COG Considers: Ghost Me, You Cowards
Today on COG Considers, let’s talk about ghosts. Specifically, why more video games should let you play as one. Oh, sure, titles like Phasmophobia and Ghosts n’ Goblins feature ghosts prominently, but the spooks aren’t playable, so I’m not satisfied. Come on! Left 4 Dead let us play as zombies, Carrion let us play as a horrifying blob monster, and Bioshock 2 let us play as a giant cyborg super soldier stuck in a diving suit. All of these things are much harder to build a plot around than a restless spirit, so why are there so few games which let you play as a ghost? Not only do ghosts come with built-in motivation–gotta have some reason they’ve stuck around on earth–they come with a great opportunity to experiment with visual and sound design, add in weird (and spooky!) game mechanics, and can completely change the way players engage with the game’s genre and themes. After all, everything changes once you bring death into the picture, even if death isn’t the end.
I’m not trying to say that there aren’t any games that make ghosts playable. Murdered: Soul Suspect tasked players with possessing suspects to solve the protagonist’s own murder. Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective did a fantastic job of building a plot around the unfinished business of several ghosts and threw in some top-notch haunting mechanics and identity shenanigans for good measure. The upcoming Wonhon: A Vengeful Spirit promises to let us play as the kind of furious stringy-haired ghost girl that stars in so much Asian horror, and I’m definitely looking forward to seeing how it all plays out. But these games are few and far between, even though there are a ton of games about ghosts.
Why aren’t there a lot of ghostly protagonists in gaming? Maybe it’s because incorporating death and undeath into gameplay is hard. We can’t all be Raziel from Legacy of Kain, for whom dying in-game was mostly just a forced shift into the spirit realm. Some games want to actually punish failure. That’s fair, but I would argue that having the protagonist be dead to begin with doesn’t mean that failure can’t be punished. As Wonhon shows, a dead protagonist can still be hunted by supernatural threats and potentially subjected to a fate worse than death. There’s a reason we have so many stories about tormented spirits that are never able to find peace, after all. Beyond that, not all games have such a brutal approach. I want to see puzzle games about ghosts piecing together the mysteries of their pasts. RPGs where dead heroes refuse to stop fighting. A reverse P.T. where you play as Lisa and must make your murderer pay. Even dating sims where you get to know other ghosts and learn about history while smooching some spooks.
Come on, developers, stop being afraid. Ghosts go with everything!