What makes a horror game scary? Why am I constantly startled by these types of games when horror movies don’t phase me in the least? Maybe they have a few things to learn from each other.
Ever since I was about thirteen years old, Horror movies haven’t scared me in the at all. Sure I grew up and realized that what I was seeing on the big screen wasn’t real and couldn’t hurt me, but it was more than that. It’s all about noticing the formula. Horror movies all have the same pitfalls they fall into in order to get a scare out of people. Let me spoil a few for your here. If the main character is on screen and there is A LOT of space between them and the other side of the frame, guess what, something is going to pop up there. The killer is never dead the first time, don’t try to make me think he is unless the movie is only thirty minuets long. Finally, mirrors… they are ALWAYS used in some nefarious ways.
Horror games on the other hand don’t always have the same problems. Even if they do, there always seems to be a way to draw your attention away from what is lurking in the shadows so you don’t see them creeping up on you. I can remember playing Resident Evil for the first time. Running down that hallway and the damn dogs jump through and start chasing you. That part scared the living crap outta me. Another Example would be like in the first Silent Hill when you are in the school and in that one classroom and the phone rings. Who’s on the other end, your daughter, and she sounds scared. Creepy.
The easiest explanation for this, in my case anyway, is that you are actually in control of characters as part of a game. Watching a horror movie, you are basically just a passive observer, and have no real ties to the characters in the movie physically or emotionally. If they die, oh well, you probably saw it coming well before they did. In a game however it’s all about you and your experience. I know that playing that RE game I didn’t want to let Claire die because I had vested a lot of time in getting her to the point that she was. I was genuinely concerned for her well being because I had something to gain from her making it out alive, and a lot to lose should she die.
Immersion in gaming is something that is talked about a lot, it’s basically just a buzz word now thrown around by publishers and developers. However I think that there is no better case for immersion in gaming than in the horror genre. With everything complimenting everything else in the game, meaning graphics, sound, music, and feedback, it’s hard not to get sucked into the game. Think about the last time you played a “scary” game and were sitting there in the dark, trying your best to stay alive, when BAM your cell phone rings and scares the holy hell out of you.
If movies could could mix things up a bit and not be so stuck to a formula, they could probably draw out the same feelings in movie goers that the games do. The only difference is that when horror movies are bad they are great, when horror games are bad they are BAD… with a few exceptions. Don’t get me wrong, I love horror movies, just not because they scare me. I just enjoy watching the really campy ones, or seeing how inventive directors have gotten in ways of killing innocent victims. Sadly that probably says a lot about me.