Horror is all about abstraction. Abstraction of trauma, of kink, of history and so on. It is about abstraction because of the timelessness of its imagery, whose perversity, ironically, is presented through some sort of iconoclasm: horror is all about the unseen, the unpredictable. Its equally true concerning body horror’s mutilation, that is to say, what you see when you’re not able to see a body as such anymore. We can identify our own body in those massacred ones, even when they seem unrecognizable. Moreover, they are an abstraction of corporeality itself.
That’s why I’m so reticent about some horror games. They usually want to show everything with a sloppy sense of morbidity, relying on detail and seeking for a realistic finish, as if truthfulness was inherently scary by itself. It isn’t that easy, though. We’ve already seen everything, we are not susceptible anymore. Video games tendency towards hyper realism is nothing new, nor is it the best way to impact players—or anyone, really—nowadays. Most of us have been over-exposed to explicit violence to the point of numbness. Like the so-called jump scares, these technological curlicues are impressive for a limited amount of time. Those levels of accuracy give no room for uncertainty at all.
FAITH is, however, the opposite of everything I’ve just described. Its disquietude doesn’t come out of technique fetishism, but quite the opposite: this game emulates the obscurity of an ancient past by mimicking old, widely forgotten systems from the present. Because looking back is, in most cases, way more unsettling than looking forward, regarding both time and space. Facing the past implies confronting a delusive sense of familiarity; the otherness of our own memory. Turning back is scary, whether it means being ambushed by a monster or revisiting the games we used to love back in the day.
In fact, nostalgia is a recurrent topic in games, although not many of them handle it as self-consciously as they should. Sometimes, as for contemporary pixel art games in a large extent, it lends a loose understanding of the past; the joy of the old days uncritically taken for granted. Not that I am specifically against it, though, but I believe in dealing with nostalgia’s implications thoughtfully and not as pure marketing, as something external to the game itself; as a source of exploitation rather than experimentation.
Nevertheless, FAITH‘s self-imposed technological limitations are attached to the very essence of the game: since our memory is terribly short, we find these Spectrum-esque graphics obscure and confrontational, fundamentally abstract from a contemporary perspective, far away from anywhere we know and yet, somehow familiar. But it isn’t the abstraction of a tree, reduced to a bunch of pixels, what arouses this ubiquitous sense of estrangement whatsoever. It is indeed something way more universal than that. It is the abstraction of a place, the translation of our space logic into a digital framework, what this game uses to build its atmosphere.
Since the game has a reduced amount of screens, it makes them feel almost identical, as part of the whole that is a forest, so you’re unable to create patterns; to unravel and delimit the woods. You can’t possibly reach the end of the forest since it is cyclical, and this technical barrier nurtures the feeling of being lost in an oniric place where anything could happen.
Something common in horror games is relying on camera angles based on a simulated sight to induce tension. These games want you to get inside them, to turn the screen into your eyes with a perverted scopophilia as the ultimate axis of their design. Some succeed and some don’t, but what is really conspicuous is their attempt to kidnap your corporeality so they can play with it for as long as they want.
Nonetheless, FAITH is a game of a different nature. Horror isn’t its raison d’etre but the way it explores its main theme—that is, obviously, faith.
The camera of this game places the player in the distance, more precisely, above the scenery. You don’t know who that priest is, or even if this person is actually a priest, but you do know for sure you two are wholly different entities. In FAITH, you are nothing but a force moving the priest, guiding him. Of course, the range of actions is limited to your aptitudes: besides leading him from one point to another, which by itself its a powerful dynamic silenced by its conventionality, you can also use a crucifix to drive demons away. Pressing the space bar to raise a crucifix is probably one of the most radical abstractions of faith I’ve ever seen. It is, in fact, the only thing you can cling to; the only thing you can rely on to survive in the game.
This exploration of spirituality culminates with a final decision. Your crucifix is replaced with a gun you can use to shoot different abstractions of the way you want the priest to experience faith. And even though I don’t like the Manichaeism surrounding the ending, the scenes you get depending on what creature you decided to kill configure the avatar’s identity. He may turn out to be and impostor or a vile murderer regardless of faith. It is no excuse, ever. But in the end, faith is all about the unseen, the unpredictable. No wonder it is such a strong horror theme.