Haunting Ground: The wrong kind of creepy

At first, the premise of Haunting Ground just seems hilariously sexist.

In other survivor horror games like the Resident Evil series, you get to blow up zombies with awesome weapons. In Haunting Ground, the main character is a girl, so naturally her power is … to run away.

It’s not funny for long. As you get a little ways into the game, what seems like a slight exaggeration on the usual video game sexism turns out to be a creepy sadism that makes you feel dirty for playing.

You play Fiona Belli, a teenager who was taken from a car crash and trapped in a castle. She solves mindless puzzles and runs from Debilitas, a “mentally troubled” hulk who looks like the long-lost brother of Sloth from Goonies.

Here’s where it gets creepy. In newer survival horror games, the camera angles are either controllable or give a mostly first-person view. But Haunting Ground uses the old fixed camera angles that change depending on where the character is on the screen. This makes it seem like you’re watching the action from afar on a vast network of security cameras.

What is it that you’re watching? Fiona starts out wearing nothing but a satin sheet. In the computer-generated introduction, the thing looks slit up to her armpit and almost reveals a crotch shot. She soon gets some clothes, but they consist of a hooker’s knee-high boots and a form-fitting Renaissance Festival blouse with a skirt that just barely covers her butt.

She runs around in this wisp of an outfit, and whenever she stops while facing the camera her breasts jiggle for a moment. When Debilitas catches Fiona, he knocks her over. Sometimes he pounds away at her with his fists; sometimes he falls on her while she lies on her stomach in a panic. Either way, the implications are grim: Someone’s watching this hot young thing get hunted down and beaten to death or raped.

I haven’t played far enough into the game to know whether this sadistic voyeurism is part of the plot, but the incongruous attempts at sexual humor make it hard to believe the developers did it on purpose. When Fiona tries on her clothes she thinks, “It really clings to my shape quite nicely. Although it feels a little tight in the chest area.” When she finds a bathroom, she says, “The toilets in the castle are … communal? Guess I’ll try holding it in for now.”

That’s how tonally deaf the developers are: A pee joke, in this context, reminds us that at some point Fiona will go to the bathroom — and someone will be watching.

Oh yeah, and Fiona meets a dog that supposedly adds another element to the gameplay, but whatever. I didn’t get that far and don’t want to.

I hope this was just a bad decision to see how a Japanese “girl power” title would work in the United States. Ignorance is one thing; intentionally releasing a snuff film video game would be far worse.

— December 3, 2005

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