A Scaredy-Cat’s Guide to Horror Games
I’ve mentioned this paradox of mine before, but I, a gal who shrinks up in the face of anything scary, have somehow come to experience and enjoy a variety of horror titles and other generally spooky games. A long while ago, I never would have expected to take on such an interest and actually have fun in these frightening experiences, only ever really looking at the latest horror games in their advertisements and reviews, never taking the plunge for fear of having an absolutely wretched time. Then, even when I started actually getting into horror, I still found the process of going through it all quite difficult, as though I were only taking one step forward every two hours and teetering on the edge of giving up at every turn. I did eventually figure out some tips and strategies to get me through everything, but I still remember how purely intimidating the whole experience was back when I was starting out. If you, dear reader, have ever wanted to get into a videogame that seems way too frightening for you, please give this article a read. You never know; it might offer you a branch to hold onto when you’re drowning in terror on a frightful night.
Tip #1: Start Small
To start off with, while you could be forgiven for thinking you can just jump into the year’s latest house of horrors with nothing but this list at your side, I would recommend you start with titles that seem less frightening at first glance. Perhaps you could try a game that has spooky undertones but doesn’t constitute a full-on horror experience like Batman: Arkham Asylum, Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines, and DARK SOULS or even something lighter, like the Costume Quest series. Or you could try something that presents itself as a horror title but is often considered by its fans to be focused less on terrifying the player and more on some other genre concern, like action in Resident Evil 6 or choice-based storytelling in Telltale’s The Walking Dead. As long as it seems like something you could get through without too much trouble, you should go for it so as to inoculate yourself to more and more frightening games.
Tip #2: Remove an Element
One aspect of horror that you should endeavour to understand is that scaring the player isn’t often accomplished through only one given aspect of the production. Spooky soundtracks do much of the heavy lifting to establish mood, and other sound effects and vocal performances can do much the same. Darkness and haziness can also contribute since not seeing something is often far more apt for maintaining suspense than seeing something in full detail. The game’s difficulty, too, holds an impact, heightening the punishment for failure and, thereby, the fear of conflict. Even your actual physical environment can add to frights if it is prone to unexplained noises and darker moods. If anything is changed or removed from play, the whole experience will likely lose some of the overall fear factor. For instance, you can just turn off the audio if it gets to be too much since most titles will still be fully playable — as an added tip on that point, use headphones! While they can certainly add to the intimacy of the experience and make it feel as though you’re surrounded by scary stuff, it’s infinitely easier to tear off a pair of headphones than it is to grab a remote and turn the volume down or off. Or you could always turn up the lights, either by raising the in-game brightness as high as it’ll go and thereby illuminating the actual spooky environments to reveal where everything is or by turning on as many real-life lights as you can to remind yourself of your own surroundings. You can even simply lower the difficulty. While many of these strategies are liable to reduce your engagement with the game, sometimes you just need to adjust the experience so that it works for you. You can always replay that section later if you insist on having a full experience.
Tip #3: Fail
Speaking of being able to experience scenes and sections multiple times, have you considered failing? While failure itself can often be the source of particularly potent fears, it’s also a very useful teaching tool, particularly in games. If you’re not confident you can get through something, just try it. Do whatever you can in order to mitigate any specific consequences a given title might impart with failure (such as saving your game or putting resources in an easily recoverable locale), of course, but if you try something and fail, there’s nothing stopping you from trying again. Familiar experiences are often way less terrifying than unfamiliar ones, so failing at an objective can truly help make new and scary segments feel more familiar. Plus, feeling frustrated at not getting something done right can often make it more difficult to be scared since you’re shifting from an emotional difficulty to a practical one.
Tip #4: Remember You Can Pause
Now, I’ve often found a variety of people telling me that “it’s just a game” as if that’s a reason to be less terrified of something spooky, that my emotional engagement is some sort of overreaction and I shouldn’t care as much about what’s going on in the story or to my player character. That sort of advice has never truly stuck with me or worked out for me, but remembering that the horrorshow you’re playing out is, in fact, a game can actually be very helpful. This isn’t because the experience is beneath you but because games offer some truly wonderful tools to help you out. Namely, the pause button. Most horror titles, like most videogames, have pause screens where nothing bad can happen to you or your character, and you can just pop into that screen like a safety net basically whenever you want. Imagine that: an instant Get Out of Jail Free card available whenever you need it! Even just knowing that the option to sit back and take a little break to get my heart settled down even exists does wonders for me.
Tip #5: Use a Guide or a Jumpscare Guide
Similar to how being able to see everything in front of you, in a literal sense, makes the whole experience less frightening, being able to tell what lies ahead in the game can do a lot to relax you. Having a guide is incredibly useful in most titles and even more so in suspenseful ones since it helps to keep you from getting blindsided and shaken to your core without warning. As an alternative option for those who prefer figuring out how to get through a game all on their lonesome, I might recommend a guide for jumpscares. They aren’t exceedingly common, especially for less well-known games, but when they’re available and can tell you about every sudden event that was designed to make you jump out of your socks, they can be rather handy.
Tip #6: Bring a Friend
As with most difficulties, having a friend along for the ride can lessen your burdens and that is no different here. Having someone around, either in person or on a call over the web, gives you someone to talk to as you move through any scary moments. Plus, they can even offer advice or make fun of different aspects of the game to just make you feel better. Much of horror compounds with feelings of loneliness, so a fantastic way to negate that is to find a way to feel less lonely.
Tip #7: Cheat, Where Possible
This is one of the less frequent options for horror titles since there’s not always a good opportunity to cheat, but when you can, it can truly remove many of the frights ahead of you. In any case, another big part of these horror videogames is that there are, at times, various bugs and exploits built in, either by accident or on purpose. These can result in you being able to skip vast portions of the experience, acquire useful items and tools beyond what you were meant to possess, clip into walls and keep yourself safe from any who would dare attack you, or even just make yourself completely invincible. If you don’t play by the rules of the game, the game can’t hurt you!
Tip #8: Take on a Secondary Goal
This one might be a tad difficult to pull off, but it does work if you can manage it. Many games come with a variety of mechanics and open themselves up to alternate playthroughs where the player focuses on something other than just getting through the story. Whether that’s collecting all of a given item, completing the plotline in record time, or even attempting a challenge run where player-chosen restrictions are put on gameplay (like not firing a gun), many titles offer multitudes of ways to play, even without outright saying so. Furthermore, by focusing on this other goal, much like accepting failure in an earlier tip, you’ll be too focused on accomplishing your new goal to get frightened!
Tip #9: Do Silly Stuff
Much like cheating or taking on alternate objectives, another way to seriously help mitigate fear is to try to have fun with the game. Find something about the experience that makes you smile, like toying with an enemy, running in circles, or using your weapons to carve up the scenery and make pretty or silly pictures. It can be a brief interlude to pull yourself together by spraying bullets into a wall to spell your name, or it can be all throughout the game, finding various ways to mess around.
Tip #10: Find What Helps You Go
Ultimately, there are as many strategies to get through horror as there are people. Many of the above tips can help you manage what lies ahead, but sometimes, you just need something to fall back on that can cut through the paralysis of fear and get you through some segment of a game or even the whole darn thing. That can look like a lot of things, of course, but I’ll at least tell you what works for me: high-tempo music. When there’s something that I can’t make myself go through, I’ll switch my headphones to my phone and start blasting rock anthems, anime openings, upbeat show tunes, and anything else that makes me feel like I can keep going and get into a fast-paced rhythm.
I hope these tips have helped you at all in getting through horror games, but please especially keep the last tip in mind, however generic it may be. Having something surefire to fall back on is excellent for amping yourself up for anything. And, if you figure something out that works for you, why not toss it in the comments below so everyone else can have a chance to see if it works for them?