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Taking your gaming habits to new spooky heights

by Robin Stanford October 27, 2015
Taking your gaming habits to new spooky heights

Scary games that incorporate the best elements of horror

In the dwindling days before All Hallows’ Eve, what better time to sit back and relax with a video game suited for the season? Instead of the jump scares of Scott Cawthon’s latest entry to the Five Nights at Freddy’s series, or the Capcom’s latest action packed Resident Evil, dare to take a journey to an even darker side.

Graphic by Charlotte Bracho.

Graphic by Charlotte Bracho.

True horror stays with the player long after the controller is put down. Horror is something that makes one hesitate for a moment before walking down an alley or turning off the light.

In order to look into what makes a horror game memorable, minor spoilers will be discussed about games that fit this description. Bonus! These video games can often be found on sale.

Horror that lingers and truly has an effect on a player tends to have certain core elements: the confined, the uncanny, and the unknown.

The Confined

Open world experiences are unsuited to horror games, as a player would have the ability to escape an uncomfortable situation quickly. This turns a potentially scary experience into an inconvenience for the player.

Good horror games, on the other hand, restrict the player greatly in terms of the area they are exploring. For example, in Sega’s Alien: Isolation the player is trapped aboard a space station with the monster of the 1979 movie Alien. In Outlast, by Red Barrels, the main character is trapped inside a dilapidated psychiatric hospital with former patients who have murderous intentions.

There is no way to escape the threat immediately, so the player is forced to sit with the imminent threat, a position that we tend to avoid in real life. Spooky!

The Uncanny

This is the feeling that one gets when walking into a room where a light is flickering. Although there is nothing threatening, something doesn’t quite feel right.

A horror example of this is every single conversation in Konami’s Silent Hill 2.  Throughout the game, the protagonist speaks to several characters who all deliver their lines in a way that humans typically don’t. The rhythm of their speech is wrong, especially when put in the context of a spooky town.

Much like the flickering light, this serves to create a sense of uneasiness and makes the player more sensitive to what else might be amiss.

The Unknown

Perhaps the most important part of any good horror game is to keep the main threat unknown for as long as possible.

Tension builds as a game progresses and the monster’s habits and appearance are slowly revealed. For example, in Amnesia: The Dark Descent by Frictional Games, for most of the game the monster who is hunting the main character is unknown. Every sound and movement on the edge of the frame is a potential threat and contributes to what the enemy could be.

Similarly, in Playdead’s LIMBO, the dangers are unknown often until they are unwittingly discovered by the player. Due to its stark film noir style, details must be filled in by the player. Everything in the environment, lacking detail, is a potential threat as filled in by the player’s mind.

In the end, the specialist who knows what makes us most afraid is ourselves. Scare yourself with some real horror this Halloween.

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