Have you ever noticed how much we use signal degradation as a shorthand for existential “wrongness”?
Like, in horror movies, an otherworldly voice may hiss like radio static, while a creepy monster may jerk and stutter from position to position like a video that’s dropping frames. The influence of a hostile, alien presence may be indicated by visual “tearing”, like the film is being played back from damaged media, or by deliberate audio/video desynchronisation.
Video games get in on the act, too. The use of simulated glitches to represent reality-warping effects in horror gaming is well documented, of course, but it goes beyond that. In the language of gaming, a portal to an alien realm may bleed stylised pixels and crackle like a PC speaker with the volume cranked too high, while the sound effects associated with “unnatural” magic might introduce digital distortion to an otherwise naturalistic soundscape.
I sometimes wonder what it says about our anxieties as a culture that the easiest way for media to freak us out is to confront us with manifestations of the artificiality of the medium.
“I had the nightmare again last night. My hands became sharp chitinous claws. My skin acquiring a purplish hue as though deeply bruised, only shiny, not unlike that of a ripe plum freshly picked. Would that I had never reached for that accursed book!”
A favorite character of mine from an insufferably hard platformer indie game, ‘They Bleed Pixels’, inspired by H.P. Lovecraft.
Another educational and scientific video about Undertale that makes you think.
Undertale has violence that matters, not graphical violence, but impactful violence and meaningful violence. You see, gore does not necessarily work as violence. The impact and actual feeling behind the violence matters more than the visceral feeling of committing the violence.
You can mash a button combo in Mortal K[C]ombat and watch your opponents characters head explode with brain goo splattering, you can rip their head off and watch their eyes dilate and glaze over, but when you hit rematch or play again, that character is still there. no one remembers or responds to you killing them. you can press a button and ragdoll hundreds of innocent civilians and burn them alive in GTA V, you can curbstomp that hooker after having first person sex with them and get your money back. you won’t see that person again until the randomizer makes a model with their details again, they are actually gone, but because you can’t kill characters important to the story without getting a game over, there is no feeling behind it.
There is only 3-5 characters in Undertale that you can’t scare away or kill. 3 of them are store vendors, one of which just is too apathetic, one that has no idea what is going on, and one that actually stands up and calls you out.
Undertale’s most graphically violent scene is either a pixelated smiley face flower being hacked to pixels, or a pixelated skeleton bleeding ketchup/person in a skeleton suit bleeding from a gut slash. you don’t see them die or any gore. some of the most emotional deaths are just anime style slashes through the body with no gore and then melting or turning into a cloud of dust.
think of some of the saddest death scenes in movies, not many show the moment of death or any gore. Meanwhile in movies like Kill Bill or Saw we barely feel anything even when characters die in a bloody gruesome scene.
Thats one of the reasons why I don’t feel Undertale is very overrated and why I feel like the emotions it gets out of players mean so much more because it was able to be done without 3D graphics or voice actors or a team of people on the game.