Come into the dark pod castle, dear listener. There’s nothing unsettling in here except some VAMPIRES. That’s right. To celebrate the new Resident Evil and the series’ always-changing formula, we have spoken to horror expert and follower of gothic trends Tanya Krzywinska. She tells us about the origin of the vampire tale, its various mutations, and why it’s so enduring. Alongside that, we are joined by narrative designer and writer Cara Ellison, who has penned a few disturbing biters in her time. I’ve already invited you across the threshold, so start up the show. And as always, fangs for lessoning.
Click “more” for a full list of links and transcription.
Unseen Horrors by Kevin MacLeod
All SFX from Resident Evil Village
Tanya Krzywinska, horror expert: The gothic is also about seduction in a way that maybe body horror is more about a kind of shock.
Lady Dimitrescu (soundbite): Yes, of course. I understand the importance of the ceremony. I won’t let you down.
Tanya Krzywinska: But also the other thing is spectacle. By being pursued by a nine foot great female monster, there is something intriguing about the image. It’s designed to delight the eye, to be spectacle, to be surprising.
Brendan Caldwell, host: Hi there and welcome to Hey Leson, the podcast where we ask smart people stupid questions inspired by video games. I’m your host, Brendan Caldwell. And I am here to underhandedly teach you things through the lens of popular games. Today we’re going to be talking about vampires and the vampiric creatures of survival horror game Resident Evil Village. Keep listening to hear an expert in horror stories tell us about these bloodsuckers and where the legend of them comes from, and why that legend has lasted so long as well. But first let me introduce this episode’s guest co-host, it’s writer and narrative designer Cara Ellison. How are you doing?
Cara Ellison, writer: Hello! I’m doing good, thank you.
Brendan: It’s been a while.
Cara: Yeah. I mean, I feel like everyone who has ever worked at Rock Paper Shotgun has gone on to do really interesting things. So I feel like we’re all just kind of across the world, just doing our stuff. I feel like we all came from like a kind of stable where we are all like… you know, you were the Irish horse. I was the Scottish horse. You know what I mean?
Brendan: I like how you went with a stable and not primordial ooze.
Cara: Yeah. We were all in and ooze. Absolutely. That’s disgusting to think about it, you know? Cause like everyone will get everyone on themselves. Gross.
Brendan: So we know each other, but just so the listener understands and knows a little bit more about you maybe it’s worth telling them who you are and some of the things you’ve worked on in the past, maybe give them an idea of why you’re a good person to talk about vampires with.
Cara: Well, I started out in video games specifically because I did an English degree in the city of Edinburgh and that’s where Rockstar North is. So I started working there when I left university and I actually don’t know why they employed me because I have an English degree, what’s that good for? And I just kind of got into games that way then, then became a journalist and wrote about games. And then that’s how I got to Rock Paper Shotgun and the Guardian and stuff. And then after a while I just got more interested in creating games instead. So I made a bunch of text games, stuff that people really liked. And then Harvey Smith, let me work on one of his Dishonored games. That was really nice. And after that, I just had a career instead in narrative design for video games. So I did the narrative for Void Bastards, which is a really cool space game with lots of Scottish people in it. Bizarrely. And then finally… until recently I worked on Vampire: The Masquerade Bloodlines 2. And weirdly I did a lot of work critiquing Bloodlines when I still worked at Rock Paper Shotgun, which is actually how I got the job. Brian Mitsoda, who’s the writer of the previous one, he was like, “Oh, I read all your work and I think you would be good for this job.” So that’s how I got it basically. So it turns out I do know something about vampires.
Brendan: It’ll become clear, I think, that you know more about vampires than you’re letting on or that I do anyway.
Cara: I think that it’s just a lifelong interest, mainly because I had an English teacher at my school who actually used to teach Anne Rice books as close reading, which was probably inappropriate at school. That’s how I got into it.
Brendan: This is the author of Interview with a Vampire
Cara: And they’re actually spectacularly well-written books for the trash that people think they are, because it’s very much in the tradition of, you know, like Carmilla by Sheridan Le Fanu and there’s a lot of books that… it does take that kind of Victorian language. It’s very florid, isn’t it?
Brendan: I’m gonna break off here, okay. Because you’re talking about books and we don’t do that here!
Cara: I’m sorry. Have I gone too…? Okay.
Brendan: Well, we can talk about books, but first let’s talk about this new Resident Evil that’s come out, Resident Evil Village. Have you… you’ve played a little bit of it?
Cara: Yeah. I’ve played a little bit… I’ve met the big woman.
Brendan: Oh, okay. Right. We’re going to talk about the big woman. Can you first tell us, tell the listener: what is Resident Evil Village? Like what goes on in it? Who are you? What’s the crack?
Cara: So you’re this guy called Ethan, he’s in Resident Evil 7. He has this real weird habit of bad things happening to his hands in these games. They’re horror games. In Resident Evil 7 ,he got his hand chopped off and put back on again. Bizarrely, it’s fine. Which we all are slightly like ‘question mark’ about. But yeah, it’s not really explained why Ethan has these bizarre regenerative properties. In Resident Evil Village he shacks up with this weird lady, and has a child with her. I guess the lady is haunted. And they have this kid, which is always a bad decision. Don’t have children with the weird ones, just the normal ones. And then… Chris Redfield (who’s a major character from previous Resident Evil video games) he comes in. He takes your baby. And then Ethan then gets into a situation where he wakes up in this village. He wants to find his baby and bad stuff is happening to his hand. Again, monsters are chewing his hand, trying to stick nails in his hand, a lot of bad things are happening to his hands. Again, it’s a hand-based narrative.
Brendan: It’s a first-person hand brutalizer.
Cara: Yes. Him having fingers is a hazard. He should put mittens on, I think. Like, armoured mittens.
Brendan: Cool. I’ve also played the first maybe two or three hours. So we can’t go into it too deeply, which is good because we don’t really want to spoil it. But yes, that is a pretty spot-on rundown.
Cara: Oh good. Cause I thought it was actually very poor, but thank you, Brendan.
Brendan: The vampires or the vampire-style enemies show up a little later, when you enter a big castle at the top of the village and you meet the big lady that you’ve been talking about, Lady Dimitrescu, or she’s called “Duh-mee-tresk” in the video game, but there are arguments online about how you pronounce her name.
Cara: Okay. Well, let’s not get into that argument.
Brendan: I’m going to go with Dee-mee-trey-skew. So …
Cara: We just call her “the big lady”.
Brendan: The big lady, who the internet is certainly interested in….
Cara: Lusty about.
Brendan: …and we’re going to talk about vampires, lusty or otherwise, or Resident Evil’s take on them in just a moment. But first we’re going to hear from our expert. I spoke to Tanya Krzywinska about vampires. She’s an academic at Falmouth University. And she has been writing about horror and horror in games for a while. So here’s what she had to tell us about vampires.
Brendan: So first of all, Tanya, can you tell our listeners who you are and what you do?
Tanya Krzywinska: Hi. Yeah. I’m Tanya Krzywinska and I’m a professor at Falmouth university and I specialize pretty much in digital games. And I also write a lot about the Gothic. I’ve written a lot, a lot on horror and games, but also horror in other contexts.
Brendan: What sets gothic horror apart from any other type of horror, what does that “gothic” distinction mean?
Tanya Krzywinska: The difference between gothic horror is a fine one, but nonetheless, I think the Gothic is kind of focused more on atmosphere. If I can put that in a nutshell, the kind of ratcheting up of kind of body horror. There are crossovers between the two, but for me, Gothic is able to be more subtle than traditional sort of B-movie horror. I tend to gravitate towards the Gothic that kind of creeps you from the inside, rather than shock value.
Ethan Winters (soundbite): What the hell is wrong with this place?
Brendan: The game we’re playing, Resident Evil Village, it’s probably more on that B-movie side of the scale. Uh, it’s a horror game where there are beings who are more or less vampires. Could you give us a quick rundown of where the idea of a vampire comes from in folklore terms.
Tanya Krzywinska: The vampire has got a very long history. That history is often woven into popular culture. So we see traces in all kinds of places. Some people would say that the idea of vampires is actually quite global. It sort of takes slightly different incarnations across the world. You can go back even to the medieval period and see how they were treating certain kind of corpses as if they were going to walk again. So the vampire, it is to some extent the product of popular culture, and that’s the way that we tend to think of the vampire now, but it does have this kind of long and interesting history in various folk cultures.
Lucia (soundbite): One day we were a quiet devout village and the next the monsters came and attacked us.
Brendan: The main antagonist Lady Dimitrescu, she lives in a big opulent castle. Why is the big family castle, so central and so common in vampire stories?
Tanya Krzywinska: I think there’s an interesting class dimension to that that’s worth talking about, as well as of course the imagery that the spectacular castle gives you. Yeah. I think that’s a sort of metaphor implicit in that – the upper-class bleeding the working class dry, you know. The zombie figure also has that same kind of connotation as well,if you go back to things like White Zombie. But I think… the Lord vampire that kind of sucks the blood out of those who live around him, it is a very strongly counter-cultural image in lots of ways.
Lady Dimitrescu (soundbite): So gauche. What do we care for bread and circuses?
Tanya Krzywinska: There’s also, of course, the romantic idea of the castle as a place apart, a magic space where different rules abide. I really like Ken Russell’s film called Gothic, [in which] Byron and Shelley all go off to this kind of Villa on Lake Geneva and take lots of opium and basically come out with the most amazing Gothic horror stories that have influenced games today. So Polidori came up with a story called “The Vampyre”. It was kind of loosely based on Byron. Of course, Mary Shelley came up with Frankenstein. You know, these are kind of fundamental stories that came out of a kind of castle. Gothic and castles, sublime landscapes, lonely landscapes, otherness – is where a lot of this stuff comes from.
Witchy villager (soundbite): The castle bell herald’s danger! They’re coming, ha ha ha!
Brendan: The antagonist, she’s also absurdly tall. And everyone’s making a big deal of this. She’s like nine feet tall. Are vampires usually that tall? Is there any precedent for that in the folklore or different stories? Have they traditionally been taller than humans, or is that just a twist that’s unique to this game?
Tanya Krzywinska: Well, I think there’s a very long history of making some people taller in representation than others. So if you go back to Egyptian imagery of Kings, they are usually bigger than their wives, for example, or the courtiers. So it’s actually a visual to put emphasis on a particular figure. So it becomes an image of power and difference. That’s how I would kind of categorize the use of her nine-foot-tall-ness in it.
Brendan: There are some other vampiric beings as well, who have the ability to turn into swarms of insects, for instance, and vampires have always had this bat connection. Has shape-shifting always been a big part of the vampire lore? Where does that idea come from?
Tanya Krzywinska: Well, I think primarily it comes from Stoker. In Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Dracula has a nice [trick]… to be able to turn himself into a – do you call them a “flock” of bats? A “gaggle” of bats? I’m not sure.
Brendan: [laughter] I don’t know either.
Tanya Krzywinska: A number of bats. He can turn himself into smoke, he can turn himself into all kinds of things. And he’s often described as a kind of insect. A maggot, I think is how he’s described in the novel.
Vampire daughter (soundbite): Mother, I bring you fresh prey.
Lady Dimitrescu: You are so kind to me, daughters.
Tanya Krzywinska: But that idea of shape-shifting into an animal is a very, very old idea. And it’s present in a lot of folklore and you can see images of that in neolithic cave art where people have the legs of a man but the head of a wolf. Or the traditional minotaur, you know, he’s half bull, half human. All of that idea, about becoming animals as a kind of metaphor for decivilizing the human, but also giving more power and more facility in the world, is a very common trope across what we might think of as folk horror.
Heisenberg (soundbite): Lycans and gentlemen!
Brendan: You’ve been talking a lot about how vampires are often shown to be powerful. But they do have weaknesses in these myths, or there are wards or rituals that you can use to defeat them or keep them at bay. Like, we all know about garlic and staking in the heart and stuff like that. Is there any other obscure thing a peasant villager could do to keep vampires at bay?
Tanya Krzywinska: Well, I think it’s really interesting that there are rules, and the fact that there are rules serves both narrative merit, narrative structures – how does the hero do battle with, in a worthy way, and then overcome the evil? But also in terms of games, if you don’t have a set of rules it’s very difficult to deal with something. So actually you can turn the rules of, you know, how you dispense with your vampire, into game rules that then then need to be manipulated by the player. It gets more interesting when games put you in the place of the vampire, so that we overturn that usual sort of good-versus-evil narrative. Of course, you know, there’s Vampire Masquerade, which puts you in the place of vampire and and gives you kind of moral choices about how you exist a vampire, much in the way that, you know, you could either be a Louis or a Lestat from Anne Rice’s books. So you can choose to kind of live on the blood rats, or you can be full-blooded, preying on humans in a sort of role-playing context.
Lady Dimitrescu (soundbite): [sucking blood] Hmm… starting to go a little stale.
Vampire daughter 1: Then let’s devour his manflesh quickly, mother.
Vampire daughter 2: But I am the one who captured him!
Lady Dimitrescu: Now now…
Brendan: Speaking of those vampires from Interview with a Vampire… they’re also sometimes depicted as suave or charming, vampires, they’re sometimes charismatic. Why do authors and creators of vampire stories like to give the blood-sucking villains that sort of a character?
Tanya Krzywinska: Well, otherwise they’d be truly monstrous. What I think is interesting about the Gothic… The Gothic is also about seduction, in a way that maybe body horror is more about shock and viscerality. But I think the Gothic has often had this kind of sexualized libidinous kind of undertone and in the context of the vampire, that means making your antihero Byronic and sexy in some way. It kind of then puts an edge into things and slightly disrupts the sense of pure good and pure evil. And so a lot of the 19th century vampire is very much around the seduction idea, of being seduced by this worldly figure.
Lady Dimitrescu (soundbite): But later, well… there will be enough for everyone. Put him up!
Brendan: Some players will look at the beings in a Resident Evil game, and they’ll say, “Oh, these aren’t real vampires. They’re explained by something else.” Because there’s always other story reasons for these beings to be created this way. Does it matter that we have a strict definition of vampire? Should we be gate-keeping vampires?
Tanya Krzywinska: Well, you can’t have a strict definition of vampires because, you know, that’s just antipathy to the way that folklore and folk culture work. They’re always being repurposed and reinvented for different circumstances. And in a way, you know, from an academic point of view, that’s what’s interesting, that it tells you a lot about the culture, how you reinvent your vampire. I think in Resident Evil, there’s often a kind of undertone, a sort of science fiction kind of thing, so rather than it being supernatural, there’s a sort of ecological dimension to it, or the sort of narrative that you get in science fiction, that sort of dystopian narrative that “we’ve done it to ourselves” as it were. Zombies are very useful, particularly in a game context, because you can shoot them and, you know, they’re empty shells, so it’s fine to shoot them all the time. So they serve that purpose in games. But then people get fed up with that. And so, you know, a game designer will look to another kind of franchise or another kind of monster “brand”, to see if they can bring something new to that. We like turnover with our monsters.
Ethan Winters (soundbite): Don’t you worry, Daddy won’t let those weird fairy tale monsters get you.
Brendan: Speaking of the other monster brands, there are also werewolf type beings in Resident Evil Village, among other types of monsters. Are the myths upon which that creature is based as old or venerable as the vampire legend?
Tanya Krzywinska: Oh yeah. Without a doubt. You know, in Greek mythology there’s a figure called Lycaon. And basically he annoyed one of the gods who came to visit him because he didn’t feed him. Right. Whatever. And then he gets turned into a werewolf. Who’s still got the semblance, the shape of a person, but has an incredible bloodlust. So both the vampire and the werewolf share some attributes in the sense that they can transform themselves into other things. And in some senses they become images, particularly in Greek culture of unbridled appetite. And particularly in Greek and Roman culture, you were supposed to control your appetite. So what we’re coming back down to here is the difference between being civilized and uncivilized. And I think that that’s why Dracula is interesting because he looks civilized on the surface, but actually underneath is deeply uncivilized and animalistic.
Ethan Winters (soundbite): That wasn’t your father anymore. You did the right thing.
Brendan: Why do we rely on monsters at all for our horror. There are plenty of ways that you can make a horror movie without an otherworldly creature. Why do we have to keep going back to these Halloween staples?
Tanya Krzywinska: One answer is that it’s branding. We all know the rules about the vampire. And so you can just tweak those rules. But fundamentally, I think there’s a more of a psychological answer to that too. In a way, what we’re doing is that we need means to visualize, symbolize the parts of ourselves that we keep in check. We need ways of symbolizing our own otherness. You know, for me as a teenager, I really identified with vampires, female vampires and that kind of stuff. And it was a way of kind of exploring your own identity and your own otherness. So I think monsters are absolutely part and parcel, hand in hand with the process of socialization. So as we become [older], we have to learn how to be polite and control our aggression and control our sexual appetite, all of these sorts of things. It means that something’s remaindered from that. And in a way, the figure of the monster represents that otherness that we have, we all have.
Brendan: So, um, do you think… when we see this new Resident Evil and there is a very tall grey-skinned woman hunting us… what is the game telling us here? Is it saying: be aware of your inner tall vampire person?
Tanya Krzywinska: [laughter] Well, I think it’s probably slightly more complicated than that.
Vampire daughter (soundbite): Mmmm, man blood!
Tanya Krzywinska: First of all, you’re being hunted by a worthy opponent, which games like to do, so that killing that or overcoming that monster feels like a satisfying thing rather than just kind of shooting cannon fodder. Also, of course, you’ve got the idea of the monstrous feminine… so being hunted by this figure that represents what might be repressed in culture is also a thing that’s going on there. But also the other thing is spectacle. By being hunted by a nine-foot, grey female monster, there is something intriguing about the image. It’s designed to delight the eye, to be spectacle, to be surprising. And also, of course, to create that novelty in relation to how one represents the vampire. Because we’ve had all sorts of vampires, we’ve had black vampires we’ve had gay vampires. So how are you reinventing the figure of the vampire? Particularly Dracula is often thought of as a very sort of patriarchal phallocentric kind of vampire? So this is sort of playing against that. But it does play into the criticism that, you know, that… there’s a kind of “gender economy” here where, you know, women are representing otherness.
Brendan: Tanya, thank you very much for joining us.
Tanya Krzywinska: I appreciate it. Thank you for listening to me talk.
Lady Dimitrescu: Yes, of course. I understand the importance of the ceremony. I won’t let you down.
Cara: You should get better jingles
Brendan: I don’t have jingles. I just take the sound effects from the games. And I use them as jingles.
Cara: Just, like a shotgun effect.
Brendan: That was Tanya Krzywinska professor at Falmouth University. If you want to hear a longer interview with her, in which she spoke to us about folk horror and other games that make use of folk horror, you can get that by becoming a supporter on Patreon for $2 a month. You’ll get unabridged interviews with all our experts, and you can subscribe at other tiers to get bonus episodes and bonus videos as well. But more than that, you’ll just be helping us run a nice ad-free show. So go to patreon.com/heylesson or click the link in the show notes to help us out. Cara.
Brendan: As a vampire enthusiast, what stood out most from Tanya’s observations? Like what is the thing she said that stuck out most?
Cara: I think for me, it’s interesting because she’s right when she says that the Gothic has an element of sexuality to it that people often forget about. I think the common, or very popular thing to say these days is that we should “get back to when vampires were scary monsters” and not figures of like, you know, romantic interest or seduction or anything. I don’t think there is a time where that has ever been true. Do you know what I mean? Like, it’s not there. They were never just a standup monster. They were never that. There’s this weird argument… especially guys are really annoyed that women have essentially sexualized vampires, but that’s not the case. Like before Bram Stoker’s Dracula, there was Carmilla, like we talked about where that’s just a lesbian vampire story. It’s very hot. You should definitely read it. And then, you know, Dracula himself was a sexualized figure. Like, I don’t think you could get away from that because the truth is when you read Dracula, you understand that his threat is sex, that he’s in love. And that he’s a monster because he’s a rich foreigner who wants to have sex with a British man’s wife. Like, that’s the threat. That’s the core threat of that story. So it’s really weird to try and remove the monstrous from the sexuality… And I think that’s really appropriate talking about the Big Lady, because I don’t think you can remove the idea that people are sexualizing her from the fact that she’s a monster. If you see what I mean.
Brendan: Yeah. I like how when she was first revealed, the developers Capcom basically acted surprised when everybody got really enthusiastic about her. They were like, “Oh, we didn’t realize that this large, tall vampire woman would be so intriguing to you all!”
Cara: Oh, okay Capcom. The people who make like Chung Lee’s massive thighs. They’re like, “Hmm. So surprised, it’s a surprise people are sexualizing this big woman!” Like, okay, we know that you know.
Brendan: You’ve written vampires in the past to be in video games and stuff. What are the essential things that a vampire needs in terms of their character? What should their personality be like?
Cara: Well, I think what’s really cool about vampires is that they are essentially at the intersection of a lot of humanity’s greatest fears. Right? So fears of the foreigner, like in Stoker’s Dracula, you know, coming to steal your woman. They’re kind of an evil sexuality. They also embody a fear of disease. So, people always level this argument that Anne Rice was essentially writing about HIV and AIDS transmission when she was writing her vampires. I don’t think that’s true, but I think in the 80s there was this very big fear of blood transmission and the fear of disease transmitted through blood. There’s also that ever-present – and very relevant currently – theme of the rich stockpiling and keeping money from the rest of society and leaving everyone to die outside. Still weirdly appropriate. So there is an intersection of all these fantastic themes. And so what’s really great to do is to tease those themes in different vampire characters. So you’ve got, you know, a vampire who might be a CEO, for example, who embodies that kind of a 1% rich [person] stockpiling stuff. And then you’ve got someone who’s very charismatic or seductive. You might have someone who’s a little bit more grody. They’re kind of the stand-in for disease. So, you know, there’s a lot of ways that you can use these themes in vampires to kind of tease out those things. They can be really useful for that…
Brendan: What vampire rules are your favorite? Like, what’s your favorite way to keep a vampire from getting near you or for defeating a vampire?
Cara: I think these rules very much vary across lots of different, you know, IPs and stories and stuff. Like for example, in True Blood – which I was actually watching yesterday because I did my preparation for this – for True Blood, the rules are that you can restrain a vampire by using silver, which is usually something that’s just for werewolves. But in the True Blood IP… they can be restrained by silver. And also they have to be invited into your house, which is a common one with vampires, but also in the True Blood universe you can “eject” them from your house, which I love. If you’ve had enough of them.
Brendan: So you just say “I’m uninviting you” like it’s a Facebook uninvite.
Cara: Yeah. Basically the funniest thing ever to me is like, oh, you know, if you’re having a party, and there’s a bunch of vampires and you’re suddenly a bit sleepy, you’re like “Everyone’s uninvited!” and they’re just wheeched out of the house. Oh no, I’ve gone too Scottish. Wheeched out of the house!
Brendan: They get yeeted out.
Cara: Yeeted, sorry. Yes. That’s the American form of wheeched. Yeah.
Brendan: The silver thing is interesting because there’s a [bad] movie called Dracula 2000 and the twist in that movie is that Dracula is Judas Iscariot. And he doesn’t like silver because of the 30 pieces of silver he got for betraying Jesus. Apparently he’s got a bad vibe from it from all those days ago.
Cara: Yeah, I mean, there’s loads of really good rules. Like in World of Darkness, you can put a vampire to sleep by staking them and they’re inert. And then if you take the sake out, they come back to life. So it’s basically a way of restraining them. And if you really want to get rid of a vampire you have to chop their head off essentially, or set them on fire. Fire always a popular rule. If you ever do meet a vampire, I think the best bet is setting them on fire, I would say. Obviously, you know, exposing them to sunlight is another hard and fast rule. But when you’re making a game, I would say, that’s the one thing that’s actually quite difficult is if you do have a day-night cycle, it’s actually quite boring during the day. So any game that tends to be about vampires, it tends to be a permanent state of night essentially. But obviously vampires, as a function in games, vampires need blood, right? And they need that to stay or have a full health bar. And so that’s another interesting one. It becomes a resource in the game, that you are sucking people’s blood. And I think that’s interesting from a game mechanic perspective because it’s essentially… you constantly need to be topping up your blood and therefore it really kind of makes you think about, well, if you were actually a vampire, it would be extraordinarily inconvenient, especially if you had a sense of morality, to have to always be seeking blood. Which is why I think the original Bloodlines, some of the best stuff was centered around the blood bank where you can just persuade the guy at the desk, or pay him off or whatever, to let you in and just drink all of their stock because it was the easiest thing to do. So, yeah, that’s an interesting game mechanic as well, the idea of sucking blood.
Brendan: So you do agree with Tanya whenever she says that it’s definitely more fun and more interesting to be the vampire in a video game.
Cara: Yeah, I would definitely say so. Mainly because, I mean supernatural beings are that, you know, they are supernatural and generally speaking, video games exaggerate the ability of humans to be able to regenerate or heal, right? So in Resident Evil all he does is like, you know, pops open a bottle of, I don’t know, medicated liquid, stuffs it all over himself. And like magically his hand is fine and you’re like, God, Ethan… how is this possible? I think something else is definitely going on with Ethan, but… even in, you know, army shooters or whatever you got this superhuman guy, who can take at least three bullets before he’s dead. And you’re like, okay, the first bullet would have you on the floor.
Brendan: Do you think games, as absurd as they are, have done vampires as good as other media? Like does the best written vampire in TV or movies or books have anything on, you know, the best vampires in video games?
Cara: That’s an interesting one. I would say I do think Interview wit a Vampire is probably one of, if not the best, vampire movie. But honestly I feel like the first Bloodlines game is probably not only one of the best portrayals of vampires ever, but I also think probably one of the best written games of all time. The quests and the writing are just top-notch stuff. I mean, apart from the last quarter of it, which is not so good. You just get stuck in a sewer basically. And there is also like, uh… there’s a wereshark. Which… How could you not love a wereshark?
Brendan: I’m pretty sure there’s going to be a wereshark of some description later in this Resident Evil game.
Cara: Me and Brian Mitsoda would sort of constantly joke that we would make up a character, “the return of the wereshark” or whatever. But actually it’s really sad and melancholy because he’s dying of cancer and, you know, his girlfriend just dumped him and…
Brendan: Oh my God.
Cara: Yeah. Because we wanted to make him like this character who you really, really feel for. But it was just a joke. We never actually, truly wanted to do that. But also just the idea of the first game having this wereshark was very funny to us. Honestly, I feel like the first Bloodlines is just so good, mainly because of the way it uses the mechanics, but it also is very much into the kind of modern idea of vampires. So instead of the Dracula idea of vampires, the modern idea of vampires is more that they are mainly just very narcissistic, very charismatic people, right? And they’re there to manipulate and abuse you. I think the first Bloodlines uses that kind of idea of vampires being socially very manipulative very well because a lot of the dialogue choices were geared towards, I guess, the way that you choose to navigate conversations. So do you persuade people? Do you bribe them? Do you seduce them? Do you make them hallucinate that there’s worms all over themselves? Like, there’s like a bunch of different ways you can use your vampire skills to convince people of something. And there’s a “dominate” skill as well, where it’s like a Jedi mind trick where you just get people to do your bidding. And there’s lots of different mechanical ways that the dialogue is really interesting to work with.
Brendan: We’ve mentioned Interview with a Vampire and the two characters in that, uh, Louis and Lestat. And Tanya mentioned it as well. Do you prefer your vampires Louis’ or Lestats? Like, blood-sucking monster vampires? Or gentle, tortured soul? What’s the best vampire?
Cara: I think you can’t have one without the other, because I think the contrast is more interesting. God what a fence-sitting answer. But honestly the variety of the two is what makes vampires so interesting. I guess to a certain extent Lestat does have a bit of the Louis kind of attitude in him. I think in The Vampire Lestat, he’s very navel-gazing, but also a pop star, very outgoing as well as being quite introverted and philosophical. Although I think at one point he… I think he persuades a nun that she should have sex with him. So, obviously he’s not a very good person, not that introspective. But yeah, she broke her vows and obviously regretted that one. But who hasn’t been there?
Brendan: Who hasn’t been a nun?
Cara: … seduced by a vampire.
Brendan: I know the games that you’ve worked on veer more towards RPG and sci-fi and stuff, but as a writer, what do you think is the best way to make a player scared?
Cara: So the best way to make her a player scared is to actually not show them the monster.
Cara: I know that sounds very simplistic and that’s actually why I don’t really like Village as much as I wanted to. Because there’s all monsters all the time in Village. And I don’t feel as scared. There are… more jump scares in Village than there were in previous ones, but I think they’ve gone much more… They’ve veered way more into Resident Evil 4 territory with this game because I think they got feedback from Resident Evil 7 that people were too scared, I guess. Like, too scared by it. And there isn’t really that much that goes on in Resident Evil 7. If you think about it in terms of monsters and suchlike. It’s not very populated as a game, but it is really scary. And I think that’s because they’re using a lot of audio design, creaky floorboards or bizarre noises in the background or unsettling soundtracks to make you feel like something’s there, which is something they do in Silent Hill, especially. Silent Hill 2 is very good at that because there’s basically nothing in Silent Hill. You might see one or two random monsters, but most of it is just fog. So yeah, I definitely feel like less is more in horror. And actually I think what I tend to do when I iterate on horror levels is essentially put all the stuff in the beginning to see what’s effective and then start taking stuff away. So basically, it’s all in the edit with horror. So you remove scares and the other scares become more scary. If you see what I mean.
Brendan: I agree with you. Like I say, I’ve only played a few hours and it was really unsettling to begin with because I think the opening of Resident Evil Village, you’re basically trudging through the countryside over a little bridge. You see dead crows, dead fish. You can hear things around you, yeah, but you don’t know what they are. And your field of vision is really small, so you can’t even see anything, but it gets replaced very quickly with action and silliness.
Cara: Yeah. And another thing that slightly bugs me about that is that I think that Resident Evil 4 gets the balance right. The balance in Resident Evil 4 is shooting gallery style. But there are long periods of time where there’s nothing. And that contrast itself is actually what unsettles you and scares you. So actually I think, in a way, Resident Evil f4 is also more effective at being able to make you feel fear, or tension. I guess “tension” is a better word for it in Resident Evil 4. Because it’s not really horror. It’s more schlocky than that. But I think honestly it is definitely about pacing as well. So that pacing is not quite as massaged in Village. Probably because they made it in not very much time at all. So it’s quite admirable that they made it at all. But I think that it is essentially a game that could do with a little bit more pacing in terms of it’s quite a small village. And so they packed in a lot of stuff basically.
Brendan: Tanya said that Gothic storytelling is more subtle than outright horror. Are there any games that are kind of Gothic, but aren’t necessarily horror?
Cara: Oh, that’s a really good question. I don’t know. Gothic is more subtle. It’s a little more sexy, isn’t it? It’s got a tension that is sometimes about bodies and eroticism. I mean, I think that there are aspects of the original Resident Evils that were gothic. You know, the fixed camera angle ones?
Cara: Mainly because they often use things like shadows of mannequins, or statues, especially the usage of statues in Resident Evil, early especially, I think were very Gothic because you know… remember in, I think it was in Resident Evil 2, you are putting the arm of a statue back on this woman so that you can get an item. A lot of body parts, like random body parts, and especially eroticized body parts or body parts of women or things like that. They’re very Gothic, I think because they are unsettling and slightly sexy in a bizarre way, I think. Yeah. I think there’s definitely a sense in the earlier ones that they are subtler and they’re using less to scare you more. It’s usually perspective. I think that scares you a lot more. I don’t know. Can you think of any?
Brendan: I couldn’t think of any that’s why I have you here.
Cara: Oh, wow. Okay. Well, I’m glad I thought of something because otherwise I’d look very silly.
Brendan: All right. That’s all we have time for for this episode, I’m afraid. You’ve been listening to Hey Lesson with me, Brendan, and our guest this month, Cara Ellison. Thank you very much for joining us, Cara.
Cara: Thank you. It was fun.
Brendan: If listeners have enjoyed your patter, is there anywhere else that they can hear that or follow you online or see what you’re up to?
Cara: Indeed. So we – me and Davey Wreden of the Stanley Parable fame – we do a podcast called The Inspirational Quarterly. It’s a very bizarre podcast where we are currently reading through an epic called StarCraft: Ghost: Nova by Keith R. A. DeCandido, which is a book that was written to come out with the canceled game. StarCraft: Ghost: Nova. And it’s the only inkling and insight you might get into what that particular cancelled game looks like. But also we’re reading about four pages a week and dissecting what’s in there, just for fun. So, if you want to come and listen to that, just search for the Inspirational Quarterly on the Googles and Cara, Ellison, I guess, and it’ll pop up. And it is really good, I promise.
Brendan: I’ll put a link to it as well. Okay. If you’ve enjoyed this episode, please consider supporting us. We don’t have any ads or sponsors. So every bit of help counts. Visit patreon.com/heylesson or click the link in our show notes to keep us going from the shadows. Some of the dark anti-heroes who keep us going include fearful Lord Bok Choy, Count Horrendamonas, and eternal terror of the night, Milk Is Gross And Bad For You. That’s it. That’s another episode. Thanks once again to you Cara for coming on and talking about this stuff.
Cara: No problem. It was fun. It’s my specialist subject.
Brendan: And to everyone out there, thank you for lessoning. Goodbye!
Villagers praying (soundbite): As the midnight moon rises on black wings, so we make our sacrifice, and await the light at the end. In life and in death, we give glory, Mother Miranda…
Cara: Do you say “lessoning”?
Brendan: Yes. It’s the catchphrase!
Cara: Okay. Wow.
Brendan: They’re lessoners, and they lesson.
Cara: Oh, I see.