Whither Canada? The Bold Frontier of Canadian Horror
I'm not sure at what point I consciously became aware that Outlast was a video game created by Canadians, but I know that I subconsciously arrived at that conclusion much, much earlier. There was just something about the name, something about the style, something about the way it was promoted.
That probably sounds illogical, and not without reason. What, after all, IS Canadian? It's a question that is more often answered by negative-space than by any concrete response. Canada is NOT full of igloos. Canada is NOT quite as South Park depicts it. Most importantly, Canada is NOT America.
Is it really, though? Suggest to any redblooded Canadian that we are in essence America Junior and you'll be about to get a boot up your ass, yes, but to the world at large, and indeed to the massive numbers of people who claim dual citizenship, work across the border, or even just maintain dedicated time shares in Arizona, there's not too much difference. We share similar cultural values - freedom, liberty, all that good stuff - wear the same clothes, talk the same language, play the same sports, hate the same people, and love to vacation in the same places.
There are, of course, slight differences in our political systems (Red Vs. Blue in the USA, Red. Vs. Blue. Vs. Orange Vs. Green Vs. Bloc o' Cheese in Canada), or our systems of measurement (bonkers outdated childlike terms in the USA, sensible standards of 10 in Canada), or our music (we'll apologize for Justin Bieber if you apologize for Rebecca Black), to name a few key areas. But what, most crucially, about our horror?
In film, it's actually easy to point to at least two genre-defining moments that came out of the great white north. The first, Black Christmas, was a 1974 movie that is frequently pointed to as the progenitor of the slew of slasher (and holiday-themed) movies that populated the 70s and 80s. Its influence is seen in films like Halloween and Scream. The second moment is actually a person, and his name evokes a sense of awe and respect in any horror aficionado: David Cronenberg. Bow before his mastery of the subgenre known as body horror.
But extending a distinct Canadian flavour to video games is a bit more challenging. To be sure, there are highlights of the genre with Canadian origins, and Outlast is definitely one of them, but nothing precisely genre-DEFINING. Eternal Darkness is another Canadian great, from St. Catharine's, ON based publisher Silicon Knights. Eternal Darkness definitely added some true north flavour in the form of a Canadian firefighter operating in Kuwait following the first Gulf War. Outlast, however, is outwardly American: an American protagonist, in an American setting. The only physical clue to its Canuck origins is some random French scribblings found throughout the insane asylum the game takes place in.
Perhaps it's unfair to demand that "Canadian" horror emerge via a genre-defining moment in video games. That being the case, is there some other criteria by which we could say that something feels "Canadian." Setting, perhaps. In that case, we need look no further than D2, on the Sega Dreamcast, which takes place in the Canadian wilderness. In a way, nothing seems more appropriate for a horror setting in Canada. If we are indeed defined by what we are not, there is no greater negative space than the Canadian wilderness.
There are 30 million Canadians, and we occupy approximately 10% of Canada. There is literally so much nothing in this country that vanishing into the wilderness here is something rather easily achieved. So perhaps the truest Canadian horror game of all is The Forest, an indie game that - you guess it - takes place in a Canadian forest AND was created by a Canadian publisher.
The bold frontier awaits us, fellow Canucks. Let us stride into our collective nothingness and plumb the dark depths of our country's soul.
For video games!