248 - Bad Taste?

Developer diaries about creating Neverending Nightmares.
Post Reply
User avatar
matt
Posts: 2316
Joined: Fri Oct 04, 2013 10:48 am

248 - Bad Taste?

Post by matt »

As a horror game developer, I am sometimes faced with the question of whether something is "in bad taste". Is there such a thing in horror? Shockingly gross things play a role in the genre, but when do you want to use them? This video contains some sketches from Neverending Nightmares that seemed inappropriate, so watcher beware!



What do YOU think? Is there such a thing as bad taste? What's the role of the "gross out" in horror?
-Matt Gilgenbach
Lead Frightener at Infinitap Games

User avatar
evilkinggumby
Posts: 297
Joined: Mon Oct 07, 2013 8:41 pm

Re: 248 - Bad Taste?

Post by evilkinggumby »

(Note: Spoiler flags on examples of extreme bad taste and potentially offensive/disturbing imagery described. Skip it if you need to)

Bad Taste and if something is tasteful is always going to be a fairly subjective notion. I remember when I saw the last Batman movie and it was after the shootings of the same said movie a week before. I cracked a joke during the previews about shot on site and my wife got really pissed at me, as the joke was "too soon" and so in bad taste. That, to me, is kind of what most things called "bad taste" are, cheap shots that are especially offensive or hurtful to some that could overhear it.

With horror though I'd say it would be more a case of how said subject matter fits into the aesthetic and rules of the movie/game/book. If you have a fairly sophisticated bloodless movie that is psychologically horriffic and then for the third act you abandon it for guts and gore and all tension is tossed for visual bloodlust the tone and aesthetic has changed and so what you are displaying could be seen as done in bad taste. or if you are replicating something that people are especially sensitive to, like if you look back, a LOT of stuff was held back after 911 because it would have been seen in 'bad taste' or 'insensitive' as it harkened to those events. (though some were pulled simply for displaying the towers at all).

the images you flashed on for this i think are fairly tame and not in bad taste. I think the 2 marked as "bad taste?" wouldn't of worked because there was not a strong psycho-sexual theme visible through the game. The images have her laying with legs splayed, dead but seeming more "exhausted or unconscious" as if she had passed out after some rigorous sex. Since there was not a thread through the game (at least nothing I recall) where she is seen as an erotic, sexual, or sexually driven force in his life, this would have been 'bad taste' as it is bringing in a new image that doesn't match the aesthetic and tone of the rest of the story. It's effect might be too strong or very off-putting to the player, jarring as compared to everything else and so forcing them to put the controller down and walk away indefinitely.

Extreme Bad taste would be if she was laying on the gernie completely/partially naked with legs splayed somewhat and a bloody fetus dangling that you could interact with and swing like a weapon at enemies. THAT i think would repel most viewers as it is pretty disgusting, brutal, and again, wouldn't match the tone of the rest of the game.

Or if you had cut scenes of her ripping the fetus out herself and handing it to him saying something about how he was fixated on the baby more than her.

I don't personally have an issue with pushing the limits in a game/movie as if you want to evoke a visceral response, if it is part of a point you are trying to make, it may be necessary. But as you sort of eluded to, gore for gores sake, like in The Evil Within, is just fluff and filler and so you get de-sensitized to it. That won't drive a visceral response except for the first moments of gore. Thee needs to be a underlying reason for it besides "well it's a horror game, so it' needs too be there.". Whereas that may be true, it relegates the "horror" to so much windowdressing and no themes or underlying rhetoric.

So Context and Intent again comes into play. Showing a bag of bloody entrails and guts being dumped into the street is gross, yes, and if you had dozens of people doing it like so much trash tossed out a window in the old days, it never gets to where it'd have all that much impact. Now if you framed it as a district of the city where back alley abortions are centered,that same imagery has a context and intent behind it and ones visceral reaction shifts quickly. Sort of like how filming a rape scene is difficult because if you do it wrong it becomes an erotic thing instead of a horrific moment.

How you handle any given imagery really is going to depend on :
  • Does it match the tone and aesthetic of the rest of the game, or is it pushing a boundary or a tone too far from the center?
    Is there a theme or intent you have, that drives you to show this? Does this imagery drive home your point accurately or only a little?
    If you changed or removed said imagery, will the plot/story/character growth/gameplay suffer significantly? (how much weight is there in the imagery oto the overall experience?)
(i don't expect you to answer that,it's more of a list to ask youtrself of this instance in the new game, and future ones.)

I don't see omitting imagery or scenes as censorship as it is your creative direction that shapes the overall project and if something doesn't work.. it doesn't work.You are making these interactive experiences because you have very solid notions of what yoou want to sort of focus on and (in some ways) discuss with the player as the experience unfolds. You have a goal, a point, and an expectstion for how the player experiences everything. So every decisions needs to be carefully weighed and removing some is just good design. So if anyone shouts "censor" on you I say ignore it. People like to wave that flag and not really understand what the word means.

Thats said, have faith ibn your audience and don't hold back because you think something, however necessary, is too much for the player. Don't compromise your vision for an assumption. Go with it. The fact you kept the grosser parts of NeN shows you have that kind of determination, and I respect that a lot.
Image
[I am Evilkinggumby on DeviantArt and Steam if you want to looks me up!]

User avatar
matt
Posts: 2316
Joined: Fri Oct 04, 2013 10:48 am

Re: 248 - Bad Taste?

Post by matt »

What made me discuss it is because Adam drew something that made me sick to my stomach. haha It seems like that might have been in bad taste to include, but perhaps it just didn't line up with my plans for the game. For that particular thing, I think we are going to leave it more up to your imagination, which may be more poignant - or at least that's the hope. We haven't finished it yet, so I guess we'll see.
-Matt Gilgenbach
Lead Frightener at Infinitap Games

Grabthehoopka
Posts: 316
Joined: Mon Oct 07, 2013 12:16 pm

Re: 248 - Bad Taste?

Post by Grabthehoopka »

I think that it's sort of a sliding scale between gratification and gravitas. You could easily make the same thing either awesome or disturbing depending entirely on how you present it to the audience. A lot of it has to do with the emotional response, and although this is really abstract and intangible, I think a lot of what is considered "bad taste" is exploitation, and exploitation comes in two forms.

The first, is a cheap and easy way to provoke an emotional response. You want the feelings the audience takes away from the story to feel organic, and when it comes to violence, it's disturbing when we view it in the context of the characters, the universe, and it provokes feelings from our personal lives and experiences. Spec Ops: The Line did a fantastic job keeping things really grounded, especially since they start the game out like any other modern war shooter, and then forcibly snap you out of it with the things and events you witness and participate in. I never once got the impression that the developers intended that any of the more violent parts of the game were supposed to be "awesome" or make it onto any "top 25 best gruesome video game moments!" lists. There's a weight and an emotional impact that it has, and it all feels appropriate.

However, there are also things that, taken on their own, will instantly provoke a strong emotional response, and they usually have to do with real-life problems and events. Like I said before, the strong emotions we feel come from our own experiences. So, if someone made a movie with a topic like, say, teen suicide, people are already going to have strong feelings on the matter. There's drama in it, and you could make a really powerful story with it. The problem is that sometimes some artists want people to feel a certain way at a certain time, and they sort of plug in one of these gut-reaction moments in an attempt to make the audience feel a certain way on command. If someone is making a story about teenage angst and there's a point in the plot that requires there to be drama, and they say "I know, one of them'll kill themselves!", I think the audience will pick up on it and consider it in poor taste. Or, if they wanted to make something about a school shooting, and the artist says that the point of the story is to explore what someone would have to be like and the conditions required to stir them to do such a thing, and the role that news media plays in it, that's one thing, but if they include a sequence of the school shooting itself as part of the story, people might question if it would have been more tasteful, or that the emotional impact would feel more "organic" if they left that part out altogether or made it implicit instead of explicit.

A good example of this would be "No Russian" from Modern Warfare 2, which I think you could make a very compelling argument on both sides of the issue on whether or not it's poor taste. On the one hand, it's skippable, which means that making us play through that part isn't strictly necessary for the plot, and in doing so, it points out that the only actually important part, plot-wise, is what happens at the very end of it, so they could have just as easily replaced it with something else that they knew would generate less controversy and the end result would be the same. Plus, they knew ahead of time that it would generate controversy, and getting your game talked about on every major news network and other news sources that otherwise wouldn't have any business talking about it, to an audience that otherwise wouldn't have heard of it, is like every publicist and marketing person's wet dream, so it's hard to believe that something like this happened on accident. On the other hand, you could argue that it was a bold artistic risk. No other game really makes you do such terrible things, and that's just what the sequence does; they're thematically forcing you to take part in this terrible thing against your will. Since you're seeing a side to the world and armed conflict that is completely at odds with everything else you've played through til now, it could be a very intense, emotional sequence. However, I personally fall into the first camp, mainly because it's nestled in the middle of a game that otherwise doesn't touch upon such emotions, and treats its violence much more frivolously throughout the rest of the plot. Spec Ops: The Line worked because death, despair, and the events unfolding are constantly treated with the same dead-serious emotional weight throughout the entire thing. So, however good the developer's intentions were, "No Russian" falls into the bad taste category for me; just a part meant to occupy an "insert emotional beat here", from a deliberate, premeditated decision to make something shocking and memorable first, and something that explores the emotional weight of the events transpiring second.

The second is a more extreme form of the first, and that's careless audacity. Most of the time when something is in bad taste, it was originally conceived with good intentions from the artist, more or less. Then, there's the people who use things that they know will provoke a strong emotional reaction for the sole purpose of attracting attention to themselves. That's where things like portraying a very serious and very tragic event as a light-hearted comical farce and capitalizing on the death of one of the actors to promote a movie fall. If you were to make a movie about a school shooting and included a flashy sequence where the Troubled Youth kicks down the door and starts violently, explicitly machine-gunning everyone in the room to death in slow motion, all set to heavy metal; some people would literally kill you for making something like that. But they'd talk about it! And that's what's important, right?

An obvious example of this would be Hatred and the Postal series (although the first Postal had a sort of Hotline Miami vibe to it, so it gets credit for at least trying to attach emotional weight to everything). Other, less violent examples would be sexist portrayal of women in games like Duke Nukem Forever (the whole series, really, but Forever in particular), BMX XXX, and the Leisure Suit Larry series. To date, the only time I've ever been truly, actually offended by a video game is by the Aphrodite sex scene in God of War 3. Kratos is killing gods left and right and bringing about the end of the world like a stupid, unsympathetic psychopath, but the one exception he makes is for the god of sex, so he can have sex with her. When you go in, she's having a roll around in her bed with her two mostly-naked, topless chambermaids. Then, she dismisses them and begs you to sex her good, since you're so good at sexing her. You do so, off-screen, while her two chambermaids peek in, blushing and gasping and expressing disbelief at how good of a sex is going on off-screen, until you finish and they're so overcome with lust that they start making out and fall to the floor together, where they presumably have hot lesbian sex on the spot. Then, you just sort of leave. It has absolutely no purpose, at all, whatsoever, on the plot. Nothing of note happens during it. It has absolutely no purpose on the story. We don't learn anything new about Kratos or the events at hand, other than how good at sex he is, which has already been established. But, it mainly felt like I was getting a peek into what the developers thought of me. I'm a middle class straight white male, so I don't have very many experiences of being stereotyped in a major way, but that felt like the developers were blindly placing me into a stereotype, and not a very flattering one at that, and then cynically pandering to me. So, fuck that game. Fuck God of War 3 and fuck the people who made it.

Anyways.
...What was I talking about again?
...Oh, yeah!

So. If I'm analyzing the situation correctly, I believe that your decision to cut it hinged between these two different shades of bad taste. While it does make you uncomfortable, which is the point, what is it that separates it from other, more "tasteful" things that make you uncomfortable? In games like Silent Hill, the things that make you uncomfortable are reliant on being unnatural. The designs of the monsters, and the levels, and the things, and the sound design are repulsive and disturbing, but on a more primal level, and it has an almost inexplicable quality to it. This art asset in particular, you felt (correctly, I think) was much less abstract, and that the uncomfortableness comes from juxtaposing the images of a loved one, bloody and dead from childbirth, with the sexual imagery of her spreading her legs apart towards the player. So, I think subconsciously, what you took away from this is that by presenting the player with this image, you were provoking, nay, daring them to have sexual feelings towards this bloody, dead loved one in this otherwise tragic scene, thus accomplishing the goal of making them uncomfortable with very little effort and original design choices on your end. You felt like this image is representative of something that happens tragically too often in the real world and carries a very real, very specific emotional weight to it. By confusing and disturbing players in this way, you felt like it would bring up some very bad emotions, memories, or experiences, all of which are personal to the player, and you would be exploiting those bad emotions, memories, or experiences, and then grinding extra salt into the wound by making it extra uncomfortable, all for selfish reasons. Or, at the very least, that it was cheap and that players would call you out on it.

So anyway, in conclusion, that's my theory. I'm personally glad that you made the decision you did.

User avatar
matt
Posts: 2316
Joined: Fri Oct 04, 2013 10:48 am

Re: 248 - Bad Taste?

Post by matt »

That was a very thoughtful response! I think there are plenty of games in bad taste, but I usually don't play enough of the controversial ones to form an opinion. The original Leisure Suit Larry games seemed to be at least a bit about finding love and sex on the way. I played Magna Cum Laude, and it was kind of gross and seemed overboard. Is it any more offensive than American Pie or the "teen sex comedy" genre? Hard to say, but I'm not sure the message in those films are "good" at least in my prudish opinion. hahaha I did get Box Office Bust because I wanted to see how bad it was, but I don't think I could stomach more than a few minutes of it. It was pretty painful to play. hahah Maybe someday if I have more time, I'll have a bad game stream. For a while, I tried to buy all the lowest rated games on metacritic. That was back when I was single and working in AAA. I am much more frugal after being indie for almost 7 years...

Anyway, my rule of thumb for development is not to make things grosser than they need to be, which admittedly leaves things open to interpretation, but it seems like a reasonable guide because I think the gross out horror doesn't have the same emotional impact.
-Matt Gilgenbach
Lead Frightener at Infinitap Games

Post Reply