Capcom’s latest instalment of the Resident Evil franchise is filled with nuanced social commentary about what scares us… and what should really scare us.
What is your greatest, darkest fear? Is it monsters under the bed? Perhaps something slightly more realistic like a swarm of spiders or an angry, flying shark? Maybe it’s something less visceral and more domestic, like loan repayments or even Brexit? Past the age of nine, most of us drop our concerns of bogeymen hiding in the shadows and focus our fear on things that can actually hurt us. Educational failure, financial ruin and heartbreak are common reasons for laying awake at night once we’ve ruled out the idea of knife wielding maniacs bursting through the window.
Do you like being scared? If you chose some of the latter examples, you probably don’t. If you are however, partial to the odd evil clown or graveyard skulking vampire, you might seek these scares from horror films, or in more recent times, horror games.
As with most forms of horror fiction, horror games often attempt to explore the deepest recesses of the human psyche and use predictable narratives to convey an allegorical message about the world we live in and what really scares us.
We live in strange times and, as the world spirals into a tailspin of bizarreness, our attentions turn from personal strife to global issues. No longer do we have the time to worry about dying alone when we have to consider we’ll either die drowning in rising sea levels or mutating beyond recognition in one of Donald Trump’s trigger-happy nuclear excursions (probably still alone though, eh?).
Capcom’s Resident Evil 7 is one of those games that provides a thrill-filled yet clichéd setting to take its players on a journey of fearful discovery. This soft reboot of the series sees you assuming the role of protagonist Ethan searching for his missing girlfriend after a mysterious e-mail from her leads you to a creepy abandoned mansion in the Louisiana Bayou. So far, so obvious.
The haunted house trope is in full swing in the first half an hour of gameplay with all the accompanying creaky floorboards, dark corridors and inexplicably closing doors that are to be expected from such a familiar setting. This is not to say this part of the game is dull however. Capcom do a sublime job of keeping players on their toes with creepy dolls and ‘lost footage’ videotapes to provide meaningful backstory.
In fact, the over-familiarity of the setting is possibly what keeps you so scared; stuck in a state of perpetual anticipation as you navigate the house, only to be met with more corridor and more darkness, being driven to tense sweats by your imagination alone. This Hitchcockian approach to building tension is utilised to great effect in RE7.
The game soon makes up for its lack of ghastly things by introducing you to the Baker family. “Welcome to the family, son” offers patriarch Jack at your first meeting, before punching you in the head. Moments later you’re in the presence of the whole family: mother Marguerite, son Lucas and a nameless granny. It soon becomes apparent that the Bakers are not merely miffed at your trespassing but are in fact murderously insane.
It is at this point in which we are faced with our first allegorical exploration of fear. Make no mistake, the Bakers are scary. There is something unsettling about their familiarity, a feeling to which Freud would refer to as ‘unheimlich’ or uncanny. Here we have an unflattering family archetype we are all more than aware of. A Deep South dwelling, aggressive clan living in a remote and inhospitable place, referenced in such films as The Devil’s Rejects and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. To resurrect this stereotype in the current political climate suggests that Capcom are exploring the notion that perhaps what people fear the most right now are aggressive, loud, weapon-hoarding families from the southern states. Or, to put it another way, supporters of Donald J Trump.
The majority of Americans seem to be concerned by his Presidency as seen by his historically abysmal approval ratings. The fear doesn’t stop there. It feels as if the rest of the ‘free world’ is also concerned by its new, unqualified supposed-leader. Whilst there is widespread concern around Trump’s presidency, the most vitriolic reactions appear to be reserved for Trump’s supporters rather than the man himself. Trump is often depicted as a figure of ridicule whilst his supporters are blamed as the cause of this ridiculous symptom. So the question is this: are we more frightened of Trump’s supporters or the man himself?
The answer is neither. There is, as there always is, a much greater evil at play here. Those of you familiar with the Resident Evil series will be aware of the Umbrella Corporation. For those who are not, the first game sees the player explore a zombie infested mansion, only to discover that the source of these zombies is an underground lab run by the shady, international conglomerate -Umbrella Corp. It attempts to develop a biological weapon only for a lab catastrophe to unleash the undead on the mansion and eventually the entire surrounding city. And, quelle surprise, come the seventh instalment they’re back to their old tricks.
Towards the end of the game it is discovered that the Bakers’ violent tendencies are the result of a biological weapon let loose from a boat crashed in the Bayou. A biological weapon in the form of a little girl who grows up to be… the nameless Granny!
“It was the granny all along” is a refreshing take on a game filled with such brutal gore. It’s at this point in which the real political allegory of the game hits home. Whilst on the surface it may seem that the Bakers are the concept to be feared, in truth it is the corporations and global elites who are willing to poison communities to the extent that they will vote for someone like Trump. Make no mistake, Trump is their puppet and they are the real bogeymen in our world today.
It is worth nothing that throughout the game it is made clear that our protagonist Ethan is also infected with Umbrella’s bio-bastardry. In this narrative choice lies the suggestion that we should not be patronising the Bakers, or America’s rural south, as we too are the victims of the heinous agenda of the corporate elite.
The beauty of Resident Evil 7 is the subtlety of its message. Previous instalments have been as brilliant in terms of gameplay and scares, but the underlying fable as obvious as a grisly bite to the neck. Not only does this new edition show progress in terms of gameplay, but also in presenting a more nuanced narrative and message. Although, for a game with an anti-Trump message, there is a level in which you must battle a gigantic, hollering appendage, so in the words of Trump himself, go figure.