As many members of the lab know, I am very interested in horror films and video-games. I do tend to play horror games more than watching horror movies these days, especially games from indie developers. I try to keep up with recent releases, as most games only take an hour or two at most to complete.
I have noticed a trend lately amongst some developers, mostly Chilla's Art. Most of their games tend to focus around Japanese urban legends and myths. Typically, you play as a normal person going about their day. The games often include tasks that you must complete that are fairly mundane, such as doing chores around your house, going to get the mail, going to your job, etc. Then, something happens and you must escape whatever threat now exists. These threats are often monsters or ghosts, but sometimes the threats are just other people.
A couple of their recent games have followed this same outline, but with one main difference - you play as a woman (it is made clear that you are a woman in the games) and because of that fact, you now have different threats to face.
One of my favourite examples of this is The Closing Shift, a game where you play as a young woman who is a barista at a coffee shop. This hits close to home for me, as I also worked as a barista for five years. Really, anyone who has any experience working in the service industry will recognize some aspects of their job in this game.
The game starts by you getting in your car to go to work, where you end up finding a phone on the ground. You see a man desperately looking for something nearby, and realize it is the phone you found. You return it to him, and it is an otherwise normal interaction. However, over the course of you going to work and making drinks for other customers, you see the man showing up on security camera footage. You also start to get weird notes, and seeing evidence of someone breaking into the building. While this is all happening, you are also subject to the creepiness of other customers as well - a man comes in with no shirt and starts dancing for you while asking for compliments. Girls outside the coffee shop discuss the rise in stalker cases, and chat about the creepy guy on the bus. Eventually, as the game comes to a close, you have the option to defend yourself against the stalker and drop something on him from the roof, or you can end up killed by him if you don't notice him in the cooler. It seems like a good or bad ending is possible.
Returning home after grabbing your missing phone
Except, even in the "good" ending, where you defend yourself, get the help of a detective, and the police end up believing you....you still end up in danger. You go home after the police take care of everything, and sit down to watch TV. You realize your phone is missing, and get up after hearing it ringing - from outside. You go to grab it, return home, and then a man jumps at you from your closet. The screen fades to the credits.
Despite taking all the "correct" steps, you still end up in danger. Despite playing the game carefully, looking behind you as you walk to your car after finishing your night shift, you still end up being followed. Even though you are just doing your mundane job in your normal life, you still have customers making uncomfortable comments towards you.
This might sound familiar to a lot of women. Constantly being aware of your surroundings, dreading coming around the corner as you walk alone at night, being absolutely sick and tired of people commenting on you at your workplace while you can only smile and ask if they would like whipped cream on their drink.
Working as a barista, I had my fair share of men telling me to smile, look happy, or making vaguely sexual comments. I was 16 when I started working there.
Working as a waitress, I had tons of my coworkers touched inappropriately by customers or having to deal with sexual harassment. I have had people shout things at me from cars as they drive by, men stare at me for far too long....the list goes on.
And now, these experiences are being used as games - simulations of what women deal with and go through on a daily basis. The horror is in real life, in mundane activities such as going to work, going to the laundromat, or even just being in the comfort of your own home. This has always been a unique aspect of video-games, and part of why they are so valuable. Maybe people can understand just a bit more of what it feels like to live and exist as a woman, where your every day experiences can be horror.