Immersion aspects in Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem

Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem is a Nintendo GameCube videogame developed by Silicon Knights, and it was released in 2002. The title was marketed as a psychological horror game due to its sanity-related mechanics.

Eternal Darkness tells the story of Alexandra Roivas, a woman who must uncover the truth behind her grandfather´s gruesome death. She travels to his mansion, the crime scene; here she finds the Tome of Eternal Darkness. While reading the chapters of this book (all of which are playable segments) she discovers an ancient supernatural conspiracy that has extended to her present. She must prevent a powerful godlike being from being summoned to earth and bring about the eternal darkness.

The game mechanics are those of exploration and puzzle solving, it also mixes melee combat and magic usage (through a rock-paper-scissors system). One of the defining characteristics is the inclusion of the “sanity meter”, that indicates the mental health of each of the characters; when this bar is low, the player will experience hallucinations such as hordes of monsters coming to attack, blood coming out of the walls and audio disturbances (loud steps that are not yours or painful screaming).

Eternal Darkness is a title that prides itself on its immersive qualities; the following will point out how this game complies (or does not) with Murray’s five immersion aspects.

IMMERSIVE VISIT

Murray compares the immersive property of the visit to that of a fun house, and though Eternal Darkness might have aspects of this they work in much less obvious ways. The limits of the “entrance” and the “exit” are not clear, at least not in the beginning; while we know that the game starts at our command, we do not know where the narrative will take us. Only well into the story we find out our complete mission and can estimate where the “exit” might be.

Another element of the immersive visit is the randomization of obstacles on the path. Eternal Darkness abides by a very tight script and these obstacles, though preserving their surprise element will not become a random occurrence: they will happen at the same moment in future replays. Sanity effects however can appear anywhere in the game and will catch the player off guard a couple of times if they are not aware of their sanity meter.

Following Murray’s guidelines, Eternal Darkness meshes narrative with the visit: the performance of the objects and obstacles are triggered by the player’s presence.

CREATION OF BELIEF

The creation of belief element in Eternal Darkness goes only as far as the internalization of the game’s reality; after we are used to the rules and can, as Murray points out, keep track of many things going on in the game while being immersed in the narrative, there is little room for any kind of creation. Eternal Darkness has, at this point, created all the elements for us to follow and we are limited by the rigid narrative.

THE MASK

This element is not used at all in the present game. Eternal Darkness does not allow for a role-changing experience, we cannot customize our character and their decision making; all twelve characters are set and well documented within the game’s lore. Their personalities are not ours to shape. There is no way to keep part of our personalities (one the key characteristics of the Mask according to Murray) while playing the characters in this world.

ROLES

The most important element in Eternal Darkness is without a doubt this one. The sense of purpose engrained in the game comes from its heavy reliance on narrative elements; after all, you are enacting what Alexandra Roivas reads from an ancient book.

Murray defines the creation of character profiles as combination of background story and game goals, and this is exactly how Eternal Darkness operates. Each chapter comes with a new hero or anti-hero, their goals will be read, and the linearity of the game will mark their paths.

An interesting characteristic mentioned by Murray is the set of “small sealed envelopes”; this is a very recurrent element in Eternal Darkness. Characters motivations and goals will become apparent once they are important, before this, it is a guessing game. The main heroine, the one who reads the book, will always find new goals in her (playable) reality in accordance to the stories she has just read from the Eternal Darkness Tome.

Another accomplishment in the element of Role is how the game narrative encompasses 12 different stories in a grand final mission, bringing all small stories together where all motivations and goals are clear: the Ancient god must be stopped in the present.

AROUSAL

Eternal Darkness uses its narrative to present arousal. It is a linear and scripted adventure. However, the use of dramatic arcs and appeal to player’s emotions greatly enhances the immersion.

Each chapter usually ends with the demise of the playable character at the time; this gives the player a sense of reality, or as Murray points out: a sense of confusion or discomfort. Following this, the world of the game is usually scary and filled with perils, and the player will never feel too safe, even when using their full powers. Furthermore, Eternal Darkness sanity mechanics create several disruptions in the game goals, leaving the player to tackle a new, sometimes unexpected, obstacle.

Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem is often remembered as one of the most    immersive games to come in the previous generation of home consoles. The game does not fully use all of Murray’s immersion aspects, but it is clear that it does not need to. It can be concluded that games that rely on linear narratives to create immersion will sacrifice certain of the mentioned participation aspects in favor of story-telling.

Murray, J.H. (1997). Hamlet on the Holodeck. New York: Free Press, pp. 108-199.

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