Catharsis – Pity and Fear

I was talking to my friend about horror & thriller films, and the subject of Catharsis came up.

He told me, “I don’t understand why someone who is so afraid of something would watch a film about it to frighten themselves.”

Some fears are universal, such as the fear of rejection. Some are personal, due to traumas of any magnitude, or very real threats such as abusive adults, natural disaster, illness, or snakes or spiders (personal anecdote: around the time I started getting parasthesia, I also had a nightmare about spiders–a real threat where I grew up–attacking and crawling all over me. I’ve lived with a controlled phobia since then).

But because we have the ability to empathise, when we emotionally invest in characters who experience fear, we can allow ourselves to actually feel those feelings that we hope we won’t have to actually feel in response to events in our own, real life. When we choose to watch something, we’re choosing to experience it in a safe (ie, not-real-world, no lasting implications) way. When we watch something that frightens us, we identify with the person it happens to, we feel that what happens to them is happening to us (which is why we will, for example, hold our hand during a scene when someone’s hand is crushed); yet, importantly, we also know that it isn’t us, and we feel relieved. That’s catharsis. We feel emotions for something that’s happening to someone else, and emotions about knowing isn’t happening to us – relief, without a lingering sense of guilt about our relief.

Why do we seek these feelings out? Well, it feels good. It feels good that we are safe, and that we can be happy about it in a way that we know isn’t actually sadistic or voyeuristic- a way of avoiding “it should have been me,” in favour of “it could have been me.

It’s a way of playing with a feeling, a fear, or a dark desire, without needing to actually encounter it in the real world where there may be lasting repercussions. Rather than suppress the forbidden thought or emotion, we can play with it, and teach ourselves how to overcome it.

We don’t become desensitized to the horror, violence, or evil. We become desensitized to our feelings of fear and powerlessness. We’re training ourselves how to deal with fear.

Comedy versus Horror

What’s the difference between Comedy and Horror?

I’m not sure I really ever agreed with Aristotle’s definition of Comedy vs Tragedy, but I was thinking today about the trope of “Body Horror,” and how it was used as a comedic element in Deadpool (2016)

I concluded that: in Comedy, we are told everything is going to be okay; in Horror (or Tragedy, for that matter), we are told that it is not.

 

Horror Games – Indulging the Wickedness

Today, I finished playing a game that was recommended to me by a friend a while ago, called The Cat Lady. I can’t say I particularly enjoyed this game. I realised pretty quickly that revenge is a pretty bad motivator for me, and the horrific images they showed seemed to neither shock nor repulse me. In fact, the only thing that drew me back was how strongly my friend had recommended it. But, I also kept in mind that my friend loves horror games, while generally I do not. Continue reading

TV Tragedy for Today

I’ve been meaning (“struggling”) to write this post for a while, but today, between an audition for “Project Macbeth” and the season premiere of “The Biggest Loser: The Next Generation,” I think I have the ideal sweet spot.

My hypothesis, if you deign to entertain my reasoning, is that “makeover” reality TV is, functionally, today’s version of Theatrical Tragedy.

Continue reading

Braid

The other weekend, I downloaded and played through Braid. It was pretty interesting, with the fractured narrative being delivered to you like the puzzle pieces you collected through each stage. The time-rewinding mechanic was really awesome, too: it allowed the game to be challenging, but not in that “restart at checkpoint,” way; and the variations created some very interesting puzzle-solving techniques. The penultimate stage (World 1-1), was clearly the most basic and clever use of this forgiving device.

However, I, among many others, have a gripe with the designers.

In a game that focuses on a desire to undo mistakes realised too late (sounds like hamartia to me!), the player’s incapacity to do this WHEN THEY PUT A PUZZLE TOGETHER CORRECTLY is extremely frustrating. What am I talking about? Well, there are these “hidden extras” found in the levels in the form of invisible stars. Collecting the stars changes the ending of the game. Most of the stars can be collected at any time during the game. But one of them is created by incorrectly solving one of the jigsaw puzzles. Please note that once you put the puzzles together, you can’t take the pieces apart. Whoops. I just denied myself a different ending because I did something right.

Now, I don’t care what wanky excuse the designers come up with, such as, “Oh well if things were done right in the first place, then nothing would have gone wrong.” Ah, but see, they created for the player a moment of hamartia: I put together the puzzle in a way which I believed was right, and yet I’ve done it wrong, and now I have to do it all again? Well, screw collecting the stars. Someone else will do it and I’ll watch that on YouTube.

So, does the player/audience enjoy being the one who has hamartia? Of course not. This is why they could, should, never be the Tragic Hero.

Tick Tick Smileyface for me. Thanks for proving me right 😉

Tragedy

So I’ve been happily going about my Honours research and preparation, talking about catharsis, games, films, plays, etc etc etc, and suddenly, today, it hits me. I talk to my supervisor and then to one of my tutors, and they both say the same thing, “It sounds like you’re more interested in Tragedy than Catharsis.”

They’re right!  I feel like I’ve taken the longest route to get there, and I’m not throwing out any of my ideas.

But now, instead of thinking, “What causes Catharsis, specifically Aristolean Katharsis?”  I am thinking, “How can I make Tragedy playable?”

What is even more exciting for me is reading the transcript for the Friday 27th March morning panel at GDC 2009, focusing on The Role of Games in Personal and Social Change.

It seems like my research is going to be very timely, and hopefully very relevant.  No pressure or anything! 🙂

Two quotes that particularly caught my eye…