293: Advice for Serial Killers

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Advice for Serial Killers

Chris Gardiner, one of the writers of Echo Bazaar, looks at serial killers and the clichés that make them problematic in videogames.

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I've never even thought about why serial killers aren't very common in games, they seem like they would work really well until you really start to think about it. Good article.

What about a game where YOU the player are a serial killer? I mean with us running around sandbox worlds killing people (Fallout NV running around goodsprings with an axe...) it only seems natural, I surprised I can't think of any

though that would give the moral gaurdians another thing to point and scream at

On the other hand, the lack of genuine motive is a problem in narrative terms. There's no real relationship with the victims. All those juicy reasons people kill for - jealousy, greed, fear, love - go unused. Motive is the interesting part of crime. That's why old school whodunits give the murderer a chance to monologue about why they dunit, and give it pride of place in the climax of the story.

Serial killers aren't necessarily random in their choice of prey. Sometimes their criteria may be as vague as gender or as specific as people with a very certain belief.

It says here that you are a genius, always three steps ahead of the best detectives of whatever poor P.D. whose lawn you've chosen to crap on. That's fine, but it also says you know your pursuers better than they know themselves, and that you're as fast as a ninja, as deadly as a SWAT team, and as tough as a rhino. What's that? We missed your mesmeric force of personality? How careless.

'Fess up. You didn't roll all those 18s straight, did you? Maybe a couple of the dice fell on threes and you gave them a little nudge.

But it doesn't stop there, does it? You have to be there at the climax, but you also need to encounter the protagonist beforehand. Just for a glimpse. Perhaps a small chase. So there's a connection, a reason for the hero to hate you. That means you need an escape hatch. Your ability to disappear into thin air by going around a corner will be invaluable, just as your ability to be in two places at once is so handy when you're chasing down your victims.

In the movies, the killer's tricks can be covered up with a clever cut or a careful camera angle; but in a game we don't have that level of control over the player's perspective. Players expect that the creatures inhabiting their virtual world adhere to the same rules that bind them as a protagonist. If we don't play fair they're free to take their ball and go home. Games cheat all the time, but they have to do it invisibly.

This doesn't have to be true at all. A serial killer could be as normal as any NPC on the street, & their challenge resides in your catching them.

Vault101:
What about a game where YOU the player are a serial killer? I mean with us running around sandbox worlds killing people (Fallout NV running around goodsprings with an axe...) it only seems natural, I surprised I can't think of any

though that would give the moral gaurdians another thing to point and scream at

I think I'd give up on gaming if this was made. Nothing can improve on that.

I should clarify though, murder on your terms. Not killing as efficiently as possible because you're payed to do it, killing how you want, who you want.

Vault101:
What about a game where YOU the player are a serial killer? I mean with us running around sandbox worlds killing people (Fallout NV running around goodsprings with an axe...) it only seems natural, I surprised I can't think of any

The whole of the GTA series, really. Ok, I suppose 'mass-murderer' would be a better fit for the main chararcters in GTA, as 'serial killer' implies methodical planning and similar MOs as opposed to simply running over/stabbing/shooting/burning the nearest person because you were bored.

OT: I suppose the reason games haven't portrayed serial killers that much is because Hollywood is doing it all the time. Besides, the CSI family is already big enough without two new siblings - CSI:360 and CSI:PS3.

EDIT - How could I have forgotten the Ass Creed series? Now that really is serial killer stuff, planning your assassination, stalking the target, gathering intel, plotting your way into their home and your escape route out? Looking at it like that I'd say that's a pretty good serial killer simulation sorry trainer dammit game.

EDIT 2 - I've just remembered the Hitman series too. Sorry 47, don't feel left out.

Vault101:
What about a game where YOU the player are a serial killer? I mean with us running around sandbox worlds killing people (Fallout NV running around goodsprings with an axe...) it only seems natural, I surprised I can't think of any

though that would give the moral gaurdians another thing to point and scream at

What you described seems a lot like the manhunt series, albeit your character is forced into his circumstances if I recall.

Grouchy Imp:

The whole of the GTA series, really.

There is definitely one in there. GTA IV had a serial killer, you heard about him on the radio and could watch about it on the news and read about it on the internet. Then you could meet him for a few side missions, in which he was creepy as hell. I think the implemented it really well, it wasn't at the fore of the game, or even the story, but if you took the chance to listen, you could find out that there was another murderer roaming the streets besides yourself. Who know who might be a serial killer in real life? I think GTA IV nailed it.
/nerd praise

Interesting article, Chris. Big Echo Bazaar addict here, but I can't say I've encountered Jack-Of-Smiles yet.

Vault101:
What about a game where YOU the player are a serial killer? I mean with us running around sandbox worlds killing people (Fallout NV running around goodsprings with an axe...) it only seems natural, I surprised I can't think of any

though that would give the moral gaurdians another thing to point and scream at

That's the thing--since the typical game focuses so heavily on combat, your average player character systematically murders hundreds of people by the end of the story. How can you get worked up about one guy who kills a mere half-dozen unrelated people?

Vault101:
What about a game where YOU the player are a serial killer? I mean with us running around sandbox worlds killing people (Fallout NV running around goodsprings with an axe...) it only seems natural, I surprised I can't think of any

though that would give the moral gaurdians another thing to point and scream at

Remember Postal? Yeah...

SKX is a serial killer in Condemned but that series just goes off the wall after a while so...

I think the answer to the question is that players *are* serial killers. Think about it, the player butchers thousands of NPCs in the average game often in a repetitive style or with a limited arsenal.

Some games even have you take trophies, most noticeably from boss fights.

Although most players are like the evil squared love child of a Spree killer and Serial killer.

Pararaptor:

Vault101:
What about a game where YOU the player are a serial killer? I mean with us running around sandbox worlds killing people (Fallout NV running around goodsprings with an axe...) it only seems natural, I surprised I can't think of any

though that would give the moral gaurdians another thing to point and scream at

I think I'd give up on gaming if this was made. Nothing can improve on that.

I should clarify though, murder on your terms. Not killing as efficiently as possible because you're payed to do it, killing how you want, who you want.

But the fun in BEING the serial killer would be the fact that people will be looking for you, picking out your quirks to see if you qualify as the guy who killed x , etc. Fallout doesn't do that...

Hopefully L.A. Noire will find a way to address these issues.

No mention of P4? Yeah, guess that doesn't count as much.

Well, the truth is complicated, and I think the biggest reasons aren't covered here.

1. Game companies are increasingly reluctant to freak people out. What this means is that making horror games has become almost impossible to do, because anything that could elicit the intended reaction from a genere fan is going to see the most extreme kinds of backlash from industry critics.

Seriel killers are so scary because they actually exist. The deniability inherant in monsters, aliens, and supernatural occurances provides a layer of insulation between the content and criticism. You start dealing with seriel killers though and then you've got something for the critics to latch on to, especially if you wind up with a gamer who winds up killing people in a manner vaguely similar to your game even without any kind of direct inspiration.

2. It can be hard to intergrate a seriel killer into a lot of games simply because of the player's hero doing all the stuff the killer is doing. I mean it's hard to say "this is evil" when you have games where the player runs around stealing everything that isn't nailed down (and if they have a claw hammer they get that stuff down), picking pockets, and striving to arrange the deaths of anyone they run into that has something useful in their inventory. Game developers indeed make challenges around the idea of finding ways to get items without taking more of a morality hit. This is to say nothing of games with ragdoll physics and bodies that break apart where people head out and do messed up things with the pieces.

If you toss a seriel killer into say a game like "Oblivion" or "Fallout" how can you take that seriously? I mean even if your a paragon of virtue you've doubtlessly done worse things than he has, and your body count is substantially larger (by like level 3 in more RPGs your liable to have killed more stuff than the highest real world body counts).

Now, I'll be honest in saying that I myself have looked at the sandbox crime genere, and being a horror fan, have thought it might be interesting to do a game like that based around being a seriel killer rather than simply a run of the mill violent criminal (Mafia, Gang Banger, etc...), however again in doing this I think it would generate more contreversy than the industry wants to deal with.

I'll also say that the motives of a seriel killer can be made broad enough to give him a formula while also making it exciting for the viewer instead of it being the same thing every time. Movies like "Seven" have done this brilliantly in the past. Of course what keeps people interested in such movies are the elaborate kill scenes, and all the depravity. You could do this kind of thing in a game, but the industry is afraid to really push the "M" rating the way the movie industry pushed the "R" one. Hollywood fought long and hard to be able to get away with the things it currently does, and noone in the gaming industry currently has the guts.

Interesting read for sure, but really I think the reasons for the lack of seriel killers are because of a lack of guts from the industry more than anything, and also simply that as I pointed out most games are detached enough from any semblance of reality that a seriel killer just seems kind of laughable.

As a final note for those that read this far, consider that Gilles De Rais had roughly 200 kills and it's suspected it might have been as many of 600. His victims largely being children, and he had accomplices in the form of his servants. His big thing was that he was a sexual deviant who liked to cut his own orfices for penetration out of the bodies of his victims rather than raping them normally. There may or may not have been occult aspects to it as well involving the worship of a demon known as "Baron" or "Barron". If you were to take a guy like this and put him in a game like "Oblivion" you could deal with the whole issue of how detached the player character is from morality by the nature of it being a game, due to this guy beng so over the top heinous. Of course given that Bethesda was afraid to even have children killed, never mind showing what Gilles did to the level of an "M" rating (ie showing everything but cutting away so you never see actual penetration), do you really think anyone will have the guts to go there in the forseeable future? What's more this was a real guy, and doesn't even get into real fantasy territory. Seriously... read about him.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gilles_De_Rais

Oh and for those who have missed it, yeah this is the guy they mean when you see writers periodically naming schools (high schools, elementary schools, etc...) after him as a sick joke.

LogicNProportion:
But the fun in BEING the serial killer would be the fact that people will be looking for you, picking out your quirks to see if you qualify as the guy who killed x , etc. Fallout doesn't do that...

That could be an aspect, sure.
I just don't like the idea of working for someone.

When you think about it, there's a few other reasons.

One, there isn't enough killing. Sure, a dozen bodies may be enough for a movie, but in a game you expect to mow through at least a thousand Legionaries of Doom by the credits, and serial killers rarely have henchman.

Two, investigation in games is difficult. The player can investigate a room for hours, and get frustrated because the DNA sample they were looking for was under the table. It's hard to get the balance right between too easy/too hard with this sort of thing.

Falseprophet:
Interesting article, Chris. Big Echo Bazaar addict here, but I can't say I've encountered Jack-Of-Smiles yet.

Vault101:
What about a game where YOU the player are a serial killer? I mean with us running around sandbox worlds killing people (Fallout NV running around goodsprings with an axe...) it only seems natural, I surprised I can't think of any

though that would give the moral gaurdians another thing to point and scream at

That's the thing--since the typical game focuses so heavily on combat, your average player character systematically murders hundreds of people by the end of the story. How can you get worked up about one guy who kills a mere half-dozen unrelated people?

well I supose actually selecting your target and planning the kill and avoid aurthorities would be a big part of it, im not exactally sure how that would work, it kind of makes me think of assasins creed there was a small element of you planning out how you were going to kill your target (unless of coarse you go in swords blazing, Im not very good at the whole assasin thing)

LogicNProportion:

Pararaptor:

Vault101:
What about a game where YOU the player are a serial killer? I mean with us running around sandbox worlds killing people (Fallout NV running around goodsprings with an axe...) it only seems natural, I surprised I can't think of any

though that would give the moral gaurdians another thing to point and scream at

I think I'd give up on gaming if this was made. Nothing can improve on that.

I should clarify though, murder on your terms. Not killing as efficiently as possible because you're payed to do it, killing how you want, who you want.

But the fun in BEING the serial killer would be the fact that people will be looking for you, picking out your quirks to see if you qualify as the guy who killed x , etc. Fallout doesn't do that...

I was just using fallout as an example of videogame cuelty (and I loaded a save after) I had this axe which was incredibly over powered, It was in bad condition and I had a very low melle skill yet it choped up people without a problem

HankMan:
Hopefully L.A. Noire will find a way to address these issues.

Yeah L.A. Noire has defiantly set the tone for a serial killer.
Being in a dectivite game instantly sets the required environment.

Could you imagine the backlash on a game in which you are the serial killer.
Fox News would be all over the game and make up stories of Kids being encouraged to became serial killers. Analysts would be brought in to comment on the dangers children face when surrounded by an environment which portrays serial killers as a setting for games.
Developers and publishers that worked on the game would be put to shame.
The gaming community as a whole would suffer due to activists groups turning on the games industry as a united group.

I suppose that gives enough reasons to not make a game where you are a serial killer.
Look at what happened to Manhunt, that had huge backlash.
I'm for freedom of speech and that includes art but in today's society it's almost impossible to make something without it being political incorrect in some shape or form. Bulletstorm got associated with rape for goodness sake. People need to lighten up or we'll have to staple our tounges to the roofs of our mouths.

Chris Gardiner:
How we love you in our movies and books and TV shows. But we don't seem to love you so much in our games, do we?

--I beg to differ!

In Fallout: New Vegas for instance, you have the option of embodying a Serial-Killer through your own character via the Cannibal perk.
And though I haven't played the game myself, Prototype seems to be another sandbox game where you get to have your way with the world around you (and all those in it) in the most despicable, inhuman (and Creative) ways imaginable. It also seems like a lot of Fun :D
And need I even mention Kratos?!

Hell, by that same logic it could be stated that ALL first-person-shooters have you playing the role of a mass-murdering fiend.
Now what does that say about us as a Species hmm?

While those are reasons there aren't serial killers in games, I don't think they are the main ones. A serial killer can't realistically be a danger to player characters in most games, they tend not to be well equipped, aren't trained and have quirks that work against them. Because of their insanity there's not much you can have in the way of non-combat interaction with them, except being a detective and searching for them which isn't something that can easily be done well.

Chris Gardiner:

Chris Gardiner, one of the writers of Echo Bazaar

First off, Mr Gardiner, thank you for your lovely and interesting game.

Neferius:

Chris Gardiner:
How we love you in our movies and books and TV shows. But we don't seem to love you so much in our games, do we?

--I beg to differ!

In Fallout: New Vegas for instance, you have the option of embodying a Serial-Killer through your own character via the Cannibal perk.
And though I haven't played the game myself, Prototype seems to be another sandbox game where you get to have your way with the world around you (and all those in it) in the most despicable, inhuman (and Creative) ways imaginable. It also seems like a lot of Fun :D
And need I even mention Kratos?!

Hell, by that same logic it could be stated that ALL first-person-shooters have you playing the role of a mass-murdering fiend.
Now what does that say about us as a Species hmm?

These are mass murderers, but in a vastly different way than Hanibal, for instance. Collectively, all the player characters you mentioned are violent and (in prototype & GoW) have demigod levels of power. They do not fill you with the same sense of creeping dread as a truly unpredictable, genius serial killer. Not that that's necessarily a bad thing. Prototype is great fun, it's just different fun.

Therumancer:

1. Game companies are increasingly reluctant to freak people out. What this means is that making horror games has become almost impossible to do, because anything that could elicit the intended reaction from a genere fan is going to see the most extreme kinds of backlash from industry critics.

Serial killers are so scary because they actually exist. The deniability inherant in monsters, aliens, and supernatural occurances provides a layer of insulation between the content and criticism. You start dealing with seriel killers though and then you've got something for the critics to latch on to, especially if you wind up with a gamer who winds up killing people in a manner vaguely similar to your game even without any kind of direct inspiration.

I'd say this is less of an issue than the thematic things mentioned in the article. After all, wars are real and devastating, but we've been refighting them for years. Granted, it could be that this is already more or less accepted and some new topic would spark more controversy, but if you look at the news surrounding Heavy Rain, the sexual content received much more backlash than the killer did.

Personally, I think that the most important problem is lack of control over the player. In a movie, the director knows exactly what you are seeing, hearing, and to a certain extent, can predict what you are feeling. This allows them to build emotions over the course of the movie. A game designer really can only predict as far back as the last save point, and short of cutscenes, has much more trouble controlling what the player is doing. A serial killer needs to make you actually fear for your or the character's life, which is much more difficult for a game to achieve.

tl;dr: Atmosphere is harder for a game than for a movie.

Therumancer:
2. It can be hard to intergrate a seriel killer into a lot of games simply because of the player's hero doing all the stuff the killer is doing. I mean it's hard to say "this is evil" when you have games where the player runs around stealing everything that isn't nailed down (and if they have a claw hammer they get that stuff down), picking pockets, and striving to arrange the deaths of anyone they run into that has something useful in their inventory. [snip]

If you toss a seriel killer into say a game like "Oblivion" or "Fallout" how can you take that seriously? I mean even if your a paragon of virtue you've doubtlessly done worse things than he has, and your body count is substantially larger (by like level 3 in more RPGs your liable to have killed more stuff than the highest real world body counts).

Well to be fair, Oblivion did have serial killers. They had a guild and everything. But trying to make a killer the bad guy that you have to stop for the safety of the good citizens of X, smacks of hypocrisy. If you make the bad guy a necromancer, or a vampire or whatever, then at least you've got the moral high ground. Well, upper side of the slop. Upwind, anyway.

You want my help in solving the murders? Sure! By the way, do you like my boots? I had to kill fifteen sorcerers in that cavern just outside of town to get them, but these babies are totally worth it.

Did anyone play Still Life? Like, at all? I mean, yes, the gameplay suffers some from the usual grievances people have with point and click adventures but, man, was that serial killer story something creepy. The way it spans time periods is also incredibly cool. It's a shame the game had to be wrapped up quickly for budgetary reasons since it shows in the rather abrupt ending. What's fascinating about the game is how the serial killer's motives are incorporated into the main characters' story arcs as well. Go try it sometime. I never played Still Life 2, can't comment on it.

As for playing as the serial killer and the cops, Fahrenheit tried to do that. Before the game puked on itself and went into plot warping hell it was very good at pulling off being the hunted and the hunter at the same time by switching between perspectives. Too bad David Cage had other plans for that stupid ass act three.

lanoger:

Therumancer:
2. It can be hard to intergrate a seriel killer into a lot of games simply because of the player's hero doing all the stuff the killer is doing. I mean it's hard to say "this is evil" when you have games where the player runs around stealing everything that isn't nailed down (and if they have a claw hammer they get that stuff down), picking pockets, and striving to arrange the deaths of anyone they run into that has something useful in their inventory. [snip]

If you toss a seriel killer into say a game like "Oblivion" or "Fallout" how can you take that seriously? I mean even if your a paragon of virtue you've doubtlessly done worse things than he has, and your body count is substantially larger (by like level 3 in more RPGs your liable to have killed more stuff than the highest real world body counts).

Well to be fair, Oblivion did have serial killers. They had a guild and everything. But trying to make a killer the bad guy that you have to stop for the safety of the good citizens of X, smacks of hypocrisy. If you make the bad guy a necromancer, or a vampire or whatever, then at least you've got the moral high ground. Well, upper side of the slop. Upwind, anyway.

You want my help in solving the murders? Sure! By the way, do you like my boots? I had to kill fifteen sorcerers in that cavern just outside of town to get them, but these babies are totally worth it.

Well, yes and know. Being a murderer, even a mass murderer, is differant from being a seriel killer. A seriel killer doesn't kill for any reason except what makes sense to them, that is part of the fear. Things like Assasin's guilds, or even organized crime groups aren't the same because they kill for a reason. In "Oblivion" for example, the "Dark Brotherhood" was actually a group of anti-heroes when you get down to it, they were acting on contracts, which were being administrated by a deity. Their purpose was more or less to maintain balance, and they did both good and evil things despite their overall methods. The idea being that someone wanting a murder would approach a shrine (a specific statue) with an offer, and if a divine being felt that this would work towards greater balance it would effectively pass the contract down the pipe to the assasins, who would make contact with the client and arrange the payment and so on. Your character personally is operating through drops with another assasin/patron doing most of the actual arranging. The point here is that they aren't seriel killers and you can't even consider them insane given the reality of both magic and divine beings in that world.

Overall "The Dark Brotherhood" reminds me of the entire "Wanted" concept (comics and movies) including the storyline about the assasins deciding to disregard the supernatural patronage that was handing down the assignments in order to simply enrich themselves. Including the ending (closer to the movie) where the final solution to infiltration and corruption is for everyone except for the protaganist (pure due to being the newest recruit) to die.

This got me thinking a little bit about how it might be interesting to play as the victem.

Ah... that is, if it was a game focused on puzzles and emotional responses, not so much combat. More of a throwback to helpless you felt sometimes in the old Silent Hill games. Ah, sorta... having to outsmart a serial killer, maybe you know their secret, or blah blah. I'm sure it's been done before, but I don't see why a prompt like that wouldn't be interesting.

I... don't know what to think of this.

Hopefully the serial killer plot in LA Noire plays out well. Heavy Rain did a pretty good job of it (although the ending was a tad...nonsensical/cheesy), and so did Condemned: Criminal Origins. I wouldn't mind seeing more. There's something undeniably intriguing about serial killers, even for people like me who usually steer clear of every other pop-culture obsession.

SPLITTING etany

Vault101:
What about a game where YOU the player are a serial killer? I mean with us running around sandbox worlds killing people (Fallout NV running around goodsprings with an axe...) it only seems natural, I surprised I can't think of any

though that would give the moral gaurdians another thing to point and scream at

I'm sure many of us all thought the same thing reading this article. Maybe take the puzzle gamish aspect (and the murdering aspect) of Hitman & combine with the happy-go-lucy murderish charm of Fallout?

Solid article.

Therumancer:

I'll also say that the motives of a seriel killer can be made broad enough to give him a formula while also making it exciting for the viewer instead of it being the same thing every time. Movies like "Seven" have done this brilliantly in the past. Of course what keeps people interested in such movies are the elaborate kill scenes, and all the depravity. You could do this kind of thing in a game, but the industry is afraid to really push the "M" rating the way the movie industry pushed the "R" one. Hollywood fought long and hard to be able to get away with the things it currently does, and noone in the gaming industry currently has the guts.

I'm glad you bring up "Seven" because that really changed the game for serial killer fiction on so many levels, and it wasn't just the killer and his motives and his imaginative killings, it wasn't just the characters' subplots, it wasn't just the investigation. As an editor I feel quite dumb that I can't just say "boom, it's this thing, that's what's awesome about 'Seven.'" I'm going to say it's the decay. The characters, their lives, the investigation, the city, it's all decaying on screen as you watch. It may be a decidedly 90s grunge-y decay, but I can still watch that movie over and over today and see it as a relevant piece of film. It wasn't just shock-kills, or a brilliant serial killer (I completely agree with the article's assessment of how killers are deified in their stories, by the way). So much in that movie is contrived near-perfectly to put that feeling in the viewer. And that is something games don't seem to capture very easily.

Condemned did a pretty damn good job for me. There were times in that game were I didn't feel safe. And not like, in real life I didn't want to turn around. Like basic videogame safeties weren't applicable. Bad shit could happen in that game beyond me having to restart. I'm probably not describing this very well, but it was like I couldn't rely on all my previous gaming experience to plow through Condemned's story (even though I could have). I just had to be on my toes.

What I can't speak so well about is why videogames aren't doing that very well, and I really would bet it has a lot to do with what people have already mentioned, particularly that inherent hypocrisy in so many games where the player does things that are themselves illegal, if not immoral, to get through the game. But the player always seems to feel safe. A lot of what we'll be doing in the game is destroying things, ourselves. We're way more badass than that serial killer. It would be easy to remove that feeling of safety by restricting what the player can do, but games already do that, and further restriction just to sell a feeling runs a high risk of being transparent and ruining the whole thing. But now I'm thinking too much about games that are expressly focused on the killer, rather than just games where serial killer characters can fit in, which speaks to Chris's point about serial killers becoming the focus wherever they are present.

Lastly, thinking about games where a serial killer is present but not the focus--and I'll probably get a lot of folks telling me who this character is and what quest/side-story about that character I missed that explains what I saw, but I apologize for not having all the information off the top of my head--I remember in Oblivion doing a thieves guild quest and breaking into a high-profile noble's mansion or castle or whatever and going through a secret passage and seeing some kind of torture-bondage-S&M chamber down there. I thought, wouldn't that be interesting, if it were some completely random NPC. I break into a random house to snag some extra silverware to fence and discover he's got a mountain of bodies or a hostage in the basement, then have to wonder what the hell I had just stumbled upon. There's a chance that exact scenario happened in another game, or even in Oblivion's big-ass world, and I don't know about it. There's still the problem that in Oblivion I'm the afore-mentioned badass. Having a serial killer in a game where s/he wasn't the focus but was still a threat would require the game taking place in a world where the player was no more powerful than the killer. Maybe some open-world or sandbox game, where the player doesn't know about the killer, but the killer could randomly target the player. Maybe the killer targets tall brunettes, and you just happened to give your player character black hair when you started a new game...

I may have to re-organize these thoughts later.

Well... in many games, the biggest serial killer is the player.

redeyecoyote:

Lastly, thinking about games where a serial killer is present but not the focus--and I'll probably get a lot of folks telling me who this character is and what quest/side-story about that character I missed that explains what I saw, but I apologize for not having all the information off the top of my head--I remember in Oblivion doing a thieves guild quest and breaking into a high-profile noble's mansion or castle or whatever and going through a secret passage and seeing some kind of torture-bondage-S&M chamber down there. I thought, wouldn't that be interesting, if it were some completely random NPC. I break into a random house to snag some extra silverware to fence and discover he's got a mountain of bodies or a hostage in the basement, then have to wonder what the hell I had just stumbled upon. There's a chance that exact scenario happened in another game, or even in Oblivion's big-ass world, and I don't know about it. There's still the problem that in Oblivion I'm the afore-mentioned badass. Having a serial killer in a game where s/he wasn't the focus but was still a threat would require the game taking place in a world where the player was no more powerful than the killer. Maybe some open-world or sandbox game, where the player doesn't know about the killer, but the killer could randomly target the player. Maybe the killer targets tall brunettes, and you just happened to give your player character black hair when you started a new game...

I may have to re-organize these thoughts later.

Much snipped for the sake of size.

This sort of brings me back to one of my ambitions for making a game. My idea for making a sandbox crime game based around seriel killing is one that I had ever since I was attending school for Criminal Justice and learning about things like the VICAP (Violent Criminal Apprehension Program) system, which had been updated/replaced even when I was there. It's basically a database linking records and behaviors together in an effort to notice and predict patterns. It was based around things like the "least effort" principle. A seriel killer's first victim likely being fairly close to where he lives, because that's where he feels safe and in control, and knows most of the variables. Not to mention it being easiest, sort of like how if you want a gallon of milk, you walk down to the corner store, you don't go accross the city to get one. This is why finding a killer's first victim can be such a big deal, especially if their murders are seperated by a long period of time between each occurance. At any rate, when people read murder mysteries and watch horror movies, they almost inevitably go off about how they could do better as the criminal. I'd personally love to develop a game that would give people that kind of an oppertunity, and would perform police responses and such based around real world response systems. Adding in variables like rape, long-term torture, or limiting yourself to specific victim types would actually make things more diffucult and the more complicated and consistant a player is in their behavior the more in-game benefits they generate, encouraging people to not just take the safest path to continueing (which is what a lot of people would do, given that the player is inevitably going to be entirely sane). I was thinking it might also be fun to tie it into say 80s slasher movies and let the game get crazier as the game goes on as the character develops powers or whatever. I have a lot of ideas, but as I'm never liable to have the money to put into a project like that I never bothered to engage in too much detailed planning.

In a video game I don't think it's very easy to inspire much feat of a seriel killer, but I've long thought that it's the perfect medium to let armchair criminals do their thing. Of course due to being afraid of pushing too many buttons, the idea of crime simulations went as far as cartoony crime rampages and more or less stopped there.

I think the problem with making a game about being a serial killer, aside from moral issues of course, is making it somewhat sandbox but without making it mass-murder.

Take GTA. You aren't a serial killer. You are a mobster. What is associated with that is that you are going to kill people to fuel your own goals. But each death is kind of empty.

Take Dexter as a good example of this. He stalks his prey, learns habits and then kills and disposes of them in an exceptionally precise way. This is how I think a serial killer would be best represented. A game replicating this well would have to be endlessly deep. You would have to be able to target anyone, go anywhere and have an amazing amount of freedom. It would have to be essentially open ended, and simply end when you are caught.

This I think would translate amazingly as a game experience. Imagine how it could play out. You start off as a novice, killing people haphazardly, but slowly gain skills and make cleaner and cleaner kills. You could eventually master the perfect murder. But then the game would have no point? But then like has been seen in real life, you could start making purposeful mistakes, or leaving messages to enhance the experience.

Long story short, it could be amazing, but would have to be focused.

And also, murder is very wrong, just in case I was coming across as a aspiring murderer :S

This article was pretty funny. But yes, I would like to see better portrayals of serial killers in video games.

I think one of the Police Quest games was based around the activities of a serial killer? I agree that it's a phenomenon that could be seen more in games. The problem is that the fantastical lifeview of the murderer is generally far more compelling than the squalid reality of most murderer's lives.

One alternative interpretation of the Silent Hill games is that the protagonist is suffering from a drug-induced (or psychotic) delusion which creates monsters out of nothing - or living, ordinary humans. The second game certainly had a genuine serial killer in Eddie, and one in the fourth game as well, but it depends on how much you view the supernatural elements as being too intrusive in that game world. Given how the player actively hunts down 'monsters', it could be argued that these are characteristics shared with serial killers.

Also: pleeeeease get back to writing more content for Echo Bazaar. I'm at lvl.100 in all four character stats now, and plot progression is extremely slow and dependent on chance cards. At least let me finish my Ambition:Nemesis quest :S

I came to the comments section of this article to post about Condemned: Criminal Origins and how it was so successful with its depiction of SKX; and was pleasantly suprised that several others have mentioned it.

Granted, the instincts part of the games plot and the cult backstory clouded the story line somewhat, but SKX's methods were really intruiging and finding his victims was both challenging and enjoyable.

Again with the L.A. Noir; hopefully it makes something of itself in such a genre.

I don't expect, neither desire, serial killer games to be a commonality; but having companies dedicating a sub-section within the horror genre for such games would be great.

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