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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