Originally Posted Oct 30, 2015
BOOO! Did I scare you? Probably not. Real horror needs build up, tension, a slow climb to the inevitable release….stay with me here, we’re talking about video games still. Horror in video games has been around for a long time, and over the years has spawned many, many different franchises, from the survival horror of Resident Evil, to the psychological horror of Silent Hills, to action horror of Dead Space, and they all have one thing in common: I refuse to play any of them.
Yes, I admit it to the world, I’m not a horror fan in any sense, be it movies, games or mazes. I’m not a fan of the thrill of fear, that tensing in your muscles when you know something is going to happen, or that burst of adrenaline upon releasing that tension. I personally just don’t see the appeal in being afraid. That all being said, I can still recognize good horror elements when I see them, so in honor of Halloween tomorrow, let’s take a look at what I feel makes for good scares, or bad ones.
Now, as with most things, this is all subjective. I’m sure some of you will read this and disagree with me, but hey, that’s what comment sections are for! To kick us off, let’s look at a classic; Silent Hill. Initially released in 1990 by Team Silent, Silent Hills took us to the cursed town as the protagonist, Harry, searches for his lost wife. The town shifts from a creepy, abandoned resort town to a blood soaked, rotted, monster infested hell as you explore it. The hero is not a soldier or warrior, just a simple man lucky enough to find a gun. While supplies are limited and must be rationed, similar to the survival horror genre seen in Resident Evil, psych horror games also use the environment to terrify. Mist cloaks the town, hindering your vision. The monsters are horrible, twisted perversions of a broken mind, given physical form by the subtle malevolent awareness of the town. In the second game, for instance, a creature that seems to resemble two bodies fused to a horizontal frame can be encountered. Scary enough, until you realize that the creature exists from the guilt and fear of the girl Angelica, whom the town is reacting to, and represents her father, who raped her. Heavy stuff for a simple game enemy. This style of horror is perfect, because it pulls you in, and makes you feel the terror, the negativity, the the hero is feeling. You’re just as vulnerable as they are, and you know it.
The type of horror I find weakest is action horror. Scares and true horror, I feel, should come from the feeling of helplessness. The sense that very little, if anything, stands between you and death. Survival games limit your ability to fight back, psych horror gets into your head and makes you fear all the more the foes you face. In action horror, such as Bioshock or Dead Space, more so the latter, there isn’t any of that. While some supplies may be limited, requiring more skilled used of resources, you still receive enough to rarely worry about it. Instead, the scares come from sudden jump scares-BOO!-still nothing? Darn. Scares can also come from suddenly unkillable foes, or ones that absorb enormous amounts of punishment. For me, this ruins the purpose of the genre. If you give me the tools to kill my foes, i’m not scared anymore. I’m armed, mother-truckers, and they’re locked in here with me!
Lastly, a game I feel has done horror the best in a long time; Five Nights at Freddy’s. I can already hear some of you moaning in protest, but hear me out. Fnaf took the most basic of concepts, fear reactions, and twisted how you are able to use it. Fight or flight? Combat the
foe, or flee from it? In Fnaf, you can’t do either. You are firmly rooted in place (Fnaf 4 notwithstanding), you can’t run. The animatronics hunting you through the night aren’t afraid of you, and you aren’t armed, you can’t fight. All you can do is react, and that is where the fear comes in. You are incapable of taking the fight to them, you HAVE to let them come to you before you can do anything about them. The best defense you have are closing doors and a light, and sometimes, not even those. What other games takes away those most basic of choices in our human psyche? Not many, and for that, Fnaf to me makes the best use of real fear in a long time.
Well I know I probably lost a few of you along the way there, but I thought why not toss my two cents into the fear pool? Fear can be fun and exhilarating for some people and that’s great! Love what you love, ya’ll…just don’t invite me to any scary mazes any time soon!
Stay Kultured, everyone!