Canon Proposal Essay: Resident Evil

Video Game Canon Essay: Resident Evil

Elaine Dorr

            When something makes a significant change in who we are as a culture it is our responsibility to save it so we know where our views came from and how certain pieces of information, literature, art, etc. have affected us. We do this in several ways, one of which is to add it to some sort of canon. This philosophy should be applied not only to written or painted works but also to electronic works as well. Video games, for example, can affect how we are culturally defined as much as books and art works and therefore should be able to be canonized. One game series in particular that has had an impact on our culture is Resident Evil. This series should be canonized because has shaped several gaming genres, brought these genres into the public’s attention.

The Resident Evil series consists of shooter games, with the targets being zombies. The series includes first person shooters, third person shooters, and side scrolling games. The series is based off of a story about a pharmaceutical company, Umbrella, working in the biological warfare field. They created a virus that turns people into zombies but is capable of creating other B.O.W.’s ( bio-organic weapons). The plot line of the series started with dealing with the original outbreaks but has moved on to other bio-weapon threats involving previous main characters of the series.

The games used these characteristics in new ways to both immerse the player more fully in the game and to add a level of familiarity and with it fear. The conditions in the game were more life like in that they are plausible were the situation, in this case a zombie outbreak, to occur if the player were to stretch their mind and suspend their disbelief just a little. For instance, the player’s character was relatively weak compared to other games. This point is brought up in an academic journal dealing with video games named Game Studies, “He notes the ‘survival horror’ genre. In games such as Resident Evil, Silent Hill or Fatal Frame, the player is not the near-invincible soldier that is so common in other games.” ( Dean, Introduction), the author points out that in most other genres of games the player assumes the role of a character that could, especially in more “everyday” situations, be considered over powered. In fact the character in Resident Evil could be considered almost fragile in a sense. Another aspect of this type of game play is a limiting of resources, players are only able to collect a limited number of health and weapon related items over the course of the game. This is magnified by the fact that, especially in the earlier games, the character could hold a severely limited number of items and this had to include quest items and ink ribbons used for saving. This restriction of resources, especially the inventory system or how much the character can carry, can make the character more vulnerable and thus the game more frightening and potentially memorable as well as relatable.

Due to the Resident Evil’s ( the first game in the series) popularity, success, and its “new” approach to the horror genre a new word was created to describe the specific “flavor” the game brought to horror. This meant that Resident Evil brought about the name of the genre that contained the characteristics it exemplified so well: Survival Horror.  In fact, as written an article on the history of the series, the producers of the game even came up with the term, “One of the more subtle and important contributions Capcom made was the term “survival horror” itself.” (Fahs,4). This series has not only helped to shape and popularize survival horror, but has even given it a name. This should, by itself, mean that the game should be remembered and kept on some sort of record so we do not lose the knowledge of the game that played a huge part in giving us the term survival horror.

The series later moved away from it’s survival horror roots into other subgenres of horror. The more recent games moved towards simple shooters with zombies, with an emphasis on the cinematic more than the simple concept of “will you survive or not?”. They no longer have the almost cripplingly small inventory system. The games also no longer require that quest items be held in the character’s inventory as well as no longer requiring the, almost iconic, ink ribbon be carried around to save. The characters are also no longer as “fragile” as they were before, even if they are smaller they have some sort of, usually fairly intense, combat training. Finally, The game mechanics themselves tend more towards showy acrobatics and feats of strength that more than likely would be all but impossible to achieve especially with out injury.   In reaction to this shift the creator of the original game, Shinji Mikami, has said during an interview with Computer and Video Games a little about what he thinks of the shift: “When I saw the trailer for 6, it looks as though it’s more like a Hollywood action film than a zombie game.” (Robson,1). Mr. Mikami’s view point again reiterating Resident Evil’s shift to a more cinematic centric and less realistic and relatable game play. This shift in game play in the series has caused Capcom to, once again, name a genre that they believed Resident Evil was entering and defining,  “Capcom would agree, because according to executive producer Hiroyuki Kobayashi, RE6 is being called “dramatic horror.”(Dutka, par. 3).  In essence, Resident Evil has had a hand in both naming and defining two subgenres of horror.

Horror is not the only genre that has been affected by the series. While trying to make a game to follow Resident evil 3: Nemesis the team working on the project decided that the game had strayed to far from what Resident Evil should be “it proved to be a radical departure from the established Resident Evil formula and the survival horror genre in general. Rather than abandon the project entirely, the premise was changed and it eventually became the first Devil May Cry.” (Devil May cry (series), series origin). The game was perceived as less based around limited resources and everyday “weak” characters, in essence survival horror, and more towards combat based on large combos and abnormal strength or acrobatics. This game, titled Devil May Cry, gave rise to the genre of “ extreme combat”. So, because this game and genre began as a part of Resident Evil, the genre of extreme combat, and our ideas of it, are indirectly influenced by Resident Evil.

Resident Evil has had a part in presenting to the greater public elements of game play that with out it might still be less common in the media. Not only this but it has influenced three game genres, one of which is not horror. It has also become a part of and changed the horror culture through it effects on the genres it encompasses. To reiterate, this series should be canonized because it has helped to name and define several parts of gaming and horror culture. It’s contributions should be remembered and kept in some form if only so that we understand in the future where the influences came from that made our culture what it is.




Dean, Phillip D.“Interactivity, Inhabitation and Pragmatist Aesthetics”. Game Studies 11.2 (May            2011). Web. November 2, 2012.

“Devil May Cry (Series)”. Wikia. N.d. Web. November 2, 2012.

Dutka, Ben. “ Capcom labels Resident Evil 6 as ‘Dramatic Horror’”. PSX extreme. January 26,    2012. Web. November 2, 2012.

Fahs, Travis. “IGN Presents the History of Survival Horror”. IGN. October 30, 2009. Web.         November 2, 2012.

Robson, Daniel. “Shinji Mikami interview: ‘To be told Japanese games suck is a bit harsh’”          Computer and Video Games. July 17, 2012. Web. November 2, 2012.



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