Serial Killers Hog the Spotlight
The greatest trick the serial killer ever pulled was convincing the world he was interesting.
The moment you enter a story, dear serial killer, its center shifts. Everything becomes about you. The detectives? We spend time in their company, but it's time spent talking about you. Maybe they'll get a derisory B-plot about getting obsessed with the case. And on those rare occasions when their relationship with a loved one gets some screen time, it's because you're going to kidnap said loved one in the third act and we're going to be expected to give a crap.
Your victims? Just bit parts. Sometimes both bits and parts. They get a couple of broad strokes to trigger maximum sympathy in minimum time, a death scene, then they're wheeled off screen before the blood cools. They've got one job: Make sure the audience knows how dangerous you are.
You're the only one who gets real exploration. The trouble is, when we splash into the gaming pond there's already a big fish to contend with. Serial killer, meet the player. The player is who the game is about.
Giving killer and player a fair share of attention is a balancing act. Unless the player and killer turn out to be one and the same, but we've all had enough of that twist, thanks.
The player is a real person; their time is valuable. Bore them with endless infodump cut-scenes and they'll just go and play Left 4 Dead. You must find more engaging ways to describe your twisted little world to them. There are ways. The alumni of Looking Glass Studios, responsible for System Shock 1 and 2 and BioShock, are masters at describing the minds of maniacs. They make the game's setting a product of the mania: the Randian wreckage of Rapture, the devastated corridors of Citadel Station. Simply moving through the game's space is an exploration of the philosophies and phobias by which these worlds were created. But there's a difference between masterminds and murderers: Masterminds create worlds, killers destroy them. That doesn't leave the player anything to explore.
There's one more crime to consider. One of the greatest crimes in gaming.
Serial Killers Cheat
They have to. There's just one of them, opposed by all the powers of the law. If they're going to be there at the final showdown, they need some insurance. It's just that they are not subtle cheats.
Real-life serial killers are broadly average in appearance, intelligence, and ability. That averageness protects them, blending them into the great crowd of humanity. But you, fictional serial killer, are transformed by the magic of screen and page. You are deified.
Let's see your resume. Hand it over.