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Posted by Gina Freitag
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Player 2, Emily Flynn-Jones

We’re gearing up for our next event on April 13th! Co-hosts Evan Millar (Rue Morgue games editor) and Kaitlin Tremblay (Dames Making Games) will be discussing the dark side of the games industry with a look at its horror history to present in “Pixels ‘n Peril” (tickets available now!).

In the meantime, meet some of the local players in the games industry here in Toronto, and find out what game scares they’re haunted by.

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Meet: Emily Flynn-Jones, game designer, scholar & social entrepreneur

What’s your preferred system/platform?
Nintendo for life! My Famicon is my most treasured possession.

What first drew you to horror video games?
While growing up a huge horror film and book fan, I didn’t much like horror games. I remember there being a nice, nervous sort of pleasure doing pass-and-play of the first Resident Evil with friends when I would actively try to die when it got too scary so that the next player had to deal with the situation. I didn’t really start playing horror games until grad school, when I began doing research on death in video games. Many types of games – almost all, in fact – feature death, but horror is particularly rich for analysis in terms of the way that it represents dead and undead bodies. My studies helped me find my kind of horror games. I still don’t particularly care for a lot of survival horror games, but I do have a penchant for quirky horror (Gregory Horror Show, Night in the Woods, Eversion, Earthbound/Mother 2), absurd/B horror (OneeChanbara, Earth Defence Force, Zombie Virus, Splatter Master), and more psychological games (Gone HomeDeadly Premonition, Home, Doki Doki Literature Club, Catherine, The Doll Shop).

Tell us a bit about a game/project you recently worked on.
My personal game design practice is about exploring emotions and it’s a way of dealing with my issues. I recently released Swallow, a short interactive fiction about the daily difficulties and anxieties of living with disordered eating, as well as a game featuring witchcraft about an abusive relationship, desires of escape, and revenge, called Curses. In many ways, these games are about my personal horrors and traumas, and invite players to engage with difficult feelings. I am about to start work on a game in collaboration with Consent is Golden and Advocates For A Student Culture of Consent (ASCC) about consent.

What is your favourite horror video game, and why?
I am going to offer an odd answer here but stick with me. My favourite horror game is Animal Crossing. Seriously, hear me out. In these games, you arrive in a new village, spend way too long thinking about what to name the village, immediately go into massive homeowner debt, do a ton of unpaid labour to improve town amenities, get duped into terrible trades with your neighbours, take over curation responsibilities for the local museum with absolutely zero experience, pick so many weeds and plant a million flowers, move said flowers ‘coz you kinda don’t like where you put them initially, sometimes get stung by bees or bitten by spiders, go into more debt to get a house extension, take emotional care of the weirdos around town, get sexually harassed by the local ferryman, overpay for EVERYTHING and never stop or everything dies and it’s all your fault. Some of the adorable-seeming villagers are actually totally freaky. A bear named Cherie lived with me for a while and was saying the strangest shit to me, so I started eavesdropping on her conversations with other residents and she was being a total jerk to them, affecting their mood. You can also play the game like a jerk. If you don’t like a villager, no problem. Just buy a hammer thing and hit them with it until they move out. You can plant ‘pitfall seeds’ and wait for someone to walk over it, fall into a hole, and become deeply distressed. You can also fashion your town into a post-apocalyptic hell-hole using a combination of Halloween themed furniture and shirking your duties. In the Happy Home Designer spin-off game, I had the best time creating a rather excellent version of The Overlook Hotel, complete with creepy twins.

What I’m saying is, Animal Crossing makes you live in a town full of monsters, and the game is one, too. I could not be more excited for the release of the newest instalment later this year.

Who is your favourite horror video game character, and why?
I love all of the sisters in The Path by Tale of Tales. This adaptation of Little Red Riding Hood has a unique and nuanced cast of characters playing variants of the role of Red. They have such distinct personalities as well as desires, which you explore as you walk through the woods with them. If pushed to name a favourite, it would probably be Ruby. She is the teenage goth me: super into death and decay, morbid thinking and pessimistic but, also importantly, disabled. I don’t see a lot of representation of physical disability in games – bodies that look like mine – and I simply love to watch her hitched walk. Each sister in the game has their ‘wolf’ and hers would probably be mine too, but you should play it to find out what I mean by that.

What horror video game(s) has/have the most effective scares?
Survival horror is terrifying to me. I actually fail to finish most that I start. So much of the pleasure of games is predicated on power fantasies and player agency while a convention of the survival horror games is about taking control and power away from the player. In these types of games, you are often armed with little or nothing while in constant peril, so running away (or in my case, turning off the console) is frequently your only recourse. Fatal Frame is my favourite series of this type in which you have only a camera in a haunted place and taking pictures does damage to hostile ghosts while capturing a still moment of terror. The proximity and angles of shots determine the damage dealt to malevolent spirits, while photographing friendly ghosts reveals their history. While the series uses the generic disempowerment strategy, it also has a novel mechanic which kept me engaged.

I do, however, think there is more to ‘good’ horror games than scares. I love horror when it reflects cultural anxieties or represents internal conflict, and these are the type of games that have the most impact on me. Games like Night in the Woods and Gone Home, for instance, offer thought-provoking, emotional experiences through glimpses into the psyche of their protagonists, and I would definitely like to see more horror games in this vein.

What horror video games are you currently playing?
I am currently playing Pony Island. Perhaps not the most obvious title for a horror game, but it is delightfully messed up. When you begin, it looks like you are going to play an adorable retro arcade game, but this game is malfunctioning and sentient. The actual gameplay consists of fighting the corrupted game system through a series of wicked computationally inspired puzzles. It is a weird one to be sure, and I am rather enjoying it.

Where can people follow you/your work online?
You can find out more about the work I am doing on my website emilyflynnjones.com and follow me on Twitter: @finalfinalgirl

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