As much as I dislike horror games, I still want to play them because they seem so enticing. I get scared very easily, with even short trailers of horror games or movies can keep me awake for a bit at night. What entices me to play a horror game are the unique stories and emotional thrill ride. Telltale’s The Walking Dead is one of my favorite horror-themed games that I would like to play someday, but usually prefer watching Cryaotic play it for the comic relief due to my low tolerance for anything slightly scary.
Horror-themed games are based around survival because the consequence of fear and failure is death. With The Last of Us, I watched my brother play the entire game like it was a movie. Occasionally, I got scared because of the “clickers” since they are a particularly creepy looking zombie that emit terrible sounds. Eventually I stepped up and said that I was ready to take on those enemies and play the entire game start to finish! After about an hour into the game, I was stuck on a level for some time, where you first encounter the clickers. I grew tired of dying constantly and was about the turn my PlayStation 4 off, and right at that moment I noticed that my hands were shaking really fast and my heart was pounding.
This incident made me question, why do other people actually like horror games? What makes them want to play it? I personally do not like horror games because I do not like scary things that make my heart pound like crazy or the feeling of “being” the character in the game. Other people like horror games for those exact reasons; they want to be scared, they want a little thrill of “whoa that was scary”, which is a feeling I desperately avoid. They want to control the situation. When I was watching IT recently, I kept whispering “No don’t go that way” because people in horror movies tend to make some ill decisions. Now in a video game we get to make those decisions, we get to decide whether to open the creaky door or not.
While watching a horror movie, it’s easy to cover our face when we suspect a jump scare coming up. In a horror game, we’re holding the controller and we can’t do anything but participate in the jump scare. This is where horror games add more depth to horror stories than a movie or book. People who like playing The Evil Within, Outlast or Amnesia want to be in those creepy situations. They might find humor in their fearful reactions or say to themselves “it’s not real so I don’t need to be afraid”. It’s the uncertainty and suspense that gets people so involved to the point where the game becomes interesting rather than scary.
This is where the VR makes things so much worse. I am not kidding when I say that I will start crying if I played a horror game through virtual reality. Instead of things occurring on a computer or television screen away from us, through VR it feels like it is all happening right in front of our eyes. Those creepy sounds we hear, they’re right next to us. Just look to your right and bam some creepy headless creature jumps out at you! This is different from a haunted house because the consequence is not death or torture like it is in video games.
Now imagine a game where it is virtual reality, but in a real setting. There is an episode on Black Mirror called Playtest which showed a dark side of VR’s future. A popular horror game is turned into a different kind of VR experience. It is not a headset you put in front of your eyes, but it is tiny device that juts into the back of your head allowing you to see things as if they really exist. In the show things become extremely strange and it becomes hard to decipher what is real and what is a trap. If something as peculiar as this were to exist, I wonder how many people would actually participate.
Horror game developers know how to make even the most brave gamers get uncomfortable by breaking the fourth wall and messing with players psychologically, creating unpredictable jump scares, or bombarding them with clickers. If you are like me and need comedy to get some laughs, horror is the same way for some who desire a thrill or jolt. Horror games can be also tactical, puzzling, and show character development that makes the game feel wholesome. In all honesty, the consequences with horror games is small because it does not affect our reality. The most that might happen is our brain creates that faint tap tap tap sound on our bedroom window at midnight. Even after knowing that there’s nothing to worry about, I am still not going to play a horror game.