Resident Evil 3 and the Pandemic
By Logan Volkert
Throughout the thick of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020, videogames have been offering many people a way to cope with the difficult times. Especially in times of uncertainty, high stress, and when many people are stuck at home, videogames can provide a healthy way of escaping into a different world where you, the player, assumes ultimate control. Pair the active engagement of playing with a rich, emotional narrative, and you have the recipe to create a paradise within the confines of your own home. But how exactly do videogames do this? What do players takeaway from such experiences? To answer these questions, I take us to a special game series, one that has been my favorite since I was a child. With pleasure, I bring to you, Resident Evil.
When the first ever Resident Evil game came out in 1996, it changed the way videogames were created, played, and studied. Emphasizing the genre of survival horror, where players must think and act strategically to deal with the grotesque creatures and events that await them, Resident Evil brought players a challenging and frightfully refreshing experience. Gone were the fast-paced, action-packed shooters like Doom (1993), and in came inventory management and a suspenseful atmosphere where death lurked around every corner. Aside from this creepy and strenuous tone, Resident Evil (1996) provided the first glimpse at what would become an ever-developing narrative layered with themes relevant to the real world.
Fast-forwarding from 1996 to 2020, and the Resident Evil timeline takes us to what might be my favorite entry in the series, the remake of Resident Evil 3. In this game, players assume the role of Jill Valentine, a member of the Raccoon City Police Department’s elite tactical team, STARS. As the city is quickly being overrun by zombies infected with the T-Virus, Valentine attempts to make her escape. In doing so, she has her first encounter with Nemesis, a special project overseen by the Umbrella Corporation, the entity responsible for the T-Virus outbreak.
Nemesis is a monster in the most literal and metaphorical senses. A special form of T-Virus mutation, Nemesis is a towering figure who can take bullets, rockets, and any other forms of attack without so much as flinching. Valentine repeatedly runs from and engages Nemesis throughout the story, but her efforts fall short each time. It isn’t until enlisting the help of a friend and drawing on her own strengths and moral compass that Valentine is finally able to confront and defeat her foe.
Now, at first glance, Resident Evil 3 might seem like a shallow tale of cat and mouse, one where the player does little more than flee from a monster amidst a cliché viral outbreak. Upon closer inspection, however, Resident Evil 3 reveals a narrative relevant to our current times, with themes that may be able to help players cope with the difficulties of the Covid-19 pandemic. According to Coltan Scrivener, a PhD student at the University of Chicago, the horror genre provides a way of managing anxiety during stressful times through a process referred to as the ordeal simulation hypothesis. Simply put, the ordeal simulation hypothesis is the idea that people become better prepared to cope with and manage difficult times when they’ve experienced something similar in a safe environment.
To put it mildly, the pandemic has brought uncertainty and anxiety into most of our lives. To no immediate prevail, we have been trying to either deal with it or escape its hold out in a world where we have little control. Our situation directly corresponds to that of Jill Valentine, because she too has been unable to escape or combat Nemesis and the viral outbreak. The difference between our world and hers is that in Raccoon City, we have all the control. By running through the game learning how to best handle Nemesis, the virus, and anxiety, players grow confident in their critical thinking skills, and they reassure themselves that no matter how difficult things may seem, they can always find a way to make it through. When players are navigating Raccoon City and adapting to its everlasting dangers, their minds—if only temporarily—shift away from the anxieties of the real world and into one where they can safely and directly confront the horrors that come with seemingly unbeatable monsters and odds that are stacked against them. In doing so, players can leave their consoles with less stress, clear minds, and a belief that they can do it and that it’ll all be okay.
Of course, life isn’t a videogame, and its consequences will be felt in a far more serious manner than having to suffer the ridicule of the “You Are Dead” screen, but if there’s any real things that videogames can provide us with, it’s a sense of control and a healthy way of escaping the stress of our world. As you move along and away from this article, just remember one thing, if Jill Valentine can survive a night with Nemesis, we too can make it through these tough times.
Agence France-Presse / 11:41 PM January 18, 2021. “Video Game Sales Hit US High in Pandemic-Plagued 2020.” INQUIRER.net, 19 Jan. 2021, technology.inquirer.net/107311/video-game-sales-hit-us-high-in-pandemic-plagued-2020.
Witynski, Max. “Why Scary Movies Are Helping Some People Cope with the Pandemic.” University of Chicago News, news.uchicago.edu/story/why-scary-movies-are-helping-some-people-cope-pandemic.