit, both literally and figuratively.
Martha is dead takes the grotesque to new heights. In her headline-grabbing scene, Giulia peels the face of her dead sister Martha from her and places it over hers, emphasizing how she has stolen Martha’s identity. Most devoted horror fans, myself included, don’t necessarily have a problem with the narrative told within that interactive scene. Horror is, by its very nature, hard to watch.
However, this moment is obscenely macabre. After a moment that might make the most stoic of us squirm, the game lets us look back at our handiwork; we stayed to linger over the mangled corpse. The implication is that the entertainment value of this desecration is more important than what the incident reveals about Giulia’s deteriorating psyche.
Giulia later breaks into Martha’s crypt, rips open her clothes to expose her naked body, and then uses those same scissors to open Martha’s uterus to reveal a fetus. At that moment, Martha is the ultimate incarnation of vulnerability. Despite the peace that death should bring, more violations are imposed on her body. The serene purity of the immaculate female body is taken against her will, forced to endure horrors from which she cannot defend herself.
“The game delight in killing her with a sexual charge brutality.”
The use of nudity and violence to abuse and dominate women, both living and dead, is seen in other popular games, such as tormented souls. Released in August 2021, the game received many rave reviews for its retro survival horror vibe. But others were not impressed. game trend he exasperatedly called it “just another example of the brutalization and gratuitous sexual violence directed at women that has permeated the horror genre since its inception.”
Frankly it’s hard to see tormented souls Any other way. The fixed camera perspective puts the player in a predatory position from the start. Often lurking behind her, stalker-like low angle, you regularly spot protagonist Caroline’s underwear as she wanders the abandoned hospital. It’s an inevitable and deliberate design feature, her underwear rendered in intricate detail.
The opening scenes of 2021 tormented souls.
This “artistic decision” has no impact on the actual narrative, and is most noticeable in the opening scenes of the game, when Caroline is brutally beaten unconscious. Less than three minutes into the game, we see her wake up naked in a bathroom with an endotracheal tube down her throat, her body writhing and sputtering as she scrambles to remove it.
“If a woman’s body should deviate from the norm, he becomes a terrifying ‘other’ who must be fought.”
This grotesque voyeurism sexualizes his abuse in two different ways. First, the camera always sits in a position that offers the most graphic angles of nudity. The player hovers over the tub, looking down at her from a place of safety and superiority, then joins her in the tub, positioned at the opposite end to maximize the visual impact of her nudity. Second, Caroline moans as she withdraws the tube in a way that is clearly meant to evoke oral sex, her heaving breasts further underscoring her eroticism. This degrading and traumatic episode transforms Caroline from a keen investigator into a vulnerable victim in a matter of minutes, a transformation that follows her throughout the game.
It’s all too easy to suggest that the problem is indie horror: after all, they’re both niche games with limited scope. But the AAA franchises are just as guilty of fetishizing violence towards women, even if they do so in less overtly obscene ways.
Jill Valentine, one of Capcom’s 2020 heroines Resident Evil 3 remake, is a particularly alarming example. Despite being known as an iconic badass within the beloved zombie franchise, the game revels in killing her with sexually charged brutality. A case in point is a scene that involves a giant spider monster strangling Jill from above and then sticking a large tentacle down her throat. Similar to tormented soulsthe camera angles emphasize Jill’s vulnerability: we watch Jill as the creature inserts the tentacle and get a close-up of its mouth choking.
There was no scene like this in the original game – this is a totally new invention for the new version. Also, when you play as the game’s second playable character, Carlos, these kinds of scenes just don’t happen. He is hurt, of course, but never in such an overtly sexual way.
The interpretation of Mia Winters, a secondary character in Resident Evil 7 Y Resident Evil: Town, is a bit more nuanced in its execution, but traffics in unsettling tropes nonetheless. The wife of protagonist Ethan Winters, Mia is alternately depicted as a victim to be gazed upon (as Martha, Caroline, or Jill) and as a reviled monster (as Giulia).
In RE7, Mia’s body becomes a site of vulnerability that Ethan must protect, while also being a vessel of horror itself. He is helpless against the whims of the series’ staple zombie virus (it’s complicated), as he takes hold of her and forces her to transform against her will. during one of his Many fights in RE7, Ethan rams a butcher knife into the side of Mia’s neck, causing her face to transform from a crazed monster to the epitome of serene femininity. The scene feeds this idea that women are easily dominated, but at the same time threatening.
Women’s bodies change throughout their lives, often more noticeably than men’s; think about menstruation, pregnancy or menopause. As such, the female form arouses both curiosity and fear; men are alternately intrigued or repelled by what she can become. If a woman’s body deviates from what they determine to be the norm, it becomes a terrifying ‘other’ that must be combated. It’s one of the main reasons the abuse of the female body takes center stage too often in horror games.
Horror provides an ideal vehicle to explore these ideologies without repercussions, with the line between pop culture commentary and fiction blurring. It amuses from a place that continues to reinforce stereotyped views of women, a perversion of the horror that comes from enjoying the suffering of women. Going beyond these kinds of lazy tropes is an essential step in telling more memorable and thought-provoking stories in the genre.