Resident Evil 7: Biohazard and Theme
StoryScan: Critical Hit
StoryScan: Critical Hit highlights specific aspects of individual game narratives that are exceptionally well done. In this essay, we’re covering Resident Evil 7: Biohazard (Capcom, 2017), the survival horror that takes Resident Evil to the American South. This essay will cover content up through the end of the game and includes downloadable content. Players who have not completed the game and its DLC may want to set this article aside until later, as it contains substantial spoilers.
Every long-running franchise experiences its highs and lows, and Capcom’s Resident Evil survival horror series is no different. One of those lows occurred in 2012, when the release of the action-heavy Resident Evil 6 resulted in middling reviews¹ and sales.² After a series of lengthy internal conversations, the RE team determined that they had to focus on the survival horror that made the series a household name. “My boss, Jun Takeuchi, requested that we strip [the series] down to its core,” said producer Masachika Kawata, “and the best way to express the horror directly is in first-person view.”³ In addition to the perspective switch, the developers also decided to replace their cast of strong, competent soldiers with an everyman protagonist who would have to learn to survive on the fly.⁴ These decisions, coupled with the unusual decision to put a westerner in charge of the narrative (Spec Ops: The Line alum Richard Pearsey)⁵ resulted in a near-total reset for the series: Resident Evil 7: Biohazard.
Set in the Louisiana Bayou in the United States of America, Resident Evil 7 pits common man Ethan Winters against the aggressively-mutated Baker family. Three years prior to the start of the story, Ethan’s wife, Mia, went missing somewhere off the coast of the United States. The game begins shortly after Ethan receives a videotaped plea for help from Mia, and that plea leads him to a decrepit house in Dulvey, Louisiana. What follows is a sickening tale of survival that repeatedly forces Ethan to ask himself how far he’s willing to go to save his family and whether he’s willing to prioritize someone else’s survival over his own. These dramatic questions are paralleled in the subplots focused on the other members of the cast: the members of the Baker family and their mysterious visitor, Eveline. As the story unfolds, the characters who put family ahead of themselves are the ones who triumph, while the characters who put themselves first suffer. Together, these interwoven stories reinforce themes of self-sacrifice and survival to tell a subtly brilliant story that delivers more than its fair share of scares.
Survival and Self-Sacrifice: Putting Family First
Ethan and Mia Winters
As a Resident Evil protagonist, it’s more useful to describe Ethan Winters in terms of who he isn’t than who he is. He’s not a cop like Leon Kennedy, he’s not a trained fighter like Claire Redfield, and he’s definitely not a boulder-punching super-soldier like Chris Redfield. Instead, Ethan is an ordinary systems engineer from California, one with a loving wife and zero combat experience. As a result, he’s completely unsuited to the harshness of the Resident Evil reality, making him such a compelling protagonist. In his quest to save Mia from the Baker Family, he must not only defend himself against the mutated Bakers and their army of mold men but also fight Mia herself.
Like the Bakers, Mia has been infected with a black mold that gives her super-strength and advanced healing abilities. These powers come with a cost, however: they leave her open to hypnotic suggestion from the source of the mold, a young girl named Eveline. When Eveline commands Mia to attack Ethan, he’s left with a terrible choice: to survive, he must be willing to kill the woman he came to save. It’s a dilemma that reflects the game’s themes of self-sacrifice and selfishness, and it’s no surprise that Ethan is punished with further violence when he chooses to put his own life ahead of Mia’s. It’s only when he chooses to put her life ahead of one of the Bakers, Zoe, that he’s rewarded for his decisions, as both Mia and Zoe are ultimately saved. However, fortune reserves itself if he saves Zoe, as both Mia and Zoe die. These disparate outcomes drive home the lesson buried beneath the layers of mold: those who put family first will be rewarded, and those who don’t will suffer.
Ethan Winters makes more than a few bad choices during his stay with the Bakers, but Mia Winters has her own role to play in the tragedies of Resident Evil 7. As an employee of the Connections, a criminal bio-weapons manufacturer, Mia hid the true nature of her work from Ethan by pretending she was a member of an ambiguous ‘trading company.’ With the Connections, Mia played a significant role in living bio-weapon Eveline’s creation and caretaking, and Eveline came to see Mia as a surrogate mother. Unfortunately, that pseudo-familial link did nothing to help Mia once Eveline infected her. As Eveline’s mold spread through her body, Mia tried to use her final moments to send a farewell message to Ethan, telling him to stay away and forget about her, but she still hid the truth about her work and Eveline. Without knowing the whole story, Ethan is all too eager to rescue Mia when he learns her location, and they both end up suffering further because of Mia’s initial dishonesty. Even in the end, Mia keeps secrets (including a few new ones), and her unwillingness to tell the truth sets the stage for further problems in the sequel: Resident Evil Village.
The Baker Family
Ethan and Mia aren’t the only characters who learn from Resident Evil 7’s themes of self-sacrifice and suffering for family. The game’s major antagonists, the Bakers, are also pushed to their limits in the name of family, and not all of them survive. Within the confines of the base game, the Baker family consists of four members: chainsaw-toting patriarch Jack, insect-summoning matriarch Marguerite, torture-happy son Lucas, and wayward daughter Zoe. Once an ordinary family, they were turned into murderous, super-powered cannibals when they found young Eveline washed ashore and brought her home. Only Zoe had the strength to resist the mind-control component of the fungal infection, which she used to aid her family’s potential victims over the next three years. By the time Ethan appears, Zoe’s learned the key to her survival is to stay clear of her family on the edge of the compound, but that willingness to distance herself from her family potentially becomes her undoing. If Ethan offers her a cure, she agrees to leave her family behind and takes it. This outcome directly leads to her brutal death. On the other hand, if Ethan gives the cure to his wife, Zoe must stay behind with her family, and the events that follow lead to her surviving and eventually receiving a cure (as seen during the End of Zoe DLC). The message is clear: staying with family yields positive results, while abandoning family to save yourself can only end in tragedy.
Zoe is the only member of the Baker clan who consistently acts as an ally for Ethan, but she’s not the only one who imparts some wisdom about the importance of family. Patriarch Jack Baker also learns the hard way that putting his family second means putting his family at risk. At one time, Jack Baker was a regular ex-Marine living in the bayou with his wife and children, but all of that changed when he saw a news report about a ship that had crashed near the home. Initially, the only survivor he found was Mia, but a second trip brought him into contact with Eveline. Despite Mia’s warnings, Jack brought her home, and Eveline’s mold spread throughout his entire family. It’s a mistake Jack laments towards the end of the game when he reaches out to Ethan via their fungal connection and apologizes for everything he’s done. As he explains to Ethan, he’s no killer: it’s Eveline that did this to him, along with the rest of his family. There’s so much more he could explain, but his time with Ethan is limited, so he limits his final words to a plea: “Free my family—please.” At last, Jack is doing what’s right for his wife and children, and in doing so, gives Ethan the power to free them from the fake family created by Eveline.
Unlike the Winters and Baker families, Eveline was never entirely human. Codenamed E-001, Eveline was a genetically-modified creation of the Connections and was initially designed as a weapon of war. Her human traits complicated matters, however, and she began to grow obsessed with the concept of family. According to an R&D report found in the Salt Mines, the scientists at the Connections had competing theories as to why that was. “This is just speculation,” the report reads, “but it could be that she instinctively understands that a family unit is better suited to blending into social groups than a lone girl. On the other hand…well, a sentimental sort might suggest she’s making up for a perceived lack of “love” in her quarantined upbringing. A parent’s love.”⁶ Whether either the author of the R&D report’s theories were correct or not, Eveline’s desire to form a family of her own took a terrifying turn when she crashed the ship, infected the crew, and forced Mia and the Bakers to be her new’ family.’ Whether they wanted to be part of her family made no difference to her; she was able to make them obey her, and that was all that mattered.
By the time Ethan arrives at the Bakers’ ranch, Eveline’s desire to grow her family has led the Bakers to kidnap (and murder) dozens of people. Before Eveline can fully take over Ethan’s mind, Ethan manages to eliminate the Bakers, cure Mia, and finally take down Eveline herself. It’s a tragic end for a girl who only wanted a family, but put her own happiness ahead of the family she built. Had Eveline been willing (or able to) give her family members the ability to decide they wanted her in their lives, she might have been able to live happily with them. Instead, she sought to control them for her own ends and ultimately doomed them and herself.
Resident Evil 7: Biohazard is a game that revels in disturbing concepts and disgusting imagery, but it hides a deeper meaning beneath the surface. In the world of Resident Evil, those who put their families ahead of themselves will be rewarded, while those who put themselves first will suffer. It’s a lesson both the protagonists and antagonists learn repeatedly, and it’s a stellar example of what writers can achieve by reinforcing their themes across characters in their games.
StoryScan: Resident Evil Village & Setup/Payoff
Resident Evil: Village uses setup and payoff to create tension surrounding the mystery of the protagonist’s unique abilities.
StoryScan: Resident Evil vs. Silent Hil and Tone
Resident Evil and Silent Hill are two of the biggest names in survival horror, but their different tones result in unique experiences.
StoryScan: Spec Ops: The Line and Theme
Spec Ops: The Line leaves a lasting impression on players by reinforcing its theme, the high cost of heroism, at key plot points.
1 “Resident Evil 6.” Metacritic, 2022.
2 Martin, Matt. “Capcom slashes profit estimates on weak Resident Evil 6 sales.” GamesIndustry.Biz, 2012.
3,4 McWhertor, Michael. “Resident Evil 7’s demo content won’t be in the main game, but a new hero will.” Polygon, 2016.
5 Arif, Shabana. “Resident Evil 7 written by a westerner, a first for the series.” VG247, 2016.
6 “R&D Report [2 of 2].” Resident Evil Wiki, 2022.