“Evil comes to all us men of imagination wearing as its mask all the virtues.” – William Butler Yeats
I want to be forthright: I am too timid to handle much horror entertainment. I dislike darkness, I am prone to nightmares, and my imagination challenges itself to concoct the worst-case scenarios. However, despite my general avoidance of slasher films and ghastly tales, I do have a morbid fascination with true crime, death, and the depraved corridors of the human psyche.
Surprisingly, one of my favorite video game series is Resident Evil; I was thoroughly enthralled by the story in the 1998 iteration of Resident Evil 2. Although I have not played every game, I have read the lore, devoured the novels, and scoured the Web for collections of every file, letter, memo, and diary from the titles. During my adventures in the Spencer Mansion, Raccoon City, Antarctica, and a secluded village in Spain, I found myself less frightened by the bio organic weapons and far more afraid of the powers that created them. Yes, humans–humans in positions of trusted authority, at that–played God with their science experiments, leaving innocent lives subject to the most terrifying fates one could envision.
The wolves rest among the sheep, so to speak; most of the antagonists lead double lives and manipulate their unsuspecting victims in order to further their devious personal objectives. Albert Wesker, for example, serves as captain of Raccoon City’s Special Tactics and Rescue Service (S.T.A.R.S.) while working with Umbrella, the illustrious pharmaceutical company conducting illegal experiments, and lures his team of officers into the Spencer Mansion, a cover for Umbrella’s underground laboratory, in order to research their combat against horrific creatures (most of whom were once humans).
Raccoon City Police Department’s own Chief Brian Irons enters the force with a past tainted by sexual assault and violent outbursts (and possibly serial killings) and quickly rises in rank. The Umbrella Corporation bribes Irons with generous monthly payments in order to silence his knowledge of illegal human testing, which includes children from the Raccoon City Orphanage. The police chief also engages in a sickening taxidermy hobby in which he collects his victims’ organs and bones; he even intended on preserving the body of Katherine Warren, daughter of Raccoon City’s mayor, prior to his demise.
In Resident Evil 4, a peaceful and isolated village in Spain experiences a hellish decline as a parasite infects the residents, turning them into mindless cultists who attack outsiders. I highly recommend paying attention to the end credits to witness the placid settlement’s ordinary routines succumb to the vicious Plaga parasite’s control.
Yes, playing any of these games in a dark living room late at night could instill anxiety and dread in even the hardiest of survival horror fans due to the haunting atmosphere and grisly enemies, but pausing to realize the monsters were once everyday people with families, lives, hobbies, and sheer humanity should terrify us far more–especially when we recognize similar practices have occurred in our world.
From approximately 1935 to 1945, the Imperial Japanese Army conducted lethal human experimentation at Unit 731, and the United States granted the researchers immunity in exchange for information from the experiments. Similar to Chief Irons’ dismissal of the surviving S.T.A.R.S’ members firsthand accounts of the atrocities within the Spencer Mansion, most of the West twisted Unit 731 victims’ experiences as communist propaganda.
Real-world corporations are not unlike Umbrella in their fervent quest to cover up mishaps. The T-virus manages to infect all of Raccoon City via its water supply, turning the residents into reanimated corpses. From 1952 to 1966, Pacific Gas and Electric poured tainted wastewater into ponds surrounding the small town of Hinkley, California, which poisoned the residents with carcinogenic hexavalent chromium. More recently, major baby food manufacturers, such as Gerber, have come under fire for allowing their products to harbor dangerously high levels of toxic heavy metals, all of which could cause “irreversible damage to brain development.”
Finally, how often do we read about cults (both defunct and active) and serial killers? The villagers in Resident Evil 4 fall under the spell of Los Illuminados, going so far as to kill intruders. Numerous vulnerable people in real life have lost their lives by blindly following promises of a better life, power, and redemption (simply read more about Jonestown, NXIVM, and the Manson Family, to name a few). Brian Irons’ abominable crimes pale in comparison to some stories of killers in our world.
While jump scares, macabre settings, and eerie music establish brilliant survival horror, I cannot help but bemoan the loss of innocent life, albeit fictional, and tremble at the realization that my own world is full of far more insidious threats–all residing nearby.
Fortunately, glimmers of hope do reveal themselves in the Resident Evil series and real life. Protagonists like Jill Valentine and Chris Redfield survive the horrors of the Spencer Mansion and dedicate their lives to subduing the evil that threatens to encompass the globe. Claire Redfield and Leon Kennedy follow suit after escaping Raccoon City and fight against the Umbrella Corporation and villains who cross their paths. In our world, fearless whistleblowers rage against the status quo and the powers that aim to silence them (who knows how many truths have yet to enter our common knowledge?).
Although our fictional heroes and real ones know their missions are rife with peril and uncertainty, they persevere, risking their reputations, comforts, and lives to conquer injustice and corruption for the sake of good. I am left to wonder whether I have the courage to emulate my favorite video game characters and fellow humans anytime I witness wrongdoing, especially at the potential cost of my earthly existence.
Are we also willing to defeat our own world’s monsters?
Cover Photo Source: Resident Evil Fandom