Dead Space 2

I have finally finished another horror game and written a review. This time it’s Dead Space 2, which I quite enjoyed. You can read the review, which turned out a bit longer than I had anticipated. I’ve been itching to write about horror games for months (not to mention the horror conference I attended back in November, but that’ll have to wait for a future post), and it feels nice to get this one out the door.

Part of the reason for the length of the Dead Space 2 article is that I took the opportunity to discuss the concept of negative space. We’ve talked about negative space on this blog for years, but I haven’t had a convenient term for it; the aforementioned Dakota State horror conference gave me this nifty term for the concept. Negative space is the area in which the game (or film, or any sort of narrative) provides clues to some vague, larger structure, but never fills in the details. It is Akira Yamaoka’s “imagination space,” surrounded by clues and incongruent information carefully planted for the player to discover. Negative space is all of the parts of the story that go unaddressed, the bits that must exist and yet are never given actual form. In horror, negative space is of prime importance because it is often home to the scariest of creatures: the ones that we create for ourselves to satisfy the unanswered questions in the story.

At any rate, there’s much more to be said about negative space, but I was happy to have the opportunity to use this useful term in my Dead Space 2 review. Dead Space 2, it turns out, doesn’t have enough negative space, though that’s about its only shortcoming.

7 thoughts on “Dead Space 2

  1. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on Dead Space 2. Would it be fair to say that the lack of negative space in DS2 comes from the developers centring the game too much around Isaac rather than the world?

    It may be seen in the levels. When Isaac enters a room rarely is it populated with mutants going about their business, they are waiting for Isaac and will spring out. So, the levels serve as simply a kill room and little else.

    Also in the character development. In a way the player is forced to agree with Isaac as they are only shown the world from his point of view (As opposed to the other crazy fellow). As far as I can remember no one challenges his visions or madness as Isaac does to the other character (sorry, I’ve forgotten his name).

    Hopefully this makes some sense. I guess the main idea here is that DS2 could show a clash between the action and narrative and what the developer sees as more important.


  2. Hi Craig,

    I don’t think that negative space is a function of any one thing. Actually, in many other games, it’s the focus on character rather than the external world that helps build negative space (e.g. when you play Code Veronica for the first time, Wesker’s recent history is a big mystery).

    One area where Dead Space (both 1 and 2) tried to expand negative space was the Unitarian writing on the walls everywhere. It’s fairly easy to translate and I’m sure it is full of messages that deepen the mystery of the marker and the “overseer,” but it didn’t jive with me because it’s far too much work to stop playing, get out the pen and paper, and translate every little message I run across.

    I do think the level design contributes to the straightforwardness of the game, though. Dead Space 2 is much better at suggesting that there’s a larger world out there, at showing you how people in the future live (even as their homes and stores and schools are now abandoned). But only ever having one possible way to go damages that feeling quite a bit, I think; it’s too easy to feel like you’re being funneled through the game rather than exploring a real space.

    Really, it’s not that Dead Space 2 doesn’t have the tools to build more negative space, it’s just that it generally chooses not to.

  3. I really enjoyed watching my hubby play this one. Totally agree with you on the Jefferies tubes – kept expecting something to happen in one of those and was disappointed they didn’t utilize them as they could have. Even though people complain about loud, jumpy parts being cheap ways to scare, I still found those parts of the game (like walking up to a prone body only to have it pop up and attack you) to be well done and creepy. 🙂

  4. I think ellipsis is a form of negative space. “Things happened between these two scenes that we’re not going to tell you about” is certainly negative space. But there’s also other forms, such as “the design of this room suggests that something happened in it that we’ll never directly reference or address,” which is different from ellipsis. Generally, the goal of all these devices is the same: to increase the perceptible size of the universe within which the narrative operates and give the reader space to imagine what that space is like.

  5. Thanks for this review. There are some great notes that I’m learning from your perspective. The work on the vents is most excellent. To break the rules, explicit and implied, to ruin the confidence of players is… Suffice to say that gamers, developers and gaming developers overlook the obvious, taking too much for granted!

    This student thanks you.

  6. I don’t like comparing games, but isn’t this just like RE5 in space? OK. I own the Dead Space games, but haven’t really played much of ’em, but they do look like RE5!

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