Horror and Gaming

For those of you that don't know me, I am a pretty big fan of horror games. I think one of the first horror games I played was Alone in the Dark (the original, 1992 one), unless you count Haunted House for the Atari 2600 (which isn't very fear-instilling). I've played a large amount of horror games. Things like DOOM, Resident Evil, Silent Hill, Fatal Frame, Eternal Darkness, Amnesia, and FEAR, just to name a few. I've even done the free indie scene, like Imscared, SCP, Slender, etc.

However, I kind of feel like the direction we're heading with horror is the wrong direction. I do agree that the genre needs to evolve, especially when looking back on things like the tank controls from the 90s. I don't think trying to inject as much action into the genre as possible is going to evolve it as horror. Nor will monster closets and jump scares.

Take, for instance, the Dead Space 3 demo. While I understand it's not the full game, it is an excerpt and a demo is supposed to be designed to reflect the whole of the game (thus enticing you to purchase the game). The Dead Space series has been action-oriented horror, let's face it. The first two games, however, did their environments pretty well. I think the environment building was best in the first and has been a slight decline, up until what seems like a steep fall with Dead Space 3.

I came out of the Dead Space 3 demo lacking anything distinctly creepy. It felt like Lost Planet with an attempt at horror elements and the tools employed to instill fear were either jump scares or big thing wants you dead. These types of tools, in horror, is like using a broadsword to do the work of a scalpel.

You could also look at the evolution of Resident Evil. Although, I'd probably say the exception is Resident Evil 4. I think it made a pretty good attempt at mixing action and horror. I believe a lot of it is thanks to the environments. Resident Evil 5, however, was more like Gears of Zombies and Resident Evil 6 does not appear to know what kind of game it wants to be (so here's something for everyone, maybe?). As I praise RE4, it still chose to bludgeon its way through horror, rather than use precision to manipulate the player.

I think a good horror game requires key elements, the ones I can think of are listed below:

  • Control: What I mean by this is that the game and by extension, the developer, needs to have a degree of control over the player's environment. This is NOT to interfere with player control, however. Taking away or detracting from the player's control of their character BREAKS immersion and DISSOLVES the tension and fear. I suppose an example of this would be limiting the amount of ammunition for a powerful weapon or some such before encountering a boss or creepy\terrifying new monster. I think good horror is maintaining a balance of powerlessness and overpowered, but leaning closer towards powerlessness.
  • Atmosphere: Pretty much crafting the world so it sets that creepy or unsettling tone. This includes both visual and aural aspects.
  • Music: I feel there's a few approaches to this. You can use music, have no music whatsoever, or do something somewhere between that spectrum. However, if music is used, it NEEDS to nurture the current tone and tension when it plays. I find the lack of music can also be rather unsettling, especially with a good sound atmosphere, but can also lead to a decline in player interest during lulls.
  • Tension: The game world is your instrument and the player is the notes you want to play. A good horror game will craft (or attempt to) a crescendo of terror and release it. I think there needs to be a rise and fall in the tension, as you cannot keep the player tense or fear-filled through the entire game.
  • Player Effects: I really don't know how to describe this, but take for instance Eternal Darkness. Sure, some of the sanity effects did not lend themselves well to horror or impacted immersion, but I think to build a good horror environment, you also need to mess with the player. I think it's best done if the player doesn't precisely know what is happening is a game mechanic or part of the story.
    I've been drafting the mechanics and story for a game and one of the mechanics is a sanity meter. Except the meter itself isn't going to be available to the player. Their perception of the character's sanity is going to be through visual and aural cues and hopefully implemented in such a way that will make give a degree of difficulty in determining if it's the onset of madness or a part of the narrative.

That's actually all I can really think of right now, haha...

I suppose I've gone on long enough and before I devolve into incoherent rambling, I'd like to get into the other purpose of this post.

Below, let's discuss horror in games. Throwing some ideas out there:

What makes for a better horror game: First-Person or Third-Person? Why?

Is the 'actionization' of horror games/franchises ruining horror gaming?

What are some of your more memorable scares in games?

What elements of horror games do you like\dislike?

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