Serena: Baring the Layers of Human Inconsistency

Dec 24, 2014 by

A screenshot from horror adventure game  Serena.

A screenshot from Serena.

“Hearts and thoughts, they fade, fade away,” goes an old Pearl Jam hit. The refrain sprung back from a corner of my mind as I thought once again about Serena, a free horror themed adventure game. Serena hasn’t left my mind in one manner or another since the credits rolled. The titular character is gone, missing, and her husband (inside their tiny, romanticized, cabin in the woods where the action takes place) is alone with no idea where she went. This is not about jump scares or terror. It has its twists – which I won’t give away, but ultimately, it’s about expectations. We want to put our best selves forward in any situation involving others, whether that is a romantic partner, a boss, or even on our social media profiles. The game does play tricks with perception as a conceit, and what we conceal and what we lay bare are matters you’ll be thinking about after the brief hour’s gameplay is over.

Horror utilizes unreliable narrators well, incongruities cluing us in that something is playing with time or perspective. Exploration is repetitive but compelling. As you piece the story together, what you’re really doing is uniting facades, layers, and the truth. The second and third acts of the game broaden the emotional range in a way that rounds out our narrator. We are not fractured selves, we are whole selves, ones that do believe in who we project outward while sometimes inconsistent with it.

Serena reminded me of Silent Hill 2’s James Sunderland, whose initial impression was the loving husband searching for his missing wife, Mary. Slowly, the layers of James’ personality are peeled back, as we also see some of Mary’s anger emerge. We often deny, sometimes willingly, and sometimes ignorantly, these other sides, our mistakes, and our flaws. Serena applies a veil of horror over these most human of traits, and does so memorably.

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Some Heartbreak is Inevitable

Dec 22, 2014 by

Animal Crossing: New Leaf screenthos, featuring my villager with Apple, a hamster.

Animal Crossing: New Leaf screenshot, featuring my mayor with Apple, a hamster.

After playing almost daily for 18 months, sometime around six weeks ago, I said what have unexpectedly become the last things said to my villagers. You see, I haven’t played Animal Crossing: New Leaf in a while and I know that some heartbreak is inevitable. It’s a strong word, but in a game so dependent upon relationships, those pixels find ways to embed themselves in you.

I’m not sure why the pause that became a much longer break. I really enjoy visiting and talking to all my villagers and fought to keep as few of them as possible from leaving town. Once in a while one would slip through my protective grasp, never to return. Most of my town is made up of original villagers from my starting group, or was – I’m not quite sure who remains now. I’ve nearly turned on the 3DS more than once to peek in there and find out whose farewell letter might be at this moment gathering dust in my yet unfinished house’s mailbox. Perhaps more than one? As I prepare to do that very thing, restore power to the vessel, the impartial device, and give myself over to the loss of power that even a mayor can’t retain. Villagers, I’m coming back. I wonder if I hope things will be the same.

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