Dogs in survival horror - A man's best friend
Editor's Note: Being an animal lover, I thought this was a great read!
The dog has been a faithful and adorable companion to many human families for thousands of years, making great pets while also having an impressive degree of individuality. They have an excellent sense of smell, are capable of presenting a wide variety of emotional behaviors, know how to develop a close personal relationship with their owners, and have been scientifically proven to be able to understand the meanings of hundreds of words in the English language. Never underestimate their protective nature either, as they will react appropriately to situations of danger, even guarding those that they care about if they sense a threat.
With my home family owning a fourteen year old beagle and a two year old pug, I have certainly grown to love the canine species and have developed incredible amounts of respect towards them. But when playing an eerie survival horror game in the dark, sometimes it helps to have such a companion in the game helping me out. In such a game, having a furry companion in an isolated or intimidating environment is certainly appreciated, and the gradual development of such a close relationship is both sweet and emotionally moving.
This blog post will briefly describe two of my favorite companions and their respective relationships in horror games. Each of these relationships involves an emotionally powerful connection with the player, and I believe that these virtual simulations of relationship are something important to be explored. By the way, each of the described games in this post have fantastic narratives, so hunt these games down if you get the chance.
Rule of Rose is a rare example of a game where the narrative aspect can be more important than the actual gameplay itself. The surreal experience, which is set in early-twentieth century England, tells the bizarre tale of a nineteen year old girl named Jennifer. She seeks to recover some lost memories as she finds herself trapped in an environment ruled by young children. Jennifer finds herself forced to complete actions in a cruel system of class hierarchy, balancing the uncertain task of pleasing her abusers while simultaneously fighting against demented monstrosities composed by her damaged mind. It's an incredibly surreal tale that includes an atmospheric feeling of combined isolation and alienation.
And as our heroine tries to make sense of this disconnection of events, she manages to rescue a childhood pet of hers from a disturbing trap. More specifically, she befriends a brown Labrador Retriever who goes by the name of Brown. This is the player's comfort in the alienating environment, as he works to actively assist the young maiden in her quest. Brown was never trained in combat and is unable to attack enemies, but with commands he will growl in order to distract the enemies away from Jennifer. He can be tasked with finding scents for hidden items, and he will also come to the player when requested. The interesting thing about Brown is that he is more of a pet than a wild canine, in that despite his combat inexperience he seems desperate to protect an owner that he truly cares for. This exchange between the player and the animal gradually builds a two-way path of loyalty and trust, and it is both emotionally moving and symbolic as a whole.
But Brown contributes something to the interactive narrative that's especially important beyond the controls. Brown is one of the few characters that Jennifer seems to initially recognize as she's searching through her memories, and in many ways he is a connection to her suppressed past, or perhaps he is an implication of the importance of the supposed present. Jennifer is drawn towards a house at the start of the game, perhaps subconsciously searching for a once missing friend of hers. Once she is treated as a captive by her literally child-like oppressors, she continues to see Brown in her exploration quests, even in events where his appearance is unexplained. Brown is clearly a link to Jennifer's childhood, but there's something almost too suspicious about his frequent appearances even with the necessary relationship that he offers to the player. But regardless of what happens, the dog is one of the only, if not the sole, comforts that the player actually has in this game. His appearance is appreciated, and their bond is a moving one. Perhaps an explanation isn't necessary; we should just be happy that such a bond exists for the player in the first place. The mystery can unfold while having the comfort of a close friend.
Haunting Ground is a relatively under the radar game which was created as a side project by Capcom. The survival horror title focuses on the psychology of the unknown rather than the known. Instead of facing against a group of zombies, you usually only have to deal with a single enemy at any given time. Does that sound safer? Well does the idea of having a demented psychopath stalk you around a mysterious castle filled with death traps and life experiments sound safe to you? Haunting Ground preys on the fear of the unknown, and this is assisted with a creepy atmosphere, limited knowledge from the perspective of the protagonist, violence which is heard but not seen, and the idea that any sounds you make could result in an encounter that may result in your disturbing demise. It's a very chilling game which influences the imagination for some of its scares.
The plot revolves around Fiona, a young woman who finds herself trapped inside an unsettling castle with little recollection of how she got there. She can vaguely remember being involved in a car crash with her parents, but that's about it. Her goal is to basically find a way out of there, but various characters in the game appear to have different plans for her. Thankfully though, she befriends early on a white German Shepard named Hewie, an experienced animal who seems to have been abused and also trapped in the environment surrounding him.
Hewie serves as the friend for Fiona throughout the majority of the game, and his experience with the castle proves to be valuable for her survival. After being rescued from a cruel wire trap, the two work together to find a way out of their oppressive environment. Fiona helps train him to be flexible in combat, be more explorative of her mysterious surroundings, gives him treats to maintain his health, and of course, initially saves his life shortly into the game. In return, Hewie works to protect her from the dangers of the castle, whether it involves going out of his way to attack the stalkers or warning her about trap puzzles. One of the key gameplay mechanics is the relationship between the human and the animal, and the dog's feelings and obedience will appropriately adjust themselves in accordance with the player's treatment of certain actions.
It seems that the dog was raised in the castle throughout his life, which is probably the case due to his significant understanding of the layout around him. But the game also implies a degree of abuse due to his surprising combat experience and hesitation in following Fiona's commands at first. It's not that the dog dislikes Fiona; he loves her. But perhaps his need to be gradually trained comes from a past betrayal with an old owner of his; in fact, it's implied that he was mistreated by Riccardo, one of the antagonists in the game who gradually went insane over time. Hewie wants to escape with Fiona, and the two of them develop a bond that is akin to a soul mate situation; they couldn't live without one another and wouldn't know what to do if the other was to perish. They trust each other with their lives, partly because they have saved each other's lives multiple times, but also because they share an emotional connection. In fact, if you play the game a second time on the hard difficulty, you can see the thoughts of Hewie at various points in the game, and you confirm that he really does love his new companion. It's emotionally moving as a whole.