Both games, in their own way, ask players to suspend their disbelief enough to believe that they’re guiding the outcome of cinema-inspired horror scenes, whether that’s by pressing a single button in The Quarry or by engaging in direct, timing-based combat as one of Evil Dead’s survivors or demons. And both, in their own way, use varying understandings of game design to capture the experience of watching a horror movie.
Games in decades prior tried to accomplish this goal in different ways. Survival horror releases of the kind made famous by Resident Evil and Silent Hill in the ’90s used a deliberately awkward control scheme (the so-called tank controls) and a scarcity of ammunition and healing items to model the fear of being outnumbered and overwhelmed by monsters. This, combined with the drugged sensation of maneuvering a character into position to run from or fight against an enemy, worked to replicate the nightmarish helplessness of a horror movie. Amnesia: The Dark Descent took another approach in modeling powerlessness, forcing the player to explore frightening locales and hide from danger without access to any weapons at all.
In short, designers have always been interested in finding ways to make the vicarious thrills of watching a horror movie more intimate—to make players feel as if they’re not just watching but actually taking part in the experience.
Both of the design ethos mentioned above maintain popularity, but they’re joined by The Quarry and the more passive genre it belongs to as well as games like Evil Dead, the latest in the “asymmetrical multiplayer” horror subgenre that also includes Dead by Daylight and the Friday the 13th adaptation. The through line that connects these horror releases is their use of role-playing as the means by which audiences lose themselves in different aspects of the horror movie experience.
Courtesy of 2K
Something interesting happens while playing The Quarry, for instance: The player doesn’t make decisions as if they’re the character involved, but acts instead from the perspective of a director—or maybe more accurately, from the viewpoint of a plot-affecting superviewer whose screams at the TV not to go off alone to investigate a strange noise can actually change the course of events. An understanding of genre tropes informs these decisions. When a cast member has been attacked by a bizarre monster and develops a strange infection from a leg wound, another character’s suggestion to amputate the limb moments after spotting black fluid along the edges of the wound seems more reasonable than it ought to. The player knows something bad is inevitable because of the story they’re witnessing, but because of their familiarity with horror movie logic, which dictates how a mysterious injury inflicted by a monster causes its sufferer to turn into a monster in turn, they might try to save the injured player by assessing the situation based on genre rationale. The Quarry encourages its audience to role-play a horror movie viewer instead of a horror movie character.
In Evil Dead: The Game, players inhabit onscreen roles more directly. As the demon they’re forced to think like a supernatural predator, doing everything possible to kill the other players. As the survivors they’re made to prioritize saving their life and their companions. The abstraction of genre is stripped away to favor the fight-or-flight behavior that slasher movies try to capture in the first place. One layer of signifier is removed, leaving something closer to the real emotions that a slasher wants its viewer—or in this case, player—to feel.
The Evil Dead movies, and horror movies in general, are made up of more than the aesthetics of suspense, fear, and violence. The Quarry and Evil Dead: The Game both understand this in their own way, modeling the vicarious pity and guilty delight that comes from watching events unfold in slasher films. Their approaches to design may take different forms, but they work toward a similar goal: taking movie monsters and those they terrify a few steps out of the screen so that their fates can be placed, to whatever degree, in our hands.