Written by T. Blake Braddy, @blakebraddy
If you were to peruse the Kickstarter page for ‘Playing with Fear,’ Anthony Carpendale’s proposed documentary about horror gaming, among the confirmed participants, you’d see a list of the most interesting and varied game developers working in the genre today, as well as some of the more monolithic titles from years’ past, like Silent Hill and the 7th Guest.
Indeed, the ridiculously-detailed campaign page – maintained entirely by Carpendale himself – reads like a who’s who in the world of horror gaming. Not only are more well-known titles like Penumbra’s ‘Amnesia: The Dark Descent’ featured on the page, but smaller works, like ‘Neverending Nightmares,’ ‘Fran Bow,’ and ‘Lone Survivor,’ are also given substantial space. ‘Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem’ director Denis Dyack has also agreed to be interviewed for the project.
The director’s aim is to document various aspects of a gaming genre that has been largely overlooked within an art form that has been largely overlooked. Even those well-received docs that highlight the industry seem to arise out of the groundswell of fandom, rather than take on a top-down filmic perspective.
And even though he is a veteran filmmaker, with over a decade’s worth of experience, Carpendale’s perspective on where quality horror is coming from has changed. “Over the past decade, horror games have always surpassed horror films for me,” he said. “Scary games are my inspiration, and the best ones can be far smarter, more visceral and atmospheric than horror films.”
The stated monetary goal is £25,000 (about $40,000 USD), and though Playing with Fear is at about 17 percent funded, there is widespread support from within the community, which he hopes finds its way into the campaign coffers.
The film will feature the standard developer interviews, but it doesn’t end there. Carpendale and his crew plan on making something that encompasses as many aspects of the genre as possible. Visiting inspirational game locations, researching the history and legends that influenced horror myth, and discussing new and upcoming technologies are just a few of the ways the film would pay homage to horror games. He also intends to deconstruct horror gaming conventions and how they were used in seminal titles, like the aforementioned Silent Hill.
Of the potential, he said, “I’d like my film to be far more than talking heads and re-treads of game that fans would already know. I want to make something unusual, entertaining, and surprising.” In fact, he mentions documentaries like “The Act of Killing” and “Capturing the Friedmans” as inspirations on how to approach the material nontraditionally.
If it seems like an ambitious project, well, it is. Because all that he’s discussed couldn’t fit into a 90-minute documentary, Carpendale plans on releasing some of the material over the year of production as a web series. It would allow him to be able to take on a more thematic framework for Playing With Fear. For example, one episode might focus on, say, ‘Silent Hill’’s overall impact, while the next could deal with the struggles development teams endure to get their games to consoles and PCs.
Not only that, but producing an intermittent web show would give the movie’s backers plenty of extra content to reward them for their support. Some of it would see eventual public release, but backers would get access to supplemental material just for being part of the project.
And what Carpendale sees as a great potential shines through in his enthusiasm for the mission. He said, “It has the potential to be something special, an ambitious and in-depth celebration of horror gaming that will appeal to fans who respect the craft of game design and want to learn more about every aspect of the games they love.”
When asked about why now is such an interesting time to catalog horror gaming, both Carpendale and Dissolved – the Glasgow-based musician composing the film’s score – speak of how indie development has revitalized the genre.
Carpendale points to changing audience expectations as reason for strong indie gaming: “We’re seeing more games that are less reliant on easy jump-scares and hook the player in with psychological horror and clever environmental design.”
Speaking on the state of horror, Dissolved added, “It makes me very happy, to be honest, to see games getting back into the realm of single programmers, making bedroom projects and rebelling against the notion games need to be made by teams of 350 people with mega budgets.”
The film’s director is also interested in the mainstreaming of gaming culture, even for those people who have written off the industry as a childish spectacle. “Games are an evolving art form,” he said, “but most people who decided years ago they were stupid or pointless have kept those assumptions. It would be great to help change them a little bit.”
Much has been done in the way of validating the work that so many game developers have toiled through to bring games to consumers, but it seems to be a particularly verdant time for independent gaming in general and horror in particular. Dissolved said, “Gamers are an adaptable crowd, ready for all sorts of unconventionality being thrown at them. Horror games, in recent years, have been quietly morphing into all sorts of interesting forms, and I do feel the indie developers have have a lot to do with that.”
Still, even though a lot of interesting people have signed on to be part of Playing with Fear, time is running out. At the time of this writing, the project is still nearly £20,000 short of its funding goal, and with 17 days left, Carpendale hopes horror fans will show up to support the project. Luckily, he’s been too busy single-handedly running the campaign to sit in front of the computer and count down the hours, but he admits that waiting for the project to gain traction is “torturous.”
Fans of genre filmmaking can also check out some of Anthony Carpendale’s works online on Vimeo and YouTube, including shorts like “The Most Boring Woman in the World” and the recently-produced surreal TV show, “The Strange World of Max X,” which he did with Dave Packer (who is also working on Playing with Fear. Dissolved can be found online at the site for his own label, disolvedamberrooms.