Horror games love to make you use old, weird, anachronistic technology, from typewriters to tape recorders to CRT computers. But there’s one technology that’s making a big come-back: cameras.
Cameras have been iconic in horror games from the earliest generation; Fatal Frame’s core concept is “what if instead of bullets you shoot pictures?” You get a camera so old that if you found it in a vintage store today, it would definitely already have a roll of ghost film in it. The game also removed anything we’d normally consider a weapon to increase the feeling of powerlessness.
Your main defense in the game is being able to see in third-person, thanks to the fixed camera angles. When you narrow your vision down to the first-person view of the camera, you’re leaving yourself vulnerable. Ultimately, it’s a trade-off between defense and offense.
Plus you’re setting yourself up for a heck of a jump scare every time.
Horror games in this era were mostly just puzzle games, with horror aesthetics and light action elements.
In the 2000s, horror games — or “horror” games if you’re cynical — were mostly just action shooters with horror aesthetics, like Resident Evil 4 and Left 4 Dead. Outside of BioShock, these games didn’t really do anything interesting with — the POV or the in-game cameras.
In the 2010s, cameras snuck back into horror games alongside the quiet tread of stealth mechanics. Monsters were to be avoided or distracted, not killed. In games like Outlast, the camera becomes a tool for evasion, showing you secrets and helping you navigate. But it can’t damage the monsters.
Stealth is a fine, if sometimes tedious, mechanic, but it’s a relief to see horror games turn back toward puzzles, and to more interesting camera use. Games like Observation and Blair Witch are bringing cameras back to horror games — old, retro-style ones, of course.
Retro technology is such a common part of horror games because it’s familiar but just a little weird, the perfect energy to bring to horror. We kind of know how to use it, but not competently or quickly, which means fumbling with it makes us feel vulnerable.
Plus, retro cameras just look cool.
Watch the video above to learn more about why retro tech is so prevalent in horror games.