The phrase “mentally scarred” might be an overused cliché, but the fact is that we have all experienced books, TV shows and movies that have had a profound effect on us and left us genuinely scared.
It is not all about gore or “jump out of your seat” shocks of the type seen in movies like The Exorcist or The Ring. Movies play on our basic primal fears. In Kubrick’s 1970s classic The Shining, the most frightening scene is not the elevator full of blood or the little girls bludgeoned to death; for many, it is that scene where we take a child’s eye view of little Danny riding his tricycle along deserted corridors, never knowing what lies around the next corner.
Now that gaming as a leisure activity is as accepted and popular as reading a book or watching a movie, it is not surprising that game designers are tapping into our primal fears and making use of the fact that many of us cannot resist a good scare. After all, playing a video or online game is a far more interactive experience than just sitting back and watching events unfold on a screen or on paper, so the fear factor has the potential to run even higher.
The best medium for horror
Swedish studio Frictional Games knows all about the potential for horror in gaming. In 2010, it released Amnesia: The Dark Descent, on Windows and PS4. It has been hailed by many as the scariest game ever made, a reputation that has been substantiated by an eagerness to share user experiences on platforms like YouTube.
Thomas Grip, the Creative Director at Frictional, believes that games are the best medium for horror. He says that while the story continues no matter what you do in a movie, it is up to you to progress the narrative in a game. As he puts it: “Anything bad that happens is your own fault.”
Frictional is looking to step the horror up a notch in its latest release, SOMA. This adds to the half-glimpsed monsters and jump scares of Amnesia and instills a feeling of dread by placing the gamer in the creepy and claustrophobic environment of an abandoned research station.
Horror games across the board
It is easy to assume that horror will only work in the immersive world of the console game. While this is certainly an excellent platform for getting the pulse racing and one that will become even more realistic thanks to the recent developments in virtual reality, the ability to instill genuine fear in gamers is one that is used across every format.
The recent surge in popularity of online casino games provides a case in point. A look at the vast number of UK casino websites gives an indication of the variety of games available. With so many slot games competing for the attention of gamers, it is essential to find a theme that will attract a large audience. Horror is right up there, and games like Paranormal Activity are favorites among gamblers in the UK and beyond.
Spanning the genres
Paranormal Activity is an interesting example in the sense that the game is inspired by the movie of the same name. This is nothing new. Just as books have inspired movies, they have often gone on to inspire games. This has been seen since the dawn of gaming, with the early text-based adventures based on The Lord of the Rings and Star Trek or the more recent Ghostbusters games being prime examples.
Intriguingly, however, there has been a recent trend in the pattern being reversed, particularly in the horror genre. Resident Evil is a case in point. While the Daily Telegraph described the movie’s storyline as “pure garbage,” it acknowledged that it managed to generate a mood that was genuinely frightening. This is confirmation of Thomas Grip’s contention that the key point about a scary game is that it is up to the player to advance the story, and it will not simply be dished out on a plate.
The most successful game-to-big-screen adaptation, however, must be Silent Hill. Even here, there is a general feeling that the movie is good but is still a poor substitute for getting involved and playing the game. The same Telegraph reporter commented that the movie “missed the cerebral side” of the source material.
It is interesting to note that as gaming becomes a more mature and accepted sector of the leisure industry, it is slowly being acknowledged as more immersive and cerebral than watching a movie. Therefore, it is not surprising that it is the best platform for a good, old-fashioned scare.