Final Project -Anaphora (Short Film)

by Alexa Zakaib

Anaphora was chosen for the title because of its relation to a repetition of words. In my movie, words, concepts, and spaces are parodied from horror video games, therefore creating a media-based anaphora. The concept of this movie is based on the idea of: “if video games where real”.By exploring horror games tropes, it is evident how some affordances and agency mechanics would seem funny or ridiculous in real life. This has the effect of bringing awareness to the viewers of actions, reactions, or logic that they would usually think of as “normal” while playing a game.

Why a parody? As stated by Chalermkwan Jiramonai in his Online Parody Videos and the Enactment of Cultural Citizenship article, “parody videos can serve a pedagogical function, helping viewers to become more attentive and critical readers of culture text” (ibids, 210). Likewise, Dietel-McLaughlin (2010) argues that parody “engages the multiple intelligences and literacies of both creator and audience member, creating an enthymematic backdrop for a larger cultural critique at the same time that it serves a polemical function by attacking not only the text that came before it, but also larger cultural characters and contexts familiar to a present-day audience” (Jiramonai, 109) This is the main goal of my movie. To give the audience the space to reflect on horror games that they have played. While playing horror games, players are usually focused on the emotional thrill they receive. In Video-Games as Postmodern Sites/Sights of Ideological Simon Gottschalk argues that “the slow paced indie games allow players time for reflection and decision making rather than distracting them with fast paced hyper stimulation and intense graphic imagery which leads to the numbing of critical thinking” (Gottschalk 4-6). In a horror game context, hyper stimulation is often used to induce fear, suspense, or even urgency, which can overshadow the game’s inner workings. This parody went back and sought out what players might have missed while trying to survive a nightmare scenario, thus displaying how new practices and standards become naturalized and incorporated into social norms.

The first scene showcases the ‘controls’ trope. At the beginning of the game, the player needs to know how the mechanics work: i.e. how to move, pick up objects, access maps and other weapons, etc. Recent horror games have found a way to integrate these instructions into the game world, instead of simply listing them in a separate menu. In For One Night Only, the controls are written on a wall where the main character wakes up. This helps create an eerie atmosphere all while being simplifying the player’s adaptation to the game’s specifics. In Hektor, a poster on a billboard directs the player to take medication in order to stabilize his sanity. Similarly, in my movie, the main character finds a whiteboard with instructions on how to walk, use his hands, and turn a flashlight on or off. He is quite perplexed by this, because in our world, a man his age already knows how to move. I am here parodying the idea of disconnect between the player and the character being played.

It is not uncommon in horror games for your character to require some sort of light source, whether it is by means of a flashlight, a lighter, or even an oil lamp. In order to add a level of difficulty or to create an effect of constant anxiousness, the fuel or energy source will eventually run out, and it is the player’s prerogative to find more in different locations of the game. For my movie, I chose to ridicule the flashlight trope, because it should be the longest lasting hand-held light source, yet, in many games the batteries die out after a few minutes. This case is apparent in Alan Wake, where the main character has to find batteries scattered in a forests. The ‘flashlight’ scene is purposefully put near the beginning of the movie in order to present the same unrealistic dilemma, where only a few minutes into his adventure, the character needs to change his flashlight’s batteries.

What makes a horror game “scary” is not only reliant on the given environment or creatures. Chad Habel & Ben Kooyman write about the agency mechanics of loss of autonomy in horror games such as Amnesia and Alien Isolation. In their article Agency mechanics: gameplay design in survival horror video games, they describe a player’s reaction to loss of control in the given stressful situation. Anaphora presents this kind of environment with the switch from third person to first person view. This is especially apparent during when our main character sees the girl crying in the living room. After being tossed down to the floor, the camera simulates the character’s eyes. This shot is reminiscent of the witch in Left For Dead. For that moment, the player cannot get up on his own, of fight off the zombie. They are dependent on CPU’s to come and rescue them. During this time, the player experiences an absolute loss of control. In Anaphora, the CPU, clearly standing in the corner of the room, waits until the very last moment to save our main character. This is a satiric way to showcase this loss of control.

Some fantasy-based worlds are centered on magic and the occult. When someone gets injured, magic potions are used as instantaneous remedies. In horror games, however, developers seem to find an organic path to healing. In such games as Resident Evil and Fatal Frame, medicinal herbs are found lying around. The irony is that although these games are not necessarily realistic, they do not provide any sense of magic or supernaturalism apart from the enemies. The characters you play are even usually chocked by these unnatural encounters. We therefore have two distinct worlds and world-logics that collide. However, the medicinal herbs your characters find are used to completely heal deep and serious injuries that would otherwise require medical assistance. In Resident Evil 0, for example, green and red plants are found still in their pots. By some unknown method, these plants can heal a zombie bite to the neck. In my movie, I played with this concept by having the CPU force feed red and green lettuce to the human character that had his finger cut off.

Did you spot the direct game reference in the “Hallway” scene? The trench coat character is calling out for his dog Mario. This is a wink at Louigi’s Mansion, where Luigi is trying to find his brother in a ghost-infested mansion by calling out his name. The “subtlety-challenged” are a famous trope in horror games. It seems that when submerged in a horrifyingly dangerous situation, video game characters allow themselves to yell or open and close doors with a din. In this movie, the character representing a CPU is following video game logic where making noise will not trigger any consequences. The human character, on the other hand, is bewildered by this behavior, factually claiming that there are “monsters everywhere”. As the camera pans, we see a zombie crouched underneath some tables, waiting for her next victim.

While running away from homicidal aliens or from a horde of zombies, it can be an arduous task for the player to follow a coherent storyline. Game developers have often outsourced storytelling to a secondary character that would have some base knowledge of the situation at hand. However, introducing a second character prove to be tedious and can come in conflict with the “abandoned” and “alone” atmosphere. How then is this conflict of interests resolved? : with notes and diaries. A tremendous number of games use this trope in order to provide the player with back-story. What is notable is that some of these notes are supposedly written in a time of imminent danger. Some even have part of a sentence missing with a blood stain next to it, indicating that the writer has been killed while writing the note. The tunnel scene in my movie is a play on that aspect of notes and diaries. We always wonder who writes them, and why they are dedicated on scattering the pages. My trench coat character wants to leave pages in case someone else passes by the same tunnel. The irony is that he “feels the zombie’s breath on his neck” and continues to write the note instead of running away.

There are a lot more subtleties to discover in Anaphora, but we can see that agency mechanics and affordances can sometimes be overlooked and deserve a space to be understood. The “parody video” has become somewhat of a new genre. With groups such as College Humor or Smosh, we can see a tendency to take the passion for video games, among others things, as something that is worthy of analysis.

Works Cited:

Gottschalk, Simon. “Video-Games as Postmodern Sites/Sights of Ideological.”
Symbolic Interaction, Vol. 18, No. 1 (Spring 1995): 1-18. Jstor. Web. 21 January 2015.

Habel, Chad & Ben Kooyman. “Agency mechanics: gameplay design in survival horror video games”, Vol. 25, No. 1, 1-14, 2013, [on line], http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/14626268.2013.776971#abstract

Jiramonai, Chalermkwan. “Online Parody Videos and the Enactment of Cultural Citizenship”, Uppsala University, 2012, [on line], http://www.divaportal.org/smash/get/diva2:531165/FULLTEXT01.pdf

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