Horror games more than any other genre test your determination to overcome your fears in order to progress in a game. But what do we exactly fear in a game? What makes us turn and run when we see slender man and his booming footstep walk toward us? To put it plainly- it’s our ignorance.
Mystery is the biggest asset to horror games as we, as human beings, fear what we do not understand. To go back to my previous example, there is of course a ton of lore surrounding Slenderman, but what about him is scary? It’s a tall dude who stalks people in the woods. More creepy than scary, yet every time my camera zips to his blank white face, my terror knows no bounds as my TV turns to static haze. What happened to me? I DON’T KNOW!!!!
Some of the best games of our time are aware of people’s fear of the unknown and use this in actual game play. The Dark Souls trilogy mixes fear of loss with the fear of unknown. Enemy types with erratic attack patterns, traps, ambushes- all of this feeds into our fear of the unknown. What’s around the corner? Everything trying to kill you; even the in-game messages from other players could be your salvation or trolling you into another trap. Dead Space uses unique death animations to convey each enemy is able to eviscerate your space engineer in a variety of ways. This makes every single enemy dangerous to us because we don’t know the amount of damage each enemy can bestow upon us.
Once you conquer the unknown, master enemy types, learn the surprises and patterns, you’ll notice fear drops exponentially in games. Anyone who’s played multiple times through a survivor horror game can tell you the horror aspect melts away with each play through because we have simply conquered the unknown. Nothing is new to us; we’ve seen this show before, move along. But what if there was a horror game where each play through adapts to you learning the mechanics and jump scares? What if it mixes enemy attack patterns and placement and created a constant “unknown” atmosphere within the game? One can only hope a game developer is reading this right now and decides to make that game. *hint hint.
At the end of the day, when I get caught by Slenderman, I’m not crying myself to sleep that night because I see his blank face staring at me before the game over screen. No, my fear is at its peak because I don’t know what happens when I get caught. Does Slenderman rip my head off and start using it for his ventriloquist act? Or does he take me back to his spot to show me his vast collection of pine cones? Both of these equally terrifying, but only because I don’t know which one it actually is.