I’m a huge fan of horror in any capacity, whether it is novels, comic books, or films. There’s something innately fascinating about voluntarily experiencing an emotion we generally try to avoid in real life – fear. Why would someone elect to experience fear and anxiety through entertainment? It’s a question that has always plagued my mind, because I’m drawn to the horror genre myself.
One thing that separates the horror experience in game versus in film is the element of physicality. That probably sounds strange, since video games are not generally associated with physicality, but hear me out. While watching a horror movie, you’re sitting fairly stationary. Of course, you could be tense or twitchy, or maybe even covering your eyes, but the horror film experience is a very passive one. That is how it’s supposed to be. It’s part of the reason why horror films have some of the most iconic scores. The music is also key to the completely passive experience. You have no choice.
In a horror game, however, you are actively choosing where your character looks, runs, shoots, etc. You’re in the nightmare. You choose to check the room in which you heard strange noises. You’re not watching Jamie Lee Curtis do it. Of course, you may be forced to do certain things to make the story progress, but it’s a conscious decision on your part. Watching a film is also a conscious decision, I mean no one is holding you down and making you watch Saw, but a different kind of conscious decision than taking action in a game. When you watch a film, you resign your mind and attention for a few hours of viewing. When you play a game, you resign your mind and attention for multiple hours of active decision-making and problem solving. That decision making and problem solving is all the more apparent in horror games.
Filmmakers can alter your perception of the nightmare you’re watching unfold by using certain camera angles or character point of views. Game creators can’t necessarily utilize the same tactics, which makes a truly scary game all the more impressive. Modern games typically have free moving cameras, which allow players to view any part of the environment that they choose, unless of course they’re viewing a cut scene. As such, the entire environment needs to be scary.
Sometimes, it’s hard to pin down exactly what qualifies as a horror game. If the game is primarily about shooting scary creatures, then the horror seems secondary. You could be shooting aliens instead, would that make it a science fiction game? What about games that involve zombies, but are not necessarily scary? Zombies are classic examples of horror movie monsters, but lately they’ve been so overused they’ve become a lot less scary. And where do we draw the line? Are the extreme survival horror games, like Asylum, too much? To literally have no weapons in a horror game seems like an exaggeration, but that’s what the game is all about.
Whatever your stance is on the horror genre in video games, I think we can all agree that it could definitely use revitalization. I’m talking about something like A Nightmare on Elm Street: The Game. Ok, not really. We all saw how that turned out on Nintendo….